Monarchy and Elitism In The Fantasy & SF Genre


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Thread: Monarchy and Elitism In The Fantasy & SF Genre

  1. #1

    Monarchy and Elitism In The Fantasy & SF Genre

    I find it's more fantasy than SF, but have encountered it in both: Societies and systems based on some form of feudalism or 'the one true king' or other such permutations of the same basic concept. It's Star Wars to C.S Lewis. Same basic shit.

    And...I really hate it. Not because I am against such systems (though I am, but this isn't about that) but because it's lazy and tiresome. What I do like about certain fantasy is that at least it shows kings, queens, etc as largely horrible and miserable people, but it's usually still flawed in having the same concept of a single man or woman (it's usually a man) who is effectively a benevolent dictator-in-waiting. Somebody who will, by virtue of being virtuous, be the answer to all the prayers of the shit-eating proles in the kingdom (or galaxy), as though the same people who live in a reality where lightspeed travel or magic exists wouldn't know they're being screwed over.

    Besides the glamour of having kings or queens, why do people still write in a manner that glorifies this shit? We all know it's a bullshit way to run a kingdom, that dictatorships are bad (even if they're not terrible) and that regardless of whether you like the idea of being ruled or not or whether you are trying to say something about The Real World, it's mostly a tired trope? It's especially exasperating when you encounter these archaic ideas in stories that don't need them, like Star Wars.

  2. #2
    It is amazing how people go for it. Other sorts of fiction too, Dorothy Sayers with Lord Peter Whimsey and Margery Allingham with Albert Campion who is a 'Younger son'. Even when it isn't the hero older detective stories so often get set in large country houses. Think of the modern 'Girl with the dragon tattoo', its all about a family that owns a huge industrial complex, modern day royalty. The morons love someone to look up to, and rarely realise they are being screwed over.
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  3. #3
    I suspect that some of it is a relic of a monotheistic mindset: "He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords". In Western countries even atheists are steeped in Christian ideology and morality, making for a broad appeal.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    I find it's more fantasy than SF, but have encountered it in both: Societies and systems based on some form of feudalism or 'the one true king' or other such permutations of the same basic concept. It's Star Wars to C.S Lewis. Same basic shit.

    And...I really hate it. Not because I am against such systems (though I am, but this isn't about that) but because it's lazy and tiresome. What I do like about certain fantasy is that at least it shows kings, queens, etc as largely horrible and miserable people, but it's usually still flawed in having the same concept of a single man or woman (it's usually a man) who is effectively a benevolent dictator-in-waiting. Somebody who will, by virtue of being virtuous, be the answer to all the prayers of the shit-eating proles in the kingdom (or galaxy), as though the same people who live in a reality where lightspeed travel or magic exists wouldn't know they're being screwed over.

    Besides the glamour of having kings or queens, why do people still write in a manner that glorifies this shit? We all know it's a bullshit way to run a kingdom, that dictatorships are bad (even if they're not terrible) and that regardless of whether you like the idea of being ruled or not or whether you are trying to say something about The Real World, it's mostly a tired trope? It's especially exasperating when you encounter these archaic ideas in stories that don't need them, like Star Wars.
    Great q. I write primarily in fantasy so come up against this trope a lot. I don't mind it in every case - I mean, if there's fruity exposition dramatically delivered concerning "the realm", if there's mead and super fantasy dragon battles in a magic land then I don't really object to who's doing what - but along with chosen ones, prophecies, dwarves and right-justified fantasy maps, it is crushingly unoriginal. But I think people still write it because it's ... just an appealing set of archetypes. It's comfort-blanket fantasy for the western genre canon. It is something out of the norm for most people, and therefore a little magical. Still, there's absolutely room for something fresh.

    Now if I can just figure out what to do with my own "little people". I've toyed with simply giving them another name. At least my own Duke (ok, he was a king) has the decency to a. be a decent fellow and b. get murdered.


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  5. #5
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    I think the key word here is canon.

    Maybe consciously, but most likely subconsciously, when writers zero in on a particular genre, they take all the hallmark tropes that come with it.
    It's like a freebie exposition, complete with the typical evil overlords, cruel tyrants, and benevolent kings. No extra effort to build the world, just unbox - et voila.

    It takes:
    1. Admitting you have a problem, same as with addictions ;
    2. Courage to venture outside the well-trodden, tried-and-true path;
    3. Imagination to invent a political system of your own, and to work out all its details (important as well as minute);
    4. Literary ability to put all that in writing.


    The above involves a lot of cojones, and tons of extra work - compared to just alluding to a well-known concept.

    Personally, I don't think having a monarchy (or a theocracy) in a book is inherently bad ipso facto. Being lazy as the writer is bad What I mean by that is just taking standard, off-the-shelf solutions and using those as is.
    Monarchs can be made into very complex, conflicted, intriguing figures (case in point, the Empress in the Malazan cycle), to be anything but a trope.

  6. #6
    I think people like the aesthetic of royalty, and maybe they don’t feel like a lesson on fictional government when they read, especially when they know the complexities will be glossed over anyway (thank god).

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    It is amazing how people go for it. Other sorts of fiction too, Dorothy Sayers with Lord Peter Whimsey and Margery Allingham with Albert Campion who is a 'Younger son'. Even when it isn't the hero older detective stories so often get set in large country houses. Think of the modern 'Girl with the dragon tattoo', its all about a family that owns a huge industrial complex, modern day royalty. The morons love someone to look up to, and rarely realise they are being screwed over.
    That is a good point, Olly. I overlooked period fiction, which is rife with it as well. I just got done reading a British mystery novel set in the Edwardian period and of course it involved rich toffs (though ones who had lost a lot of their money and weren’t as rich as their peers - as though that makes them relatable) in a country mansion in Kent. Good book but I can’t stand the sense of forelock tugging that hums from the sentences talking about Lady this and Lord that. The closest thing we have here in the US (when American authors aren’t affecting British styles and settings anyway) is horrible shit like The Great Gatsby and Ayn Rand. I could accept that in 1920. Not in 2020.

    Quote Originally Posted by epimetheus View Post
    I suspect that some of it is a relic of a monotheistic mindset: "He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords". In Western countries even atheists are steeped in Christian ideology and morality, making for a broad appeal.
    Curious that broad appeal comes from writing about a tiny group of privilege isn't it?

    Quote Originally Posted by bdcharles View Post
    Great q. I write primarily in fantasy so come up against this trope a lot. I don't mind it in every case - I mean, if there's fruity exposition dramatically delivered concerning "the realm", if there's mead and super fantasy dragon battles in a magic land then I don't really object to who's doing what - but along with chosen ones, prophecies, dwarves and right-justified fantasy maps, it is crushingly unoriginal. But I think people still write it because it's ... just an appealing set of archetypes. It's comfort-blanket fantasy for the western genre canon. It is something out of the norm for most people, and therefore a little magical. Still, there's absolutely room for something fresh.

    Now if I can just figure out what to do with my own "little people". I've toyed with simply giving them another name. At least my own Duke (ok, he was a king) has the decency to a. be a decent fellow and b. get murdered.
    I understand it is comforting but I don’t really understand why. Where does that comfort come from? I don’t feel comfort when I see the Queen on TV (and less still when it’s Prince Andrew...) and while so guess literary royalty isn’t really about those it’s not like any historically monarchy has ever been a great source of comfort to most ordinary people. Historically, people were mostly just glad the king/Queen wasn’t murdering them or press-ganging them into the navy or whatever. So where does this come from? Why does it persist? I understand the symptom, I don’t understand the disease. Moreover I see it as inherently foul.

    Quote Originally Posted by KHK View Post
    I think the key word here is canon.

    Maybe consciously, but most likely subconsciously, when writers zero in on a particular genre, they take all the hallmark tropes that come with it.
    It's like a freebie exposition, complete with the typical evil overlords, cruel tyrants, and benevolent kings. No extra effort to build the world, just unbox
    Yeah well that’s really lazy and should be shat upon more, IMO.

    Personally, I don't think having a monarchy (or a theocracy) in a book is inherently bad ipso facto. Being lazy as the writer is bad What I mean by that is just taking standard, off-the-shelf solutions and using those as is.
    Monarchs can be made into very complex, conflicted, intriguing figures (case in point, the Empress in the Malazan cycle), to be anything but a trope.
    I agree some of these books are good but they aren’t good because of the elitism and in fact I think it needs called out more. All these supposedly enlightened, liberal luvvies who think Saudi Arabia and North Korea are just terrible, despotic places and see no irony in their religious fawning over Game Of Thrones “Ooh I’m A Stark!” Or people who think the billionaire class need taxed more but love The Great Gatsby and Gone With The Wind. No you’re a hypocrite. I understand fiction is partly about escapism and the kind of stories we read don’t necessarily reflect our beliefs but culturally I believe there is an impact. It’s almost like propaganda. I would argue the reason countries like Britain still retain their monarchy has far more to do with the impact of the various fiction that glorifies monarchy than it does anything else.

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnCalliganWrites View Post
    I think people like the aesthetic of royalty, and maybe they don’t feel like a lesson on fictional government when they read, especially when they know the complexities will be glossed over anyway (thank god).
    It’s not about lessons on fictional governments at all. It’s just about having them there. Why not have a fantasy world built around a flawed democracy? Or anarchy? Or even some kind of oligarchy? But no, we have these dumb ass kings and queens all the time. Most writers don’t even bother coming up with their own titles or structures. So unimaginative.

  8. #8
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    I like how Terry Pratchett played with the ideas of monarchies and dictatorship without being tiresome about it. He created a character (Sam Vimes) who is tasked with keeping the peace in a system not of his making, answering to a man who drives him nuts (sometimes on purpose), and Vimes is the descendant of a despised king-executioner. One thing that Vimes constantly is confronted by is (loosely paraphrased) the weakness of humanity which is to bend at the knees.

    One would think that humans would run to anarchy but there is no safety in that and overall people want today to pass much like the day before, they want things to be all right, they want the status quo. If that means you pay your freedom to someone in order to gain security plenty of people will do it. It's like a gravitational pull toward being ruled and it has little to do with wanting to be ruled but rather with wanting to be safe and not having to bear the responsibility for it.

    I agree wholeheartedly that the same systems are used as a kind of boilerplate in fantasy far too often which is one reason I'm not a big fantasy reader.

  9. #9
    If someone is not going to use King, Chief, President, Senator, Governor, Duke, Prince, Princess... and instead just use some made up word, and then it turns out that said word just means "King," I'm going to groan. It's only barely creative to smash sounds together to invent a new word that means the same thing as a word we all know in English. A new word really needs a new idea, and a new idea about Government that isn't even a part of the story isn't my thing. I don't want to read all about how the settlers were ordained by angels to name their leader (elected by the landless, second born children of families with storytellers and scribes), the Vipper, especially when the Vipper is nothing but a Chief or King. The very act of using a made up word for something that has a plain word is hokey, and if by chance the writer can make it cool, it still only breaks even unless it is a part of the story.

    It's worse when you are in a fantasy setting, because the vast majority of stories are travel logs, or take place over a couple of days. So let's say the world has a democracy instead of a kingdom, who votes? When do they vote? Do people in the Hinterland travel in to vote a couple times a year, or are city people only allowed to vote and they treat the farmers like serfs? If that's the case, who makes decisions? Are their codified laws for everything magical, or is there some public official who has the power to handle business until he comes up for review at the moot? During the time frame of the story, does this person just act like a Duke or King? Do the character wish there was a moot they could go to, but they can't because the whole story is one week long, or on a boat, or something? So then is the writer going to have this whole drama of discontent with politics in the mind of the main character for no reason, other than to explain why they aren't just dealing with a King?

    I'm not saying that stories about democracies are bad or boring, just that in a large number of story types, which aren't even about government at all, it makes no sense to waste words on it.

  10. #10
    I understand it is comforting but I don’t really understand why. Where does that comfort come from?
    One would think that humans would run to anarchy but there is no safety in that and overall people want today to pass much like the day before, they want things to be all right, they want the status quo.
    People want someone in charge, not themselves, and Royalty have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Writers are in charge of their make-believe worlds but probably don't mind someone else running things in the real world.
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