Monday, November 5, 2012

Fantasy Fiction and Democracy

Let's face it: democracy is not a key factor in most fantasy fiction.  It is a genre that has its foundations built on a primarily European-based aristocracy/nobility model. One of the tired tropes of the genre is the idea of rule-through-birthright: the king of Return of the King is the great-to-the-infinite-power grandson of a long-gone king, and the rulers of Gondor are "stewards" who have essentially been waiting for an heir of Isildur to bother to show up and claim his throne.  Same thing in The Belgariad: Garion is the heir of the secretly-preserved line of Riva, and the empty throne has waited for the Rivan King to show up for 800 years.

Seriously, these are some patient people, since they go centuries working on the premise of, essentially, a temporary regency waiting for the "proper" ruler to show up, even though the ancestor who last occupied the throne is long out of living memory.*  Why do they put up with this?  Because, apparently, in this type of fantasy, birthright never fades.  Nobility is important.
 I'm not entirely immune to this: Druthal has a king (Maradaine XVIII) whose line comes from the first king of Druthal (Maradaine I), and that line being on the throne was not continuous.  There are some key differences, though: The line broke in the first place because the son of Maradaine I was something of a dullard, so other various lords quietly shuffled him to the side while someone else claimed the throne.  Second, the line was restored to the throne nine centuries later not out of prophecy or divine providence, but because a small group of conspirators discovered that a minor noble they liked was a direct descendant of that dullard son, but more importantly because the current king was a complete and total loon and they were desperate to get rid of him.  So the line claim was really only about giving their revolution a bit of extra legitimacy.  It didn't launch a golden age where everything in Druthal was now wonderful since the Rightful Line was Restored.** 

But, while I have those European nobility influences-- Druthal has a king, not to mention archdukes, dukes, earls and barons-- it also has a Parliament.  An elected Parliament, where the real legislative power lies.  Democracy is a crucial element of how Druthal works.  The people's voice is important, even if it gets corrupted and twisted and bought out from time to time.

I am having fun with that in Way of the Shield, where the partisan make-up of the Parliament, how various aspects of the press interpret what the Parliament does, how people feel about the Parliament (ESPECIALLY Dangerous Fringe Elements) all come into play.  It's messy, because democracy is messy, which is how I like it.

I won't get too political here, but the thing I love about democracy is the element of dissent and disagreement.  I love that I can have an enormous, pitched argument with someone on the polar opposite side of an issue, and the end of the day, we'll both think the other guy is just plain wrong, but neither of us is going to get taken in by the police in the middle of the night for what we said.  And in a little bit, we're going to have an election, and shortly afterwards a little more than half of us will be pleased, and a little less than half will be pissed.  But that little-less-than-half will dust themselves off and gear up for the next fight.  And that's awesome.  That's what it's about.

And, hopefully, I can work a bit of that into by fantasy writing, and get some good drama out of it.


*- Essentially, even though both LOTR and Belgariad have functionally-immortal characters.  Strictly speaking, there is living memory of Isildur and Riva, but it's not amongst the common people living day-to-day under the regency rule.
**- Also note, this is just an incident in the extensive history my insane-worldbuilder brain has created.  It's three centuries before the stories I'm telling.

1 comment:

Jack Giesen said...

Lord of the Rings is an interesting case, as the Stewards of Gondor functionally became a monarchy in their own right. If I'm remembering correctly, the stewards themselves would have been hesitant to give up control of the throne, though it was the culture of Gondor that made it impossible for them to take over officially.

Very interesting point about the tendencies of governments in fiction, though. Fantasy as a genre seems to like the idea of power struggles within a court or noble line instead of the more close-to-home disagreements you find in democracy.