David Madore's WebLog: Gratuitous Literary Fragment #106 (fantasy)

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(Tuesday)

Gratuitous Literary Fragment #106 (fantasy)

It's not about magic, in fact. It's not at all about magic. He let go of the jade figurine and went on to fidget with a thick, leather-bound volume that I recognized as a blackletter King James bible. I watched his fingers with some fascination, perhaps giving them more attention than I did to his words. Not at all about magic. I briefly wondered whether he was referring to the book in his hands.

You see, he went on, it's about Good and Evil. Good and Evil are the hallmark of fantasy, not magic. Magic is dispensable. And even insofar as it is not, it is implied by the Manichaean doctrine, which is what this is all about. Whether in the guise of Aslan versus the White Queen or Gandalf versus Sauron, we are witnessing the eon-old fight of Ahura Mazdā and Aŋra Mainiuu, the embodiments of Light and Darkness.

Not all fantasy works are so blatantly dualistic, I objected, and not all dualistic fiction is fantasy.

They are! It is. No matter how they disguise the premise or jiggle with it, it remains a premise. There is no such thing as Good and Evil in the world about us—the real world—the one we live in. There are cowards and fanatics, weak-minded people, and there are those who have ideals—and who might disagree about ideals. There are human failings and there are human virtues, but there is no obvious line between the two, and certainly no such thing as a good man or an evil one. No matter what Christianity would have you believe, or various debased forms of Humanism. Good and Evil are not in the world, they are in how we see it, and that is also where magic lies.

Would you describe Oliver Twist as fantasy, then? How about Les Misérables?

I might, but you're barking up the wrong tree there, dear. Moralism or social criticism are not at all the same as dualism. First, there is a world of difference between portraying Good and Evil locked in the ritual war that is the prime motive of the fantasy-world, and using said fantasy-world as a metaphor because you're trying to make a point that pertains to the real world. Id est, it's not because the author adheres to the view of some characters as good and others evil that they actually are so. Second, it's not because the categories are distinct that authors are forbidden to borrow from both. And so they do. To illustrate this…

But I wasn't really listening any more. As I dreamily stared at the painting of Saint George, the drone of Alwin's words seemed to fade in the distance.

Then something quite extraordinary happened.

Update (2008-01-07): Ska wrote this response to my fragment.

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