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Thursday, January 15, 2004

Down With The King?

There is a point here - I promise.

First off, looks like my account of our tax dollars at work stifling dissent yet again has been picked up by Independent Media Center and Progressive Review, along with some cranky comments by people who (apparently) don't mind speech being stifled so long as they disagree with it.

(Unfortunately, I'm afraid this might be a majority view in this country before long, if it's not already.)

I'm not really following up to report how shocked and chagrinned I am that some idiot decided it'd be fun to cheer on the idea of some Secret Service agent fisting someone who dared not bow down to the ruling junta.

What concerned me more was the notion that, based on the first paragraph, someone might surmise that I don't know my Tolkien very well.

I am happy to report that I am well aware that the name "White Tower" (actually called Orthanc, at Isengard) refers to the tower of Saruman, not the Dark Tower in Mordor where Sauron resides. I am also aware that neither Sam nor Frodo ever actually brought the Ring, or themselves, anywhere in the vicinity of Isengard.

However, the White House presumably looks more like a white tower than a dark one, regardless of who occupies it.

Which brings me, finally, to my point.

What is it with the entire fantasy genre and its view of kings and monarchy in general?

It has long been a complaint that democratic government gives Jesus and Judas equal say. Now, with a monarchy you may get lucky and give Jesus all the power and Judas none. There is, however, no effective way to guarantee against ending up with Judas wielding all the power. There may be some positive correlation between fitness to rule and the royal line, but history tells us that this correlation must be small indeed, especially considering the fact that royal families in Europe were fond of inbreeding.

One of the key intellectual developments of the Enlightenment is the rejection of a set of long-held ideas, the most prominent of which was the "divine right of kings." America in particular is a nation ostensibly founded on Enlightenment ideals.

And yet the entire fantasy genre, much of which is created by Americans, seems to swallow the concept whole.

In Lord of the Rings, for instance, Aragorn is the real king, and Denethor an incompetent false pretender. But almost every work of fantasy works the same way - the true king is wise, and those who do not like him are wicked schemers or worse. Even the ostensibly anti-monarchist Robin Hood legends hint strongly that if the real king were on the throne, the Sheriff's injustices would cease. Every "swords and dragons" epic I've ever seen, in any form, if it discusses monarchy, is unabashedly in favor of it, and always in favor of either the ruling monarch or some "rightful" monarch that resurfaces during the course of the story.

It's not that I expect it to be the opposite or anything. But contrast this treatment with science fiction, in which rulers are frequently criticized even when they are not portrayed as evil.

It may be that I'm not up in newer trends in the fantasy genre, but its routine embrace of principles more characteristic of reactionaries than progressives always struck me as strange.


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