Wow, er… Eastercon was over a month ago, eh?
Well, back in the land of the blogging, sorry for the gap. My main excuse is that I've been too busy writing to update here. Seriously, it has been quite crazy. I've had a buttload (1) of short story opportunities to follow up, some of which gave me rather more trouble than I was expecting. I've had the new series rattling along (halfway through the first book, working title The Tiger and the Wolf.) I've had my episodes for Spiderlight, my Aethernet serial (episode 2 out now!), and I've recently had a Super Secret Project Zeta that I've just burned through in the last handful of days (codename: "Die In Flames" because it's so unlikely to go anywhee, but hey…)
So, er, Eastercon… Bit late for a blow by blow, although I encourage you to check out Emma Newman's review in the current SFX, if only because it has a big old picture of me and the Aethernet crew there. However, what I was going to start on, like, the minute I got back from the con, was a series of posts based on the panels I did there and what came out of it.
Taking the last man first, then, revolutionary fantasy.
This followed some of the lines in my Tor blog post here: monarchies and fantasy, how inseparable are they, why do we keep coming back to them?
I've done my fourpence-worth in the above blog, and anyone whose read Shadows of the Apt knows I'm no blind monarchist. Juliet McKenna, who was moderator, is another staunch revolutionary, with a full scale people's revolution in her fantasy series. And perhaps we'd like to think that nobody is really doing the "company of princes" fantasy, where every member of the adventuring party is quite literally royalty. Or almost everyone. After all, whilst each worthy from dwarf up in the Fellowship of the Ring is an actual honest to Maia prince, except for Aragorn, who's, y'know, the actual king, at least the hobbits are proletariat. Or, OK, no, maybe three of them are gadabout dilettante gentry, but, come on, Sam is a prole, and he's a whole one ninth of the Fellowship. If you don't count Bill the Pony (2). But Tolkien was playing off the old romances and myth cycles where, yes, basically if you were a hero, you were probably a prince, because apparently princes simply had nothing else to do but go on quests and the like. Of course, those old romances had a select and blue-blooded audience who needed to be properly buttered if the author was to get his bread. Tolkien, old Dr T the scholar's scholar, was following a form. A lot of other people then trampled madly down the same track.
The implications are actually offensive, when you think about it. It absolutely does tie into the Divine Right of Kings and all that horrible, horrible feudal stuff. The majority of heroes are princes (not even nobles, often, but actual heirs to the throne of Spoonfedia) because there is inherent in a prince the makings of a hero, whereas the vast majority of the common herd lack this seed of greatness, and can only be victims, to be butchered by the black hats or protected by the white. They have no agency in the story. The peasantry as a whole is the close cousin of that miserable trope, the damsel in distress: a thing to be fought over and won.
The other prince plot, of course, is the winning of the inheritance, where the stable boy turns out to be the rightful heir. Again, it's divine right. Usually things have gone to wrack and ruin because the wrong person is sitting on the throne. Because there is a "right" person, ordained by bloodline — a happenstance of genetics — and it matters. OK, yes, the wrong person is usually also evil, and the right person is virtuous, but I'd submit to the court, your honour, that in such circumstances the evil and the illegitimacy are inseparable, as are the right to rule and the goodness. And, for the love of reason, just look at any history book not manifestly written by the winners, and tell me what percentage of actual monarchs were in any way good people. Even the best of them did terrible, terrible things just because they could — just because they were the king. That's the automatic territory that comes with princedom — not heroism, but a sociopathic heedlessness for those outside your little circle of nobs.
But we've put it behind us, haven't we? That lapdog slavish need for our heroes to be born with a gold crown in their mouths? Look at Abercrombie, who gives us a feudal nation ruled by a king, and takes us behind the scenes to show us what a sham it all is, and how the strings are being pulled by everyone from wizards to bank managers. Erikson's Malazan series deals with hierarchies far vaster than any mortal bloodline, and seldom gives a damn about divine right, save where the right-holder is actually divine. Gemmel never cared much about heredity — his strong-man heroes were almost always the low who fought their way to note or to notoriety. And yet…
A Song of Ice and Fire was mentioned approvingly in the panel as something else that put the monarchs in their place. After all,here's a series (like Abercrombie's) shorn of many overly virtuous characters, and we see that every lord, every would-be king, is deeply flawed. A perfect example. Except… afterwards, thinking back, is it? Or is Games of Thrones actually a very clever and detailed handling of exactly that "divine right" plotline. Because (and spoilers for book 1 from hereon in, by the way) the land is going to crap, and at the same time the king on the throne, Joffrey the Rightfully Detested, is not the rightful king — he's illegitimate and the product of incest. There's no suggestion that the long winter wasn't coming anyway, but the ruin that the Seven Kingdoms have fallen into — reminiscent of the Mort d'Arthur endgame from Mallory — is inextricably linked with the rightness of the arse on the throne (3). In that series, though, Martin is doing what the traditional tale wouldn't: showing us his working — the machinations, ambitions, rivalries and petty intrigues that actually turn the personal tragedy of a bad king into the global tragedy of a very bad period of history.
(1) I think you'll find this is the proper collective noun.
(2) Who is probably a prince among ponies.
(3) in both senses.