Heroic fantasy helped raise me.
Seems a silly thing to say, doesn't it? But it's true. Fantasy novels (at least the good ones) were like supplementary parents. It's a little sad, sometimes, that we don't see each other much anymore. I've been busy, you know, with Big Theme and Moral Ambiguity and that slick sonofagun the Human Condition. But I miss ol' Heroic Fantasy sometimes, though mostly in a nostalgic way, a weren't those great times kinda way.
But I don't look down on Heroic Fantasy. We may not visit much, but I'm still glad it's out there. Why? Because I think there's value in the moral simplicity it offers.
One important avenue of art (at least the written kind), is to show, and to explore, the world as it is. I believe this, and I seek this in my own writing. I'm trying to find truths, and if they aren't universal and aboslute truths they are at least subjective and personal ones, uniquely prophetic. But this exploration of life and meaning isn't the only avenue for literature, and I think Heroic Fantasy fills another niche.
There's value, I think, in exploring not the world as it is but the world as we want it to be. It's little more than a wish, but a wish can be an important thing. Wishes shape actions and beliefs. Wishes are hope.
A hero, a dark lord. Black and white, good and evil. Seems hokey, at times, and yet there's a relevance here. This is narrative as moral fable, as a reinforcement of an ideal. Heroism is possible. Is that the way it always is in the real world? No, of course not. It is rare, in fact, and yet it is there. And so why not aspire to it?
Heroic fantasy, I think, aspires to that ideal, to hold up a vivid tapestry of what might be, of what we might wish of ourselves. Will we live up to it? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But I think we might be better for having that tapestry before us.
I read a lot of fantasy growing up. Some good, lots bad... but even the worst usually offered a comforting framework. Some would call it escapism, mere wish fulfillment... but wishing for something creates an interesting path in the brain. You go from wishing to wanting to finding.
I read, years ago, some studies on human behaviour which showed that certain types of delusionary thinking were a basic aspect of human life. The brain doesn't want to see things perfectly clearly. Reality can be dark and overwhelming, and the mind copes by telling itself little falsehoods. The brain's a fibber. It convinces you of possibility where there is little. When someone you love dies and grief claims you... the brain will distract you for moments here and there. It's a safety function, a diversionary process to poke you temporarily through the grief. It keeps those feelings from overwhelming you... Yes, they will come back, you can't trick yourself forever. You'll see a shirt that the dead person left hanging on the back of the door and the grief will wash back over you, a black sea, and you will wonder that you forgot for a moment. But those little diversions are windows on a brighter world. A false world, maybe, a trick of the brain, but a necessary one. This is hope, perhaps, at its most basic.
Stories of heroic fantasy are like wishes, are like little acts of hope. They are a clean light shining on what seems a dark world. They are a slender path calling you onward, bidding you to follow.
Now, if grey has become my favourite colour (seductive and shifting and ever mutable), it is sometimes still nice to remember the beauty of black and white.