Many times I'm asked why I write what I write. My work tends toward the darker side of things. I'm not pessimistic; it's not that kind of dark. I appreciate the darkness in the fantasy that I read. I'm a firm believer that you cannot have a believable story without the conflict of a truly terrible entity pressing against the protagonist and everything they hold dear. Evil is a part of life. It lurks and creeps and screams in your ear. Darkness hides in the very corners of your house and we, like the good citizens we are, push the dust bunnies into them where they are ignored, forgotten, left to breed.
Why write about it? Why not write something light and fluffy? There's nothing wrong with light and fluffy writing. One of my favorite series is a cozy mystery with Beatrix Potter as the main characters. Every other chapter of the seven book series is filled with talking animals. There's a dragon and even fairies. I love it and it's what I go to when I need reassurance that life really is beautiful.
But guess what? There is darkness there.
Murder most foul.
Emotionally abusive parents.
Over-bearing grandmothers who "just don't understand" their young charges.
Relationships that seem doomed from the beginning.
"But," you argue, "these are plot elements. Without them, where would the story be?"
"But, horror? Gothic fantasy? Weird, obscure, terrifying mythological creatures who roam about out modern world, part and parcel with the very hills beneath our feet?"
Yes, a deep, resounding, yes.
Because without them, where would the story be?
There's a lovely interview with author Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians, over at Lit Hub. The entire interview is marvelous, but when asked about fantasy in light of our current social situation, Mr. Grossman says this:
By its nature fantasy focuses on power relationships a lot, whether that power is political or military or magical in nature. You get a lot of monarchies, with the usual abuses. It also deals with outsiders a lot, and the question of who is human and who isn’t, who matters and who doesn’t. These issues have always been important, but right now in this country they are urgent and central.
Ahhh. So you can lose yourself in fantasy without dealing with the REAL issues.
Au contraire, my Dear. It is precisely because of the real, of the here and now, that I turn to fantasy. Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time must battle a disembodied brain in order to win back her little brother. A disembodied brain? That doesn't make much sense. It's not that scary. Really? Imagine life without feeling, without sentimentality. Imagine a world where everything is ruled by ONE mind, with ONE agenda, without heart, without feeling, without regard to anything other than the obvious, the functions of the ONE MIND. The ONE AGENDA.
Sounds frighteningly like communism doesn't it?
L'Engle was speaking out against just such a regime. She was crying out against the world of her time: NO! We must have HEART as well as MIND. Writing about it in the form of a disembodied brain was fantasy, but it hits terrifyingly close to home.
Fantasy isn't always escapism. Horror isn't always about blood, guts, and gore. I'll go so far as to say the great fantasy and horror are NEVER just about those things. They take the real horrors and issues we face and give them names, faces, horrifying actions that can be fought against with physicality. It's easier that way, when we can see the monster and jab it with a hot poker.
Remember all your favorite fairy tales? Remember the villains? The monsters? Where would the story be without them? Think of your own life: think of the challenges you face. Where would your story be without them? No, really...where? It is through the struggle that we find ourselves.
Happy weekend, Dear Readers. Happy writing