The 'F' Factor: Against Heroic Fantasy
opinion by Patrick Hudson
Here they come, flapping in from across the Atlantic in skeins of three, six and nine.
Produced in factories by computers fed on a combination of Tolkien, Star Wars and
'Past Times' catalogues. Yes, it's the fantasy novels, a delight for the young and the
young at mind.
Heroic fantasy yearns for a time of rigid class distinction, when good and evil were a
part of breeding. When the strong ruled the weak and the weak gambolled happily - providing
rustic atmosphere in the way good peasants should. But even if their purpose is evil, only
the aristocrats have the natural talent for wielding power, and the peasantry will never
know release until the lost ruler returns justice to the land.
At the other extreme is the Conan model, where the orphan from the battlefield (probably
the son of a slain chief or some such savage nobility) struggles through storms of flying
gore, and fights his way to kingship. Now Conan is cool. A lady killer, a man killer, a
beast killer: there is no doubt that he fulfils the criteria for coolness in his environment,
but what sort of environment is it? A psychopath's dreamworld where pure malevolence and
violent instinct struggle for supremacy. A world where the merely ordinary are cannon fodder
in the path of heroes, where fascists cross into each others territory for the sheer pleasure
of seeing their rival squirm.
This uncomplicated natural order allows for maximum contrast of good and evil. Evil is
personified as an active force that can be resisted and physically defeated forever (or
at least until the next trilogy). Like the best religions, it posits an end to pain and
suffering through a life devoted to good. The good triumph because their purpose is pure;
the bad are defeated because in evil rests the seed of its own defeat - or some similar
piece of gnomic gibberish. All will be well if you follow your destiny, don't stray from
the path of good and, most of all, obey the rules. Magic itself is symbolic of this lie:
say the right words with the right preparations and miracles will happen. It is no coincidence
that this genre boomed during the 1980s: the forces of evil could stand in for the Soviets or
Thatcher and Reagan, depending on your political bent, and there was always the comforting
thought that good would out eventually, as surely as night follows day - without requiring
you to actually do one damn thing about it.
There is no such thing as harmless escapism. Heroic fantasy breeds apathy and ignorance. It
removes moral issues from the complications of reality and offers tired, ultimately conservative
resolutions. Be good, do as you're told, don't rock the boat: these are the lessons of fantasy.
If you have a radical bone in your body, avoid fantasy as you would a deathburger. On the
other hand, if you're a fogey (young or old) who likes their entertainment non-threatening,
then go ahead: the rest of us want you kept off the streets.
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