20 July 2004

Fantasy and moral clarity

Ursula K. LeGuin rocks the house. I just stumbled across "a few grunts" from her about fantasy literature.
Some assumptions are commonly made about fantasy that bother me. These assumptions may be made by the author, or by the packagers of the book, or both, and they bother me both as a writer and as a reader of fantasy. They involve who the characters are, when and where they are, and what they do. Put crudely, it's like this: in fantasy, 1) the characters are white, 2) they live sort of in the Middle Ages, and 3) they're fighting in a Battle Between Good and Evil.
She goes on to unpack these three points, most notably observing that contrary to popular belief, The Lord of the Rings is not really about a Battle Between Good and Evil. Speaking to that third point, she has this timely thing to say ...
Immature people crave and demand moral certainty: This is bad, this is good. Kids and adolescents struggle to find a sure moral foothold in this bewildering world ...
... which serves as a jumping-off point for ever-pointed Yezida's ruminations on the danger that "moral clarity" brings.

In comments, Kira alludes to LeGuin's famous Bryn Mawr Commencement Address. It's long and good and full of zingers like this ...

You came here to college to learn the language of power --- to be empowered. If you want to succeed in business, government, law, engineering, science, education, the media, if you want to succeed, you have to be fluent in the language in which "success" is a meaningful word.
... and is very much the sort of thing you'll like if you ever like that sort of thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the LeGuin link; I do love her writing. Have you seen her Bryn Mawr Commencement speech? (http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/leguin/)