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A week ago I met a friend of mine for coffee. We talked about life, politics and eventually, writing. I explained the premise of SuD and how it was based on multiple philosophical, religious and cultural references from Enoch to Cervantes. When we got to the part of the “vampires” he stopped me. “Demonkin? Interesting stuff with the Hunger, but why not call them Nephilim?”

And you know what? He had point.

I called them vampires for a lack of a better term, even though they did not fit the mold (deconstruction or not). These guys are not vamps. Leeches of human society, yes, but not vamps. So I went back over the research material (in the web, yes I know) and I found the following:

1It happened after the sons of men had multiplied in those days, that daughters were born to them, elegant and beautiful.

2And when the angels, (3) the sons of heaven, beheld them, they became enamoured of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children.

10Then they took wives, each choosing for himself; whom they began to approach, and with whom they cohabited; teaching them sorcery, incantations, and the dividing of roots and trees.

11And the women conceiving brought forth giants, (7)

12Whose stature was each three hundred cubits. These devoured all which the labor of men produced; until it became impossible to feed them;

13When they turned themselves against men, in order to devour them;

14And began to injure birds, beasts, reptiles, and fishes, to eat their flesh one after another, (8) and to drink their blood.

Okay, so that last bit is vampiric. But they are a) sons and daughters of fallen angels (demons), b) grew to great stature (size, power, wealth), c)born out of lust, d) devourer and destroyer of all things upon the Earth.

Yep, why twist an existing archetype beyond recognition (shame on me for breaking one of my own rules) when another exits that fits even better with the themes in the book?

Which goes too show you, oh gentle reader, that a little perspective is a good thing. Writing is a solitary process, but finding someone you trust to take a peek can and does help. It may be just a name change, but it’s the difference between an awkward term that doesn’t fit and one that embraces the theme(s) central to the narrative.

As that same friend was fond of telling me, “Life is in the details. Because life is made of little details.”

And now for some music:

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Oh boy, I’m going straight to Hell, hand me that hand basket, okay, thanks!

Which just show you that writing about religion is hard. That’s why most speculative fiction writers, especially in the fantasy genre/sub-genres avoid it, at least when it comes to Abrahamic religions (it seems Wicca and other forms or paganism are fair game).

The reasons are multiple:

  • The writer doesn’t want to offend anyone.
  • The writer doesn’t want his book to be a dissertation on his religious beliefs.
  • The writer fears that he will get it wrong.
  • Most writers, even if they are agnostic or atheist still come from a religious background (mostly the above Abrahamic religions or sects/cults there in) and unconsciously anthropomorphize the Supreme Deity (God with a capital G for those keeping score t home).

My problem is that, considering the modern concept of what is God (yes, the capital G-man) makes him (or it) to be omniscient and omnipotent, ergo any but the most vague descriptions of the Almighty himself (does not include discussions on the theological/historical/social aspects of religion by the way) will fit the bill. If you turn Him into a character, then he is not longer, well, Him but a lesser copy, thus not worthy of having the title, unless you’re writing in the post-modern tradition of the “Jerk-God” (yes, with a capital…oh never mind).

So what is a writer to do?

  1. Polytheism: Although many fantasy stories are written in a High Middle Ages milieu (knights, stone castles, feudalism) the write creates a cosmology full of gods and goddesses. Most of these act like a combination of Anglo-Saxon, Nordic, or Greco-Roman pantheons, although it is not uncommon for these deities to have “churches”, “clerics” and other attributes of modern Christian (especially Catholicism) sects. Common in D&D and works inspired by it and previous authors, such as Robert E. Howard.
  2. Henotheism/Molotraism: Other gods exist but the story/characters focus on worshiping one above the others, either because it is the patron deity of a city, culture or nation or simply the belief that others are not worthy of worship. Does not preclude the existence of other deities, only the preference/worthiness of these vis-a-vis the chief deity. May be a step toward monotheism. In Urban Fantasy (American Gods by Neil Gaiman or DC Vertigo’s Lucifer) it serves as an explanation of why the old gods have faded from the world but not disappeared completely.  Also serves to establish that all myths are true.
  3. Distant God:  Deux Ex Machina, God is in the machine or at least he is IT, everything, the All or the supreme architect. He exists but for some reason he is either preoccupied with running the universe or he is everyone/everything and can not be reduced to one person/thing. Basically a cop out by the writer, as in “yeah, it’s there, I just don’t want to talk about it”. The world now belongs to Man and does not need a powerful deity mucking about and interfering with free will.
  4. The Absent/Uncaring/Malicious Deity: God has either moved on with creation, doesn’t care what happens to its creation or set up the whole thing as a great cosmic joke. Mostly a take that against organized religion (think Dogma or for that matter, anything by the late, great George Carlin). Many of these stories pit humanity against demons or the Devil, and the most it can expect from the Powers That Be are a few angels here or there and they may not be good guys or may not even know where their boss is. Supernatural is a great example of this.
  5. Christianity by Allegory: This comes in two forms, Christianity (or the chosen Abrahamic tradition) By Any Other Name or a Thickly Veiled Allegory with symbolic stand-ins for modern religion of the writers choice. The first is common in many computer RPGs like World of Warcraft. You have priest, churches, paladins and priests, and the worship a stand in for God (called The Light or some such). The second may use elements of other mythos or modern analogs to retell biblical stories or the like. C.S. Lewis was a master of this. Yes, the Lion was Jesus.

So, there you have it. Pick your poison. And if you end downstairs before I do, please save me a seat!

And to make sure I get there in style, here is a double dose of Eddie Izzard:

In the spirit of full, honest and complete disclosure, I am a liberal.

Why did I just write that?

Because it informs my worldview and by extension my writing. So does my religion or lack thereof (I am an agnostic).

Anyone that thinks that you can write anything without a trace of bias is deluding themselves. And Speculative Fiction is riddle with great stories written by authors that showcase their religious, philosophical and political views.

Heinlein

H.G. Wells

C.S. Lewis

Rod Serling

George Orwell

These are but a few of the authors who have used speculative fiction to explore and engage their readers along political, religious or philosophical lines. There is something about creating your own world universe that allows the author too expand on his views, mainly because said world works under the rules he created for it, thus it is malleable to his worldview. When done well the author engages in a thoughtful conversation with his audience, one that allows the audience to question the material and engage in their own quest for understanding.  When done poorly, the reader feels like the author dropped an anvil on his head while screaming “I’m right! I’m right! I am always motherfucking right, you ignorant turd!” in his face.

So, what is an author to do?

  1. Be upfront about your positions: You don’t need to repeat them every chance you get, but being upfront about them means that you are not disrespecting your audience with some stealth morality lesson or political view.
  2. Somebody, somewhere will disagree: Specially on the interwebs. It’s the nature of the beast. Know how to separate the genuine concerns/critiques from those that use your work as a straw man for their views.
  3. Do the research: If you don’t want to sound like a doofus talking about the evils of Capitalism/Communism/Evangelism etc, do the research, specially if your mocking/criticism those views.
  4. Don’t let your bias get in the way of the story: Story first, second and always. Let the story reflect it’s own values. Write the story, and let the readers figure it out.

Whether you want it or not, and whether you admit it or not, your writing is a reflection of who you are and that means that your views will seep in. It’s the nature of the beast.

Race and ethnicity in fantasy settings/books basically boils down to the the old Good vs. Evil divide that we see in Tolkien/D&D inspired works.

One one hand you have the good races: Humans, Elves, Dwarves.

In the other hand you have the evil races: Orcs, Goblins,Trolls, ect.

Some stories even have exact evil counterparts for good races (especially those based on D&D) such as Light Elves vs. Dark Elves. Some authors like to subvert this by having a few characters distance themselves from the “norm” thus proving that not everyone in an entire race can be evil yet still maintaining the fiction that allows a convenient target(s) for the heroes to slaughter at will without any moral or personal repercussions. After all destroying evil is always a good thing, right?

As you probably guessed by now, I don’t like to go the simplistic route. Since my story is based on Dark Age Europe I like to play with this concept a bit. Yes you have good and evil, but no faceless evil races. In fact prejudice plays a big role in how each ethnic/social group views the other.

Akrosians/Republicans view the new nations of the Nordlands as barbarians. Both of these groups have reached a level of homogeneity which encourages this view of outsiders. In fact the word barbarian originally meant outsider with the twist that these foreigners were inferior to those who gave them the epitaph because they did not share the same culture or language as those who considered themselves civilized. The irony of course is that due to the destruction of Western Roman Empire the term change to mean “an individual reference to a brutal, cruel, warlike, insensitive person.” Yet to the modern observer the Roman gladiatorial games and their justice system looks as barbarous as the destruction brought by the Germanic invasions.

Things look different in the Nordlands where the distinction are largely on ethnic/religious lines. Due to the recent fall of Empire and transformation into the (New) Republic you have a mix and match of people living in former Imperial territory.

The rulers are, for the most part members of the military leadership that lead the tribes from beyond the “Three Rivers” and into Imperial territory. Funded by Republican silver they serve as a buffer between it (the Republic) and further barbarian invasions. They claimed vast kingdoms loosely allied with the Republic. While they are the ruling elite, their power is largely military and they lack the administrative skills or money to sustain these kingdoms intact. They seek to appeased the newly conquered by adopting Imperial ways and costumes and converting to the new religion of the Nine.  Yet they retain their language and legal traditions.

The vast middle class is made up of assimilated (to the former Imperial ethnic identity) locals. While the lack military power, they still have money and a strong connection to the the Republic and by extension the Church. They are the equivalent to the Romanized Gauls. These are the people the new rulers want to accommodate because they still retain much of the wealth and they outnumber their conquerors. These former Imperial citizens support the new regimes in exchange for protection.

The lower class is made up of disenfranchised farmers, former slaves and isolated groups that retain some of the customs from the time before the Imperial conquest. To the new Church they are seen as threat undermining their vision of the cosmos, especially the shamans/druids that lead these groups. They have called on the new rulers to persecute them with varying degrees of success.

A fourth and fifth group include the Elves and Dwarves. The Elves that live within the Republic borders (i.e. the Peninsula) have integrated into that culture as have the Dwarves, although this last group numbers are small and their origins are shrouded in mystery. On the other hand Elves living in the Nordlands have turned xenophobic. They now hide from the rest of the world.

As you can see, this is a world where your ethnic loyalties determine who you consider a friend or foe  (with individual exceptions, of course).

In fact this might be a typical scene in my book.

And now for some music:

So, the Big Bad has set up shop in the entropic Kingdom of Doom and now his armies march across the plains to enslave all of mankind.

Wait, what?

Where did all these guys came from?

And why are they marching across the plains to enslave all that is good?

What is their motivation?

The Answer: because Evil Lies in the Heart of Men!

Let me count the ways:

  1. Fear: Now the obvious way fear works as a motivator is that the minions would be afraid of their leader. But what if they are afraid of something or someone else? A neighboring country, a minority (or majority) within their own borders, a race of people (or in fantasy/sci-fi a species). Their leader could promise them that he will lead them over victory against their oppressors (real or imagined) if they follow him.
  2. Greed: Until fairly recently conquering armies got to plunder their enemies territory. Soldiers shared in the booty of coin, art and slaves. Going on campaign might be worth it for a poor peasant if the rewards merit them.
  3. Tribal loyalties: Us vs. Them. Morality may be defined not acts but by who is doing them (and who is in the receiving end of said acts). If the target is anyone not part of the group/tribe then they do not deserve the same consideration as members of the tribe. You shall not kill or steal from your clansmen, but that would not stop you from doing the same to others who are not within that select group.
  4. Ideology/Philosophy/Religion: People show a willingness to lower their cognitive dissonance in the service of  metal constructs such as an ideology/philosophy/religion. What they would normally recoil from doing by themselves they are ready to do in the service of a set of beliefs. They are willing to accept and support acts that would repulse them if directed at them. Works well when mixed with a charismatic leader who exploits fear and tribal loyalties.
  5. Vengeance/Playing the Victim: A variant of fear induced loyalty. The core of the villain’s army is made of people who have being historically abused, butchered or regularly invaded and enslaved. They got good reasons to be pissed and now the bad guy (at least to us) promises them a chance at revenge. Can generally lead to an endless cycle of violence where the acts of one side set offs a chain reaction of victimization/revenge, especially when you add a strong dose of tribalism.
  6. Altruism/Utopia/Golden Age: Tends to be a variant or the logical result of following a given set of beliefs. The world as the followers of the villain see it is lost, there is no hope except to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. Yes, a few misguided souls will protest, but the greater good demands unwavering action in the face of existential moral decay. Questions are not allowed. They are at best unwanted distractions and at worse a base betrayal of the Truth that awaits at the end of the journey. Hallowed are the Ori!
  7. Conscription: Service is the law, citizen! Worked for armies and navies for centuries. Still used by some military forces (child soldiers are common among rebel groups in parts of the world, mostly Africa). Even the U.S. has the selective service. Simply put, it is the LAW. The sovereign has the right to assemble an army for the defense of the realm and we all know that the best defense is a good offense. The Romans complemented their forces with auxiliaries from recently conquered lands and the Turks created an elite military force made up of slaves. Add a promise of treasure from conquered territories and you got yourself an army.

This is not an exhaustive list (by far) but it should give you a hosts of real world/logical reasons why would anyone follow/commit acts that are by definition EVIL. Better than “the pay is good” or “I was just made that way”.

That’s all for now.

(H/T To Marian, Again 😀 )