war is not heroic.
i was digging through ye ol’ shelves last night for something light and easy to read, to take my headspace out of the school paper i’m working on before trying to sleep. i thumbed through some old stuff labeled heroic fantasy. i put it back after only a moment. it was disturbing to me, because i had been reading about the wikileaks thing, and about all those civilian casualties. i was thinking how glorifying that stuff is about as endearing to me as a high school pep rally.
that’s why patrick rothfuss’ “heroic” hero, kvothe is cool. he’s fucking broken. he’s telling you about all the cool shit he did, and he’s basically, in the modern day, experiencing hardcore ptsd. calling that heroic fantasy doesn’t work for me.
david durham’s also on the cutting edge of this stuff, with a rich tapestry of characters that are all the main characters in their own minds, hurting each other because of the slow breakdown of social orders has led to the great tragedy of human society: armed conflict. it comes at a high price. it is not pretty. people you love will die, gruesomely.
what is heroic? working hard to put food on the table for your kids. taking stray dogs to no-kill shelters. suing the shit out of bp oil. that’s heroic. warfare is not heroic. it’s a tragedy. it’s a farce. it’s a horrible thing where horrible things happen and even a just war is an example of a failure of people to prevent the need for a “just” war through policy, negotiation and love. killing people isn’t heroic. it’s a tragedy made flesh. even someone who isn’t a murderer is still a killer. that’s not heroic. that’s awful.
and that’s the thing about real “heroic fantasy” as i understand the definition. they aren’t about heroism. they’re about suffering. that’s “suffering fantasy”. it isn’t heroism that keeps me reading. it’s empathizing with characters that bleed out slowly on the razor’s edge.
and average heroic fantasy – even pretty well-written average heroic fantasy by authors who are pretty-much household names in the blog-o-sphere – aren’t really writing heroic fantasy. they’re writing entertainment fantasy.
so, i want to redefine heroic fantasy. if the hero of your heroic fantasy piece kills or harms any living thing without consequence, it’s not heroic fantasy. if your villain is not the hero of a story we happen to not be reading, but is just plain villainous, that is not heroic fantasy. (if your hero is handier with a weapon than they are talking to members of the opposite gender, that is not heroic fantasy, but this is part of a larger craft concern… and involves anime more than books, I’ll admit.) these, and other traits, are generally hallmarks of “power” fantasies.
want to read a fantasy novel involving real heroics? me, too. hard to find out there. heroes, by their very defining term, trend towards the implausible. what i settled on last night, when i was looking for real fantastickal heroics, was Accelerando by Charles Stross. when you think about it, if you’ve read it, it will start to come together for you, too.