Problematic Fantasy – and reality – Tropes

In my previous post on the problematic villains of fantasy, I promised another rant. Well, actually a few. But here is the first one. As anyone familiar with fantasy, or specifically epic or high fantasy, knows, there are classic tropes which make the plot lines of fantasies so unoriginal. My post on villains only confirms this.

But the problem goes more deeper than that. Unfortunately, fantasy worlds often reflect the real world. This in itself is a problem. How can fantasy have any claim to being fantasy if it is not – for most fantasies are effectively allegories? Now I am not criticising the masters of fantasy – nor the master of masters: J.R.R. Tolkien. No, I love them. I love Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and the blatant copy of those – David Eddings’ Belgariad and Mallorean.

I love immersing myself in these fantastical worlds. But the problem comes in when one is so immersed that the line between reality and fantasy is blurred. And this is too often the case. In fact, most readers don’t even realise it.

To unpack this, let me elaborate on the tropes of fantasy. This is simple to do. Fair skinned and beautiful good versus darker skinned and ugly evil. Good west versus evil east. Highly civilised west versus barbaric east. I could go and on. But the fact remains that the maps of worlds like Middle Earth and David Eddings’ sagas too often reflect the problems of the real world – civilised west and barbaric east. The other tropes fit this almost perfectly.

Let us not forget Game of Thrones. It also reflects the above, all the while making it abundantly clear that the east is a place of mystery and barbarity. Slavery is abundant in the east? Reality check! Europeans invented slavery!!! The hordes of Dothraki?? That is a blatant misappropriation of the Golden Horde of the descendants of Genghis Khan. And in portraying them as savage people only skilled in horsemanship plays on the classic belief that Genghis Khan was only effective in savagery and not in his actual civilisation. Oh, and the treatment of characters of colour on the TV show is pathetic. I could see the racial hatred on the faces of the Westerosi in Winterfell as the foreign queen marched in with her coloured warriors. Don’t even get me started on the painting of Arya Stark as the Columbus of the world of Game of Thrones. What is west of Westeros? Well, who knows? It is probably a place that has never deserved the attention of the advanced races of Westeros who were too focussed on the barbaric east. It is in the name. Nothing is deemed worthy of being considered west of Westeros because it simply doesn’t matter. Well, let us leave it to Columbus to ‘discover’ the new world.

I could go on and on. Even Rick Riordan makes it plain that the location of Mount Olympus is wherever Western Civilisation is. What about Eastern Civilisation? What about the fact that some of the most sophisticated cultures, ancient civilisations, and advanced scientific discoveries like the number zero and the system of numbers all sprung from the East?

As I said, I could go on and on. And I can tell you this, my views are inflammatory. No one likes to read these kind of things. But it is a topic which needs discussion. Why are most fantasy worlds based on medieval Europe? Medieval Asia and Africa were far more civilised places. Why are most fantasy worlds predominantly featuring white characters?? Many people say that people of colour do not belong in these fantasies because the fantasies are based on medieval Europe. Well, news flash, the Europeans have traded with people of colour for eons. People were not isolated in their worlds that is depicted in fantasy and period dramas. Well, perhaps only the natives of America were. But even they could not keep their identity. Because Columbus was too stupid to know where he was, he called them Indians. Also why do you think their (European) food is so bland? Because the only Eastern spice that they could handle was salt and pepper. Oh, and for those who say colonisation brought civilisation, let me remind you that colonisation was the expansion of slavery and religion. The Europeans had no care for the natives. If they had, well, Africa would not be where it is today. The Europeans did not share their civilisation. They took new lands and practised civilisation while only allowing the natives to watch. Oh, and before I forget, the means that Europeans used to conquer lands was acquired from the East. Gun powder and ammunition.

For too long people of colour have been inferior to white people in real life and in fiction. I have even been told that my culture has contributed nothing to science. You would think that these civilised people would at least have scruples. Well, they don’t. For all their civilisation, they lack humanity. So, who should the villains in fantasy be? The ones who have humanity or the ones who lack it? That question needs no answer. At least not for anyone who has the attribute of rationality.

Behind The Monk’s Curse: Chapter Six

Behind the Scenes, The Monk's Curse - Prologue

Two weeks too late! I completely missed last Wednesday (the day that this post was supposed to come out). After all, I did promise one post per week giving an insight into each chapter of The Monk’s Curse. On this note, I have two confessions to make.

Firstly, I have realised what a dismal show this topic of blog posts has put on. I promised behind the scenes and I delivered teasers. So, this week I will endeavour to correct that.

My second confession is that I am drowning under the work of being a self-published author. Not only has this kept me away from Twitter, and blogging, but it has brought all my works to a grinding halt. A book that was supposed to be published at the start of this month is get published two weeks too late. Other books that were planned for release this month will probably have to be moved on to next month. Alas, that is the price for trying to juggle so much at once.

But, onto the chapter

This is the unravelling of the tantalising plot. This is the chapter where two pivotal characters meet and where three key bits of information are passed on. Behind the scenes, this was the chapter that lulled me out of the comfort of my seat-of-the-pants writing style. That is, unlike previous chapters, I could not write this one without any planning.

Because two key characters meet here, it was especially important to decide how much to give away to the reader and to the protagonist as he continued in his search for the truth. In the end, not much was given away. What was given away was a pivotal newspaper article that only led to more intrigue. This was in itself fun to write because not only did it add another dimension and character to the story, more of which came to be elaborated on in other chapters, but because I delved into historical research for it. It took more on a journey deeper into the circumstances of the end of the Romanov Tsardom. It took me on a journey deeper into the end of the House of Medici. And, it took me further into territories of European history unchartered and clouded by the rise of the USSR and its suppression of fact through propaganda. Apart from that, another document was revealed to the protagonist. This was a brochure discussing Ottoman primogeniture. As anyone familiar with this topic know, it is a quagmire of details that are far too obscure for the lay man to understand. As such, it is not fully comprehended by the reader or the protagonist. Nevertheless, as all parts of the story do, it has its place. And that place is something that will come to rock the curse around which the book is centred.

To conclude

I hope that this blog post has been refreshing. I hope it has been so for me. From here, onward and upward. Until next week.

The Problem with Modern Villains

So this is another one of my impassioned rants. And expect another one in the next few days. So, today is my short exclamation of discontent with villains gracing the stories of the 20th and 21st centuries.

I won’t beat around the bush. First, let me list these villains to which I refer. Sauron, Torak, Voldemort, Thanos, The Night King.

As any geek, dork or nerd should know, Sauron is the overarching antagonist of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings world of Middle Earth. Of course few people have dared to criticise the great J.R.R. Tolkien. Neither shall I. Only, his villain is so problematic to the world of fantasy, at least in the legacy it has left behind. In creating Sauron, he created the archetypal ‘Dark Lord’ who has no good in him and who meets a satisfying death – one that is reflective of his power. Rather than dying as any person should, he crumbles.

If I remember correctly, so does Torak, the Dragon God of the Angaraks in David Eddings’ world of the Belgariad and Mallorean (edit: Torak does not crumble. His body remains intact. His death is also human as he realises and laments the fact that he is loved by none. His death is even mourned by the good Gods, his brothers. For all of David Eddings’ appropriation of J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy tropes, this is where he deserves applause). So does Voldemort, at least in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. So does Thanos at the end of Avengers: Endgame. So does The Night King of Game of Thrones’ Season 8.

Here is the problem. These stories have dehumanised their villains, setting the precedent for creating unrealistic stories where the villains have no humanity. This is contrary to the reality of villains, even Hitler himself. Okay, shouldn’t a fictional villain have fictional characteristics? Well of course. No one is calling for their powers to be stripped off them. And yet it remains a firm principle that fantasy worlds are inevitably based on the real world. Looking at every one of the stories above, there are all many uncanny reflections of the real world. Such are stories.

But these villains disappoint the fundamental substance of any story – that it should be relatable to its audience. Villains are made to be great. To be dark. To be powerful. And to meet deaths that are certainly not deaths that their victims would meet.

So on Voldemort, even though the movies made a royal mess of his death (books are better than their film adaptations!!), J.K. Rowling put is astutely when she gave Voldemort a human death in the books and when she said that there are no completely good and completely evil people in this world – we all have light and dark in us.

And yet the majority of stories fail to portray this. Their villains are almost godly in their evil, detached from humanity and thus unrelatable. In my opinion, as villains are mortal, they should be burdened with the same aspects of mortality that burdens protagonists. The best villain is one that the reader or watcher may slightly agree with. Black Panther did this perfectly with Killmonger. So did Avengers: Infinity War. But ultimately, Thanos was the perfect villain – so immortal that his death had to be that cliched disintegration.

So this is my issue. Villains should meet mortal deaths. And, they should at least have some good in them. Otherwise, we slip into the further problematic cliches of the fantasy world that I will speak to in a post next week. This is why, in The Monk’s Curse, I made a compelling past for my villain – one that makes a reader almost pity him even as he commits murder. As the world of fantasy parallels reality, so should its villains.