Examining the four main foci for traditionalist impulses in fantasy and science fiction (Part One)
By Mark Wegierski
(This article is based on a draft of a presentation read at the Fantastic Literature Conference (The Basic Categories of Fantastic Literature Revisited) (Lodz, Poland: University of Lodz) October 21-23, 2012.)
It is argued that fantasy and science fiction are genres where traditionalist impulses can persist in an increasingly desacralized, disenchanted, and quote mundane world. The four main points of focus for these impulses are mapped onto several subgenres of fantasy and science fiction. Such a typology creates a helpful method for distinguishing between these various subgenres.
The first point of focus consists of nostalgia for a quote greener world and is identified with high-fantasy, especially the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. High-fantasy is frequently characterized by a lament for the quote thinning of the world and is in fact quite congruent with traditionalist despair at the increasing loss of meaning in current-day society. Frequently, in high fantasy, past ages of a quote sub-created world are grander and more magical than the world of the present, while magical forces are often on the wane in the current day. What is constantly occurring in our own age could be called the disenchantment of the world. This finds an easy conceptual correspondence to the conservative and traditionalist lament for the so-called good old days. High fantasy is also often characterized by fear of an encroaching quasi-industrial or machine age – which is frequently identified with the forces of evil. It participates therefore in the Romantic disdain for the quote dark Satanic mills – a sentiment which is also apt to partake of traditionalist and conservative impulses. Also, the better characters in high-fantasy usually have good manners and a sense of reserve and modesty (being in a way similar in this respect to characters in a Jane Austen novel). This too corresponds to a conservative ideal. These good manners are typical of social existence in somewhat earlier periods of human history (according to conservatives at any rate). Also, quite obviously in high-fantasy, kings and queens, princes and princesses, as well as lords and ladies of various sorts are the main rulers of society – which feeds into the pro-monarchic and pro-aristocratic ideas that at least some conservatives hold, at least sentimentally. High fantasy like that of Tolkien also celebrates the rootedness of life in the countryside (such as found in the hobbits’ Shire), the attachment to place associated with noble and ancient cities (such as Minas Tirith), and the perennial traditions of proud and confident nations (such as Gondor and Rohan).
The second point of focus is that of the neo-pagan heroic, which is identified with the sword-and-sorcery subgenre. Here, the paradigmatic works are Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. The great popularity of this subgenre can be seen as a response to an increasingly bureaucratized, over-regulated society. Indeed, it may be a form of displaced protest on the part of increasingly quote geek-ified males who long for a Nietzschean heroism. They yearn for some expression of ardent masculinity – for ferocious sword-fights and unbridled and readily fulfilled episodes of lust slaked by the nubile warrior-women, sorceresses, princesses, and elf-maidens that are typical of the sword-and-sorcery milieu.
These impulses are probably among the main reasons for the popularity of fantasy role-playing games (RPGs) such as Dungeons and Dragons.
While some males are apt to become absorbed entirely by the innerness of a fantasy world, for others, it is possible for these impulses to be rendered more dynamic and lead to a more actively aggressive and coherent resistance to the world of late modernity, where nowadays straight white males are particularly subject to the severe strictures of political correctness. Even the quote geekiest of males can sometimes show a flash of steely resolve that is expressed in constructive (hopefully not destructive) action, when they have been badgered too long.
The heroism of the Conan vision stands in marked contrast to the sort of heroism usually expressed in the high-fantasy typified by Tolkien, who warns against the unbridled will-to-power. The most obviously Nietzschean hero in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is Boromir, who succumbs to the seductive lure of the Ring of Power. In contrast, it is the ordinary, humble, unassuming hobbits who in the end succeed in the quest to destroy the Ring of Power.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.