Home Divider About the Author Divider The Book Divider Author Blog Divider Press Room Divider Contact

The Need for a Dystopian Ideal in Fantasy

by janderson on February 6, 2012

Today I’m continuing the discussion on dystopian literature with a great contribution by author Martin Gibbs on the need for some dystopian influence in the fantasy genre. Many thanks to Martin for sounding off. Please check out his book, The Spaces Between.

We need a dystopian ideal in fantasy.

It is perfectly normal and OK that the heroes survive, that the magic item is found and that at least most of the main good guys stay alive. But what if they all get to the end and are murdered by the evil villain? Because, after all, that is most likely what would happen in reality, isn’t it? One cannot face a fully-loaded freight train with a pen-knife and hope to survive.

Of course, fantasy stories deal with the heroes, as most stories do. The guy/gal who is strong enough to rise up and find the ring or save the prisoners. That’s fine. What would the point be of telling a long and involved narrative if you’re just going to kill everyone off anyway? Who would read that?

Isn’t it worth the effort to find out? Life is not always fair.

There are too many predictable endings and too many predictable scenarios, in fantasy especially. George RR Martin (to name a massive name in the genre) has done well to keep us off-balance by killing of a slew of characters we may have rooted for.

I tell you it is not enough.

Let’s take the Seanchan in Wheel of Time…constantly oppressing those who can channel, stringing them on leases like dogs, and treating them worse. It fits the dystopian milieu, through dehumanization of the damane, and its obvious parallel to slavery. But what will happen in the final book? Will someone rise up from within, or will Rand crush them utterly? Who is to say, but my money is on the liberation of the damane. Again, it’s not quite close enough.

Who will rise up from within and try to change the oppressive society, try to overthrow the leaders? Often in heroic fantasy, the hero swoops in and saves everyone. But that change doesn’t happen overnight…in this world, people still buy other people. Nothing changed overnight after the civil war. And so I fear the Seanchan issue will get a different paint job in the final book, perhaps a good one, but maybe not one that will please the “fans” of dystopia, who want Jordan/Sanderson to make a statement.

Fantasy needs more Seanchan-like examples, I believe, in order to provide some balance to the hero-goes-on-the-quest-and-saves-the-world. If a world is being dominated by a religion, a system of government, or a mad warlock, who says that the good guys have to win?

I know, I know, it is fantasy, and thus almost anything is possible. But fantastical worlds don’t have to come with a guideline stating that a hero must rise, find a sacred relic, and rescue everyone from damnation. What if there is no sacred relic? What if the “hero” traverses a thousand miles only to be flung into a bit of Doom?

This scene, and others like it, would go a long way to add a unique dynamic to the genre. I suspect it would be unpopular with major publishing houses who want to stay safe secure in the established clichés. But for those authors daring enough to push the envelope and reflect a world where the oppressed and downtrodden are not necessarily liberated, there could be a major benefit of having launched a new trend.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: