Continuing on the theme of race in fantasy literature, I, once more, feel inclined to buck the trend. This is actually a completely different topic than what I discussed in part I, but it does belong under the same general heading.
A few weeks ago, I was reading a blog about race, racism, and fantasy literature (it actually, to a certain extent, inspired this series of posts, but unfortunately, I have lost the link). The whole point of the blog post was that fantasy literature featuring “inferior” or “monstrous” races implied that the writer was differentiating and “creating difference” or “recognizing differences” and was therefore racist. Basically, the upshot was that you can’t use orcs and goblins (or even dragons) anymore, because if you do, you are being racist. Seriously? Seriously? This is why people do not like political correctness. Holier-than-thou loons who pick at trivialities as if they are profound problems.
In my book, Drasmyr, the action takes place on the world of Athron. It is a fantasy world. With fantasy creatures. Although they have not appeared yet, I intend to use a race of creatures called goblins in later books. And they are evil. Ergo, there is conflict between the humans and the goblins. Not because the goblins have blood-red skin and bald, knotted skulls, and therefor look different from the humans, but because the goblins raid and destroy human villages for sport. I suppose, theoretically, the conflict between humans and goblins on my fantasy world could be paralleled with actual real historical conflicts between Race A and Race B on good old Earth which were eventually resolved when Race A and Race B began to talk to each other and trust each other, finding a way forward to peace, and so, such thinking would imply that the goblins and humans on my world could do likewise, but I can tell you, as the AUTHOR, that is not the case. The goblins are evil. They respect only strength; they kill amongst themselves; they think nothing of rape and murder; and they worship demons. They will never progress beyond that. Because I’m the AUTHOR, and I say so. And I want an evil race of creatures for the humans to fight and be in conflict with.
I mean, seriously? Was Smaug just a misunderstood capitalist? Oh, no, it’s capitalism that is the true evil, so Smaug couldn’t be that. But whatever he was, he was surely misunderstood. Never mind the city of dwarves he roasted, or the village of men he plagued. We just aren’t looking at things through his perspective. If only the dwarves had been willing to talk to him. They could have worked things out. Oh, that’s right. They did talk to him. They said, “Aaaaaahhhh!” a lot. And then they got eaten.
It has been said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Arthur C. Clarke—and while I’m quoting him, check out this site listing some of his other quotes, some are pretty good). I would tend to agree. I’m quite convinced that a modern computer would be regarded as a magical device by a secluded tribesman, or—going even more primitive—a monkey. They would be baffled by how such a device works, explaining it, no doubt, with recourse to mythology and mythic powers (assuming monkeys can even entertain such thoughts). I was about to propose a corollary to the above quote, then I did a search on the net and found this site: it is quite interesting; it seems the corollary evokes quite heated responses from the scientific community. I’m going to give my corollary anyway: “Any well-developed system of magic is intended as a form of alternative technology or science.” I’m not saying the magic actually works here on our lovely planet Earth, but rather, the magic as described in a fantasy setting is postulated as working in a situation where alternate rules apply. It could be an alternate planet, or more probably, an alternate universe.
There may not be practical utility in noting this, but I find it interesting. It kind of occurred to me as I worked on developing my world for my fantasy books (the first of which is “Drasmyr,” a dark fantasy featuring a vampire bent on destroying a wizards guild, now available for free at Smashwords). I’m also, on the side, developing a pen and paper RPG game to go with it. Anyway, the system of magic is complex and detailed. Let’s take potions. In my world, wizards can make potions. Generally, the process involves obtaining various ingredients and combining them so that their properties interact and evoke a desired result. The basic assumption behind this is that each of the ingredients has certain properties which can be harnessed with diligent effort. Is it not unreasonable to assume they are using an alternative Periodic Table or something similar that operates according to their own rules, so that alchemy in a fantasy world is something like a “parallel” form of Chemistry or Pharmacology? Magic in the fantasy world generally is not something quick and simple; it takes years of study and discipline for a human being to become a wizard and learn magic. Of course, using magic to blast something with a ball of fire might be stretching things a bit… but if we can have electric eels in this world, a fire-wielding spell-caster in an alternate reality might yet be feasible. And the rules that govern the fire-wielding spell-caster will no doubt require years of diligent effort to master. At this point, I don’t see much of a difference between science and magic: it is simply different rules give different results. Well, at least, in theory. In terms of practicality, it would be impossible and really foolish to try to spell out all the rules of a magic system at the same level of detail that we have for modern science. That would be the work of lifetimes, for something that doesn’t exist.
Additionally, if you play with the rules too much, and you follow them strictly out, the resulting universe could very well be unintelligible to us. No one wants to read very much about a “gak that blops a trebid.”