Examining the four main foci for traditionalist impulses in fantasy and science fiction (Part Five)
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.)
A yet further subgenre is that of quote the lonely, wounded hero in opposition to a corrupt society. Examples of this are Andrew Lloyd-Webber's theatrical-operatic reinterpretation of The Phantom of the Opera, the Beauty and the Beast television series (1987-1990) (which unfortunately ended in such a pessimistic way), the new Batman epics, and the movie Ladyhawke (1985), which showed a black-clad knight fighting on behalf of the Church of Rome against a heretical, white-clad bishop and sorcerer of seemingly limitless powers. It could be argued that, in today's society, the quote true masculine has been forced into the underground or subconscious of society. The appeal of these various productions could be interpreted as attempts at allowing the so-called whole man to re-emerge in the face of various current-day correctitudes.
The V for Vendetta movie (2006), based on the 1980s comic-book series by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, combined the fascinating imagery of the dark-tinged Romantic hero fighting for his beloved and also against a corrupt society, but with a high degree of political correctness in the portrayal of that corrupt society as stereotypically fascist.
There are as well those classic works of dystopia that can be seen to imply a traditionalist critique of modernity, such as, most prominently, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). While left-wing critics focus in on the genetic caste system of Brave New World as symptomatic of quote corporate conservatism, it seems that Huxley's point is much different. The posited abolition of God, history, and the family in Huxley's dystopia points to the work as a classic of conservative criticism of society. Also, the book has to be read very carefully for one to notice a lot of the very disgusting aspects of the dystopia that might not be apparent on a superficial read-through. It is possible to see the main characters of Brave New World, Bernard Marx, John the Savage, and Helmholtz Watson as pointing to different aspects of possible resistance to late modernity, embodying the following concepts, roughly speaking: alienation and social awkwardness, the passion of opposition, and (for the lucky few) superb accomplishment and success.
As for Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is at its most obvious level a critique of Stalinism – a courageous stance for a Western intellectual to take at that time. The work can also be seen to evince a yearning for the traditions of Britain and England. At the same time, Orwell makes highly astute observations about the nature of political and social control, a great many of which can fairly easily be applied to today's political correctness. He makes the vital point that semantic control is probably the most important part of controlling people – or as he puts it, "Newspeak is Ingsoc, and Ingsoc is Newspeak". Many traditionalists in Western societies today can certainly identify with various elements (though obviously not all) of Winston Smith's dissident experience.
These foci offer practical points of departure in terms of social and ideological re-alignment – as far as traditionalism is concerned. For its part, high-fantasy such as that of Tolkien certainly has the potential to inspire cultural and ecological resistance to the more negative aspects of late modernity. Sword-and-sorcery might in some cases increase the confidence of persons critical of late modernity, although it can also result in an escape into a fantasy world. Cyberpunk and some dystopias provide a warning about the future, pointing to future worlds that traditionalists don't want to happen. However, boldly extrapolative science fiction such as that of Frank Herbert can be seen as having affinities with quote prophecy, suggesting some of the ways in which a traditional ethos might be able to persist in societies with a very highly advanced technology.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.