Welcome once more, fellow thinkers and friends.
Today I delve once more into the pool of thoughts and musings that has so languidly been suspended within my brain, like a terrified clown imprisoned upon a tightrope in the dead of night. And like said poor, terrified clown, his white makeup streaked with tears of terror and regret I am now ready to let go and voice my thoughts.
Looking over the awashment of teenage fiction that has been coagulating on the shelves of our libraries, bookshops (I know, they still exist!) and movie theaters (to a letter degree lately it seems the entire market has come to be dominated by two major “types” of novels:
The teen romance novel, perhaps inspired by John Green’s not too shabby at all “The Fault in our Stars”.
The Dystopian survival novel, inspired in no small part by successes like Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” and James Dashner’s “The Maze Runner”.
Today I’m focusing on the Dystopian novel.
Now don’t get me wrong, the books that started it off are very deserving of their international praise and acclaim, however some of the novels that have sprung up in their wake… Well let’s just say I expect to see dear Fabio on the cover of many of them.
In contemplating the dystopian novel’s tropes and inherent genre specificities, I began to draw parallels with the type of novel it seems to have replaced (at least for now) on the teenage fiction shelves – The Medieval Fantasy.
Now, I suppose when you think of a dystopian setting, we conjure up an image of Mel Gibson driving down a dusty road in his black Ford XB Falcon, a world where order is an unknown word and everything is dark, corrupt and there is only one glimmer of hope.
By contrast, medieval times are portrayed as times of fun and frivolity, well perhaps not quite but people often do seem to focus on the awesome “swordfights and bows and massive battles and castles and yay!” and forget that there were no schools, no police, no electricity, no concept of a minimum wage (or even a wage in some places), slavery was commonplace, as was settling debts or arguments by murder, the common people had nearly no power, bathing more than once a month was considered unhealthy, disease was rife as were the lice, rats and every type of vermin you can think of and everyone lived in service to a king or queen who taxed the hell out of most people and slayed the rest.
They weren’t called the dark ages for nothing
If we look past the glitz and glamour that has been painted onto the medieval period by various movies and books through the years we might arrive at a rather interesting conclusion: That Medieval Fantasy books are just another form of dystopia.
For after all the definition of Dystopia is: “A place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.”
And especially judging by today’s standards, medieval times seem pretty unpleasant indeed…
And then there’s also the fact that the protaginist is often “Destined” or “Prophsised” to do whatever they do, which often is to right the wrongs of the world by destroying or reforming the big bad guy.
However I think it’s important to keep balanced so I’ve picked some holes in my own ideas and come up with thoughts on the differences of the two types of story:
Many will argue I think that dystopia refers to something imaginary – that a real place or time can not be dystopian, and that’s probably true to be honest, but of course many of the medieval shows and stories we watch and read are either entirely fiction (Sometimes even with magic mixed in) or very loosely historically based.
The most interesting point to consider is that in a medieval story, historical or fantasy, the main part of the story is about the progression of the character through the world with external enemies – the antagonists are those who come from outside the social strata – the evil wizard come to destroy the town, the invading kingdom. Often here they story is about our protagonist helping to preserve or enhance the existing culture and society.
In a “dystopian” story however we find that it is the hero’s job to tear down the existing social structure – for it’s often a fake and debauched version of the shining golden paradise the protagonist has heard of in long lost legends. So you could argue that here too, they are attempting to enhance the culture and society, but really they’re rebuilding it and often need to tear down the old one first. This of course gives such stories a very different thematic tilt.
But, that’s all just up to your perspective really…
Do you think that medieval stories and dystopian ones can be considered the same? Why or why not? Leave your answer in the comments below or start your own discussion.
P.S: A little reward for all you wonderful souls who read to the bottom of my post – WordPress wanted to name this post “Is this not Topiary?”