In the UK there have been an interesting series of programs (on the BBC) by Andrew Marr looking in-depth at why we love reading fiction. The first program concerned the genre of detective stories and the second Fantasy (I haven’t watched the third yet). Now, as a science fiction writer I found the discussion on fantasy the most interesting as, in many ways, much of it could apply to sci-fi as well. There was some talk about the escapism etc. and that so much of fantasy is set in almost an alternative middle ages (obviously does not apply to sci-fi), usually with magic added in, in some form or other. This to me was all pretty standard. However, what I found most interesting was the concept of deeper meanings in fantasy fiction.
So, this is where I raise the chicken and egg question concerning fantasy and to some extent science fiction. Let me explain. First, much of fantasy is about the fight between good and evil. So naturally there are parallels drawn between fantasy writing and our religious beliefs. And there are a number of works we look at as being allegorical e.g. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials, the Narnia books, where Aslan is a Jesus parallel and of course Lord of the rings. The question for me is which comes first the story or the “deeper meaning”. Was the intention to discuss these issues in the story from the beginning? Or do the stories naturally push these issues as they evolve? Where you have magic, good and evil and supernatural beings then I might argue these parallels are almost inevitable. After all, in any good story you need conflict and what bigger conflict is there?
There was also much discussion around Game of Thrones. That this is a story that parallels what’s happening in the world today. You have the breakdown of societies, the corruption of power, the desire of the powerful to hang on to power whatever the cost, people rising up against the established order etc. etc. “Winter is coming” becomes the ultimate threat if we don’t deal with the problems of the world. The question again is how much of this is intentional/deliberate? Are we in danger over analysing? Now any writer myself included is influenced by, and so draw on, the world around them. We must be. However, I suspect that in the beginning George R.R. Martin was trying to write a damned good story. Then given the world and characters he was creating the conflicts and “parallels” arose as a consequence of that, rather than those being the reason.
I can find a number of similar cases in my own books. For example in my latest publication, ‘Bleak – The story of a shapeshifter’. In a number of comments I’ve received, people enjoyed the inner conflict of the main character, Bleak and his (and I suppose his society’s) issues with what it is to be human. This is something that I believe will be a major issue in the future as the lines between humans and machines are blurred and the rise of artificial intelligence. Now in Bleak’s case, without giving too much away he is a “creation”. He feels himself to be human (even if he questions it), however, officialdom doesn’t see him that way. In some ways this parallels (in an extreme sense) how in society we treat disabilities or anyone else that in some way doesn’t fit in. Now, I didn’t set out for these issues to be a major theme of the book. It was something that grew out of the character I created. If I was to be true to that character, if he wasn’t to be left as some two-dimensional sketch of a character, these were, I felt, issues he would have to confront. These were the basis for his flaws and personal inner conflict.
So, there you have it my “chicken and egg” for fantasy and science fiction. How much is intentional and how much are we in danger of over analysing and post rationalising? Was this the writer’s main motivation for writing the book or did it grow out of wanting to write the best possible story? Or perhaps, as I suspect, in some cases at least, it’s a mixture of both.
As always comments are welcome.
If you wish to read more of Bleak’s conflict you can find my book, Bleak the story of a shapeshifter, on Amazon http://smarturl.it/Bleak