I’ve mentioned this before I’m sure. There has been a big push for “gritty realism” in fantasy over the last two decades, regardless of whether it is historical or urban. The more traditional “hero’s quest” being abandoned for greater ambiguity that critics call depth. I’ve never been able to understand that because, after all, it’s fantasy, and fantasy is like daydreaming. Does anyone daydream about a miserable world filled with awful people where the dreamer themself is also despicable?
One of the arguments made in favor of realism is that audiences are tired of the same old thing, but that doesn’t work for me. Music is almost always made up of melodies, beats, and rhythm, but few prefer music without these tired old tropes. Oddly enough, I never get tired of melodies, beats and rhythms because there are an infinite number of them possible, and because the alternative is noise.
I’ve also heard that realism is better because the characters are more believable, more like real people. This comes up a lot. “Good” characters suffer and succumb to corruption, greed, lust, hate, jealousy. The result is that there are no heroes, because in real life there are no heroes—no people who are genuinely good, or who manage to resist temptation or overcome adversity to win. No happily-ever-after. In real life, should a person appear to do something great, then we all know there must be a flaw. Drugs were used. Kids were beaten. Tests were cheated. It has to be this way because heroes don’t exist, and so why should they in our literature? Even if it is fantasy, there are limits to what people can be expected to believe in. Dragons? sure. Ghosts, vampires, werewolves? absolutely, but a wholly good person with the courage to stand up for what is right without an ulterior motive? That’s ridiculous.
Is this what society has come to? Is this how people see the world? I don’t, which only leads me to think that the ambiguity and cynicism is actually less realistic, not more.
Even if the world is as awful as this sounds, why the desire to read about other worlds that are just the same? Personally I have to agree with the quote from the movie Secondhand Lions, written by Tim McCanlies:
Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.
Recently a friend read the above quote and his response was: So people should just lie to themselves?
If this is the kind of reaction we have today, then there is little wonder that even our fictitious worlds are jaded. Seems to me that if we give up on heroes in our fantasies, or on societies that are worth saving, then how can we ever expect to find them in the real world? Great things begin with an idea, but if our imaginary think-tanks are no more than a reflection of real life, what’s the point?