Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Belief Systems and Fantasy

Photo by See-ming Lee .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
I recently had a conversation with a friend about the origins of belief systems.  We talked about how early humans created deities based on what they observed in the physical world around them. They saw the power of the sun to deliver light and warmth and worshiped it as a God.  They developed a familiarity with the land they lived on and soon worshiped it as the manifestation of an Earth God.  In both cases they developed belief systems that gave them comfort and helped them to emotionally cope with the world around them.

Our modern world has many similar belief systems such as religion, law, ethics, and morality.  I've been thinking about why fantasy still seems relevant to me as adult with access to all of these other belief systems.  And I am starting to think pop culture has become the dominant new belief system--one that is "broadcast" on a daily basis to billions of people around the world.  Our novels, shows and movies embody the more formal underlying belief systems of law and morality.  Some overtly demonstrate these values, some challenge them, while others allude to them. 

Fantasy stories that are widely appreciated usually involve heroic quests undertaken by brave individuals who often make sacrifices in support of their ideals.  Other stories present deeply flawed protagonists--but they always have some virtuous characteristics.  A good story that we enjoy informs our lives.  Even if it seems like an escapist activity, immersing ourselves in a good story usually reinforces the dignity and importance of our own daily struggles.

Fantasy is perhaps the greatest form of storytelling because it has the widest latitude.  A fantasy can paint any scenario--completely unfettered by the boundaries of our reality.  Fantasies create their own reality--but the good ones do so in a way that echoes and reflects back on our own.  Without this aspect, a fantasy story becomes a silly account of the escapades of sword wielding primitives.  But with it a fantasy story can speak to the noblest and most sacred aspects of our existence.  

The word count on the Hemlock book four manuscript stands at around 40k.  I am hoping to accelerate my pace of writing, but I'm not sure my other responsibilities will allow it.  Hemlock is about to embark on a quest at this point in the story--and that's a fun part to write for me.  The political and interpersonal parts of the story are more challenging because you have to weave together many different threads.  Quests are often more constrained--the one I'm about to write certainly is.  That allows the author to just let the story flow.  And that is usually a great feeling!  Thanks for reading and I hope you are enjoying the fall (or whatever season it may be in your part of the world)!