Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Violence and the Fantasy Genre

Last week we watched the final Harry Potter film. It was a good ending to the series. Not so pretty as the previous one; and no big surprises ... but a good ending.

Without spoiling any details, I will say that there is a large-scale battle, during which one of the goodguys kills one of the badguys and smiles. It could be interpreted as a smile of relief, but could also be seen as a smile of satisfaction at having killed someone who caused many deaths.

I was bothered by that. Violence and killing are such a difficult issue for the author of young adult fantasy. It's something I've really struggled with in writing my own series.

I have great respect for the thoroughly non-violent approach of Madeleine L'Engle's books. Her protagonists are never called to use violent means in combating evil. They always overcome hatred with love.

I'm not sure how I feel about C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein's fantasy wars between good and evil. It seems wrong to glorify the concept of war. War may at times be necessary, but it's always tragic and ugly. And given the universality of human wickedness and corruption, it's extremely dangerous ever to identify one nation as good and another evil. (I don't care if it's Nazi Germany versus Allied England; it's still dangerous.)

Lewis argues that killing in war is not murder because it's nothing personal. He imagines that two Christian soldiers on opposite sides, bent on killing each other, might wake up, moments later, side by side in heaven, and find no difficulty whatsoever in laughing it off and embracing in joy.

In Lewis and Tolkein's fantasies, the killing is very impersonal. Perhaps what bothered me most about the confrontation in Deathly Hallows Part II is that, even though it could be seen as technically soldier-to-soldier combat, it nonetheless feels deeply personal, perhaps even an act of revenge.

Well ... that's "Hollywood" for ya: tapping into people's pent up aggressive instincts, satisfying the repressed bloodlust of our animal nature.

I suppose soldiers risking their lives to protect a nation under attack is a valid way of sublimating the aggressive instinct. (For non-Freudians: sublimation=channeling the energy of one's socially unacceptable sexual and aggressive instincts into higher, nobler [and in that sense, "sublime"] socially acceptable pursuits.)

Unless we think we can do away with war altogether, then as a society we must in some way glorify the role of the soldier--we must believe and tell our children that it is a noble thing to risk one's life in the attempt to kill our nation's enemies.

In some ways, I believe it truly is. To the extent that it requires courage and self-sacrifice, and that its purpose is to protect ordinary people from harm, it is a very noble thing. But unfortunately ... it also means "impersonal killing" ... it means doing something that is absolutely obscene and somehow setting aside the remorse, horror and disgust that a healthy soul would feel.

So ... as I said, I've been struggling with this issue in writing my own series. I started writing the fourth book last year, and stopped because it was just not shaping up at all--needs to be scrapped and restarted. But it's going to deal with this question about the use of violence ... Unfortunately, my thoughts and feelings on the subject are still so messy ...

Ugh. I hate violence because it's so evil and ugly and disturbing. But I'm also aware of my own deep-seated aggressive instincts. I am violent and I hate violence. Well ... it's something to brood about and maybe start writing again ...

No comments: