Fantasy is political. It is a filtered lens which focuses to help us reflect on society's underlying concerns. The subject and context of a fantasy are crucial to its success; it must highlight a prescient issue, and hit a nerve in turbulent times. Fantasy is adept at bringing unconscious or unspoken issues to the fore in an indirect way—non-threatening, non-accusatory. For surely Arya Stark's revenge mission has nothing to do with my political disengagement; and what do house elves have to do with my ignorance of working conditions in the third world? Fantasy also, importantly, offers an escape to another world when our own becomes overwhelming or painful. Here are some examples.
Consider the context of The Lord of the Rings: the world was devastated by the destruction and abject horror of World War II. Middle Earth offered an alternative reality which temporarily released readers from their own anguish. And the message at its heart, I think, resonated very deeply with a scarred generation: even in midst of the most terrible times, goodness may endure and shine a light (when all other lights go out).
Similarly, Harry Potter was phenomenally successful in the 90's and 00's. This was a time of great change too, as technology became embedded in our lives and changed pretty much everything: communication, the professional sphere, leisure time, acquiring information. The heroes, villains, and even causes of the wars in that time were unclear. Hogwarts did not have Wi-Fi, and its conflict was a clear one of good versus evil. Then came The Hunger Games to highlight the gap between the West and the Rest—not to mention urban versus rural, and the deepening gulf of economic classes—in an era of increasing international awareness.
And now in our own decade of political, economic, and environmental instability, the Game of Thrones spread its scaled wings and took us all by storm. The brutal, self-interested nature of politics is laid bare within the 'safe' paradigm of kings, queens, medieval garb, and dragons. The rhetoric and in-fighting of a select few determines the destinies of everyone else. And the masses just rally when and where they're told.
Fantasy allows writers to explore the politics of human bravery, treachery, altruism, and avarice. It is an extreme and even ancient platform which will continue to ignite the imaginations of thousands—millions--of people who need to step out of their own world for a time in order to consider it from another perspective. As our decade wears on, and a Trump administration rests on the horizon, perhaps another adventure awaits.
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Published by F. T. Hall-Bowden