During a drunken conversation with a very nice chap named Sigurd during a party on Saturday night, he asked me a very interesting question (As a side note, the Norwegian word for having pre–club drinks is forspill, which literally translates as ‘foreplay’. Which makes it hilarious every time someone invites me over to their place for some. Childish, but what are you going to do?).
We’d discussed what life is like in Essex and how it compares to living in Hamar. I explained the weekend culture of booze, drugs, fights and one–night stands which Essex has become somewhat famous for. Shows like The Only Way Is Essex didn’t really help that one. We agreed that such a culture isn’t really prevalent in Norway; at least that I’ve seen. Things here seem a little more laid back. People drink to have fun, not to pass out in a toilet somewhere. (And trust me: they do drink.)
The two of us went out for a cigarette. Sigurd was interested in my writing since he also had aspirations to one day write a story. During our chatter he asked with complete sincerity “So why do you write fantasy, given your background?”
I couldn’t really answer, so I just said it was what I enjoyed reading. I’ve touched on how I started to become a writer in these two posts. But the question stuck with me over the last few days. Why fantasy? I believe the answer is fairly intriguing, so here is the best way I can summarise it.
On the first page of Queen of the World, there is a line which simply says ‘The world wants heroes.’ I think this is true in most cases. Almost everyone has a role model, or someone they look up to. We idolise people from all aspects of human culture.
Let’s start with celebrities. As much as you may personally dislike the fact, people do make the likes of Paris Hilton, Russell Brand and Lindsay Lohan their inspirations, whether it’s for fashion, lifestyle or glamour. I don’t agree at all, but I understand. It’s a mindset. ‘They seem to live such an exciting life, and I want to do the same.’ Even through the flaws – homemade sex tapes, drug abuse, jail time – it doesn’t matter. I think we forgive celebrities for a lot of things. Look at Chris Brown. Puts a woman in the hospital after repeatedly hitting her, and then comes back to win at the Grammys. On Twitter, a sizeable number of female fans responded with comments such as ‘Chris Brown can beat me up any time’. Really?
Of course, there are a huge number of outlets for fame and talent which actually involve skill. Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber for immediate pop culture. They have a fair share of detractors, but at least they create and give something to the word. For more ‘classic’ heroes in the music industry, you have characters such as Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley. People worshiped and aspired to follow in their footsteps. But it’s all subjective. You may not like them because of the music they played or the lifestyle they lived. And that’s fine.
So how about sport? Pelé. Babe Ruth. Babe Zaharias (Google that last one. She was pretty amazing). Sports require physical skill and excellence for the most part. Unless you’re playing darts or bowls or something. But they train hard, compete at the highest level and win the admiration of the fans of the sport. There’s something good, something kids can look up to, when they see Lionel Messi or Tiger Woods. Tiger is an interesting one. For years he was the man. The perfect package. Dominated his sport, clean cut, handsome and wildly successful. That’s probably why when his infidelity came to light he was so truly massacred by the press. Everyone felt betrayed. We’d trusted him to be better than the rest of us, and it turned out he had the same faults as regular people.
Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and Winston Churchill were / are heroes, and rightly so. But they excelled in political and sociological circles. Mandela is certainly an inspiration. What he’s been through in his life takes a fairly strong man to withstand and remain an advocate for freedom and equality. Churchill stood up to Hitler and acted as a beacon for the British during World War II. Parks was a catalyst for the Civil Rights movement. All of them helped to change the world in their own way, and they shall correctly be remembered as heroes to many. But they’re not the heroes I want. I’m after the larger than life, hands-on, save the day heroes.
During the aforementioned war, there was a Finnish sniper named Simo Häyhä. During one hundred days of conflict, in temperatures falling as low as -40°C and with few daylight hours, he personally killed over 705 Soviets who were invading his homeland. He has the highest confirmed number of sniper kills of any war ever. When asked later if he regretted killing so many people, Simo replied “I did what I was told to as well as I could.” The Soviets nicknamed him simply ‘White Death’.
For me, that is a hero. King Leonidas (Spartaaaaa!) was a hero, along with Joan of Arc and Richard the Lionheart. I’m not saying heroes must be violent or good at killing people, but they were people who now seem mythical in their reputation. I mean, Jesus defintely counts. It doesn’t matter if you celebrate or disregard religion. If Jesus the man existed then he unquestionably made a huge difference to the future of humanity.
Would you rather meet Liberace or William Wallace? John Lennon or Alexander the Great? Everyone I’ve mentioned is the pinnacle of excellence in someone’s eyes. But my interest is with people who went out and changed the world with a battle-cry, a sword in hand and a flag flapping in the wind overhead. People who forged nations, destroyed empires and literally changed the world in their lifetime.
My world needs heroes. And so I write about them. Characters that are able to use their skills, talents and code to make a difference. I like the romantic idea of skill with a blade or a bow over one’s talent with a gun or a bomb. I like people who don’t have the media or the Internet or advertisement to shape their opinions. My heroes have honour, passion and the will to succeed. Fantasy is the strongest breeding ground for such people, and it’s why I write about it. Besides, I don’t think any of the characters in my book would be better off with an iPhone or a pair of Reeboks. -grins-
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