Thursday, October 04, 2007
I've always loved fantasy fiction more than any other genre. I like suspense and paranormal fiction (which could qualify as fantasy if I were being picky about it) but traditional fantasy has always been my favorite. And one thing I've noticed is that fantasy fiction focuses a lot on war. War is a part of human nature, no question. There may be sayings that the only inevitable things in life are death and taxes, but you might as well throw war on the list. As long as man has been around we've been fighting each other over one thing or another. But I do wonder why fantasy as a genre in particular so often has martial themes? In fact, when I think about it, I am hard pressed to think of a fantasy novel, especially one set in medieval setting, that doesn't focus on war. I've often heard people lament that fantasy isn't original enough. That J.R.R. Tolkien so firmly set the standard with The Hobbit that most people can't conceive of fantasy without the traditional trappings of elves, sorcerers and, of course, war. J.K. Rowling did manage to do a lot toward bringing fantasy into the modern era with Harry Potter but that's really not what I'm talking about. I'm thinking more about sword and sorcery type fantasy. (Yes, Harry had Griffindor's sword, but still--different type of fantasy) Why is it so much fantasy falls back on medieval trappings? Have we come to some conclusion along the way that fantasy isn't compatible with modern technology? There are books that merge fantasy with the modern world, but have you noticed how many still seem to try to bring old fashioned weaponry back into the story? For some reason I don't see a lot of guns in fantasy fiction. But I'm digressing a bit. I've been lucky enough to get some free books lately from some publishers and it's impossible not to notice how many follow the J.R.R. Tolkien method of world building. First you have your noble classes, then you have some sort of immortal race, a sorcerer of some sort, and a war to fight-- with lots and lots of bloody battles. Now, I don't mean to be a big complainer. A lot of these books are good. Really good. I'm reading Acacia by David Anthony Durham right now and the man can write. I know he has written other war-based fiction and it's clear he has a better idea than most what war would be like. But I'm wondering why I seem to be encountering so much war-themed fiction these days. It could be that I am simply more aware of it now than I used to be. I mean, war-based movies have been around as far back as I can remember. I've sat down and watched everything from Sergent York, Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Black Hawk Down. If there's a war, we manage to make movies about it. But in a way, cinema often seems to reflect the times we live in. Movies like the current war flick, The Kingdom, are obviously based on what's going on in the world now. But fantasy fiction very often looks back to a time that I doubt was more desirable to live in than today. And the heroes always seem to be at war. There are prophesies that predict war, magicians who have been waiting for the hero to be born so they can fight the war, heirs to the throne who crave power and start wars, holy wars-- you get the idea. War war and more war. Is it just such an inevitable part of the human condition that we can't imagine a world, even a fantastical one, in which it doesn't exist? Or are we just endlessly fascinated by the subject? If I were being really optimistic I would suggest that perhaps by exploring the subject we are, in our own little way, trying to find a way to a future without war. But unfortunately, I'm not really that optimistic. I think we obsess about war in our fiction because we can write a neater ending than we ever find in real life. The good guys are easy to find and hero almost always wins. But I guess that's what fiction is for; the ever elusive happy ending.