The fantasy genre is all about escapism -- getting a little bit of magic in our lives without the hassle of trying to stop our neighbors from conjuring Cthulhu to devour the world. But beneath the wonder of powerful wizards, heroic sword fights, and enchanted jewelry, fantasy stories encourage some very dark ideas that usually fly right under our radar. In most of the popular stories, you'll find messages about how ...
5Technology Is Evil
Quick, try to think of any fantasy story in which the good guys win by coming up with a new invention or technology. Versus, say, having to find some ancient supernatural relic or rallying behind a magical "chosen one." Hell, try to come up with a story where they win by inventing a new type of magic or concocting a new potion or something. Where's the fantasy version of Steve Jobs, damn it?
This is even true in the franchises with sci-fi elements. Take Star Wars, a sword-and-magic universe that also has cool spaceships, cool spacesuits, and cool space guns ... but still wants us to think that old-fashioned mysticism is way cooler. The Jedi order is treated as a long-lost culture, with powerful magic no technology can replicate (the first time "the Force" is mentioned, a nonbeliever mocks it and then is promptly proven wrong via a Force-choke). In the same movie, with barely any training, Luke Skywalker is told to abandon his modern targeting computer during a firefight and wing it, trusting that the Force will guide him.
The fate of the universe depends on a redneck believing in ghosts talking to him and his ability to shoot space rats.
This is a guy who's sitting in a piece of technology that allows him not just to fly, but also to breathe in outer space, harness the power of light itself as a weapon, and travel to distant planets ... but he doesn't trust it to aim a torpedo? Hell, with their level of technology, they should have targeting systems that can pull off precision headshots from the other side of the galaxy. The ship's computer should be so much smarter than the pilot that when Luke tries to deactivate it, it'd merely shrug off the command. "You push all the buttons you want, monkey -- I'm gonna go ahead and complete the mission without you." Meanwhile, the antagonist in that scene is a former Jedi who is now "more machine than man" (machine = evil) and leads the technologically advanced empire to crush a small rebellion. The galaxy is saved not through strength of arms or martial skill, but by mystic mind tricks.
Though we can't help but notice the mystical Force did exactly fuck-all for Alderaan.
But Star Wars was simply following an old sword-and-sorcery trope. The Lords Of The Rings is particularly fervent in its anti-industrialist agenda, constantly equating nature, forests, and rural communities with good, while the bad guys build noisy assembly lines (and even use gunpowder, which is portrayed almost as a dirty trick). The most densely populated kingdoms are all being slowly corrupted from the inside, while the more rural areas remain untainted except by modern conquest.
New Line Cinema
Possibly because the good guys were too drunk to accomplish anything.
A lot of that comes from Tolkien's distaste for modernity, as he saw the horrors of industrialization firsthand in the trenches in World War I. But why do we sympathize with that theme in 2016, while watching those movies on a smartphone? And when it came time to portray a charming subculture of magic folk for the Harry Potter universe, J.K. Rowling knew to make them stuck in the 19th Century. Everyone writes with quills, "muggle" technology doesn't work inside Hogwarts, and everyone communicates via bird-powered snail mail, despite the fact that they're capable of telepathy. She had little kids everywhere fantasizing about writing essays in longhand, by candlelight, in a dorm room with no air conditioning.
But that really ties into a larger theme, which is that ...
4The Past Was Better
New Line Cinema
If somebody wants to peddle you bullshit -- whether it's an herbal cure or profound life advice -- there's a good bet they'll try telling you it's "ancient." You know, from back in the days when people were wise and in touch with nature, before this dumb modern technology came along and ruined everything by doubling the average lifespan.
We're not saying people got that "ancient stuff is magic" idea from the fantasy genre, but it's hard to find a fantasy universe where it isn't true. Take the "ancient prophecy" cliche from, well, all the movies. "This is your destiny." "Why?" "Because somebody said so a long time ago, and therefore they are right." Those ancient words will henceforth control every decision made by leaders, villains will fear them, and if the hero tries to deviate from their "destiny," they'll find in the end that they were only padding the movie's runtime.
It helps that fantasy gets a wwaayyy better class of oracle than the pathetic reality.
And if you've got an ancient relic, that thing might as well be a nuclear bomb ("Watch out! That shit's from back when they knew how to make relics, man!"). Even Game Of Thrones -- a franchise created to subvert a lot of classic fantasy tropes -- does this. The long-lost civilization of Valyria made swords that are far better than modern ones, using their superior ancient knowledge. When Jamie Lannister receives a newly-forged Valyrian steel sword, he has to be assured that it was made from the metal of an old sword so that he can trust that it's legitimate -- you know, sort of like how people in the real world will only buy a new car if it's made from old, broken cars.
Of course, Lord Of The Rings also checks this box. They also have a key plot point involving the reforging of an ancient, broken sword (which also comes up in several thousand fantasy novels and video games). Only that sword can win the war, because the new swords they're cranking out in Middle Earth are apparently bullshit.
New Line Cinema
"Seriously, give me one of the pieces of this one. We all know how metallurgy techniques only get worse with time."
Bilbo's sword, Sting, is also an ancient artifact, as is his shirt of "Mithril" chain mail. Those were both created by the most civilized race -- the elves -- which, oh by the way, happens to be the oldest civilization in Middle Earth and therefore the best at everything. Oh, and their culture is tragically dying a slow death due to advancing evil in the world, precipitated by modern advances, orcs, and war. Because that's how civilization works, right? Everything was once perfect and beautiful, but over time we slowly fucked it up with our "sanitation" and "anesthesia" and "literacy."
And once again, the trope is weirdest when it comes up in Star Wars. Old Obi-Wan introduces Luke to his lightsaber by insisting it's "not as clumsy or random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized age." Then in the prequels, they even have this ridiculous sequence in which young Obi-Wan fights a coughing four-lightsaber-wielding cyborg named General Grievous, gets knocked off a ledge (a common danger in that universe), and has to resort to grabbing a nearby blaster and shooting Grievous in his living heart, before riding off on a giant iguana.
Well when you describe the scene like that, it just sounds ridiculous.
Afterward, Obi-Wan tosses the blaster aside with disdain and says, "So uncivilized." Why? The newer technology helped a good guy beat a bad guy! It lets you defeat evil from further away! But the lightsaber is a product of the past, and the past was better. This includes the fact that ...