Environment protection: exalted wood people, talking trees and the conflict potential with civilisation

Environment protection: exalted wood people, talking trees and the conflict potential with civilisation

Today, I want to speak to you about the protection of the environment, an age-old topic of literature. Don’t believe me? Let me go into detail. In Germany we read a book called “Homo Faber” in school. This book written by the famous Max Frisch tells the story of a very technology focused, stressed business man that turns away from civilisation and towards nature. The return to nature or the reconquering of the world through nature is one of literature’s and film’s (think Avatar) themes. But how about the fantasy genre?

 

Nature always wins

Contrary to the very technical world of steampunk, fantasy is a fierce advocat for the environment. Just look at the high amount of people and species living in balance with the nature, such as elves, fairies or shamans. Who doesn’t know the classical wood elf with his bow and arrow? The long-living people are quite usually the ones very in tune with nature and, thus, their world. The humans living far away from nature are usually short-lived, quarrelsome and in many areas short-sighted. Also, dwarves are often critically viewed in regards to their mining ventures. They dug too deep….

The one novelist bringing this environmentalist characterisation to the extreme is Tolkien. His elves are certainly on the good side, even if they wrinkle their noses about all the other creatures, vandalising their world. Thus, they have retreated to the beautiful forests, ensuring their thriving. On the opposite side, you have the orcs, evil and brutal. They not only kill everything they come across. They also burn and cut down the woods.

Wait, where do we have deforestation? Oh right, our rainforests.

Obviously, Tolkien had a thing for nature (even if not on purpose). When the orcs start to deforest Fangorn for the industrialisation of Isengard, the Ents, talking trees, rise up and end their puny attempt. The fires are quelled and Isengard is drowned. Nature wins back its territory, literally rising up against orc-kind.

 

Elben und Natur bei Tolkien

Tolkien: Elves, environmental activists?

Nature vs civilisation

Now, there aren’t that many humans in reality or fantasy that live in balance with nature. Civilisation is our boon (even if it is our vice as well). We cannot survive the way we are without it. But civilisation will always be in conflict with nature. Environment protection is important, but we can’t protect it a 100% without taking away our livelihood. That may work for a single person or community but not for the 7 billion of people on our planet.

 

Robin Hobb: Soldier Boy Trilogy

Fantasy literature loves to take on that conflict and get you thinking. A beautiful example is Robin Hobb’s Soldier Boy Trilogy where this conflict becomes the background theme. The story starts in the civilisation end of its world. The realm is expanding quickly and what do you need for expansion? Infrastructure. So, one big plot point is the building of a road through the unconquered woods. It’s a tough task and one that is made even harder by the people living in the woods.

Contrary to the very technical, logical people, especially the namesake soldiers, the wood people have magic. The magic is a bit out there with its need for overindulgence in nutritious food, but it is used to protect nature. The soldier boy is at the centre of this conflict. His whole life he has dreamt of being a good, successful soldier, capable of logic and engineering. But then he gets infected by magic and fights for his place in an increasingly confusing world. Nature is messy and so is magic. It revolts the soldier boy, but then he begins to question his society and thus, civilisation. Finally, he comes to terms with his role of protecting the environment.

 

Robin Hobb: Soldier Son

Soldier Son Trilogy

 

N.K. Jemisin: The Fifth Season

Hugo Award winner N.K. Jemisin takes the conflict between civilisation and environment to a higher level. Though it’s not about forests but rocks, its nature nonetheless. Her story’s world is frequently subjected to catastrophic natural events. The fifth season is the one, when a supervolcano eruption has brought on a nuclear winter or when a mega earthquake has flattened any structure.

Natural hazard in Jemisin’s world are much more frequent and much stronger than in our world, meaning several civilisation have already bitten the dust. The great Sanze civilisation is only great because it survived five seasons. Now, her main characters are the so-called orogenes who are children of Father Earth and can prevent (or cause) earthquakes and the like. The very conflict between these dangerous, but sympathetic people and the educated, civilised, but nasty people is just another mirror of nature against civilisation.

In the end, nature always wins.

 

Janna Ruth: Tanz der Feuerblüten

Yep, that’s me. I also wrote about the conflict between nature and civilisation, trying for a more objective take. The civilisation in my world is not bad, just as it isn’t bad in our world. It’s just not in balance with the environment which is represented by demons and other mythical creatures. Instead, the civilisation is based on the artistry of human kind and artificial beauty. Magic, by the way, is here part of the civilisation. When the demons and monsters rise up against my civilisation though, human kind doesn’t have much left to defend itself. But whether nature wins in the end, you’ll have to read for yourself.

Tanz der Feuerblüten will be published on the 6th of March 2017 within the uebersinnlich series, by Ueberreuter Verlag (Link).

Pre-Release Party von Tanz der Feuerblüten

Pre-Release-Party on Facebook with video reading, interviews and prices to win. (Link)

Whether it’s beneficial to humans or not, fantasy literature often acts as the advocate for the environment. Thus, there are two hypothesis to be drawn from almost every fantasy book focusing on this topic.

  • The environment is something good, that needs to be protected and …
  • The force of nature will overwhelm us in the end.

Because no matter how much we destroy of the environment, in the end we will only succeed to make the world unliveable to us. The environment will recover eventually and evolution will bring up new life-forms. The world has been through several stages of higher temperature for example, but I wouldn’t exactly recommend living through any of them.

The protection of the environment is so important not just for nature’s sake, but for our sake.

 

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Fantasy: with real characters

Today, I will kick off a collaborative series about the realism of fantasy literature. In this series a bunch of German bloggers and authors will discuss, how certain real life problems are presented and elaborated in fantasy novels. Often, fantasy novels are quite critical of society, politics and other realistic problems. And in a way, that topic fits perfectly with my page theme, so today I will start off with how I develop realistic characters.

 

People in magical worlds still dealt with real-life problems. They usually just had bigger ones on top of that. (Zitat aus „Far beyond Reality“)

 

Behind the magic

You’re writing fantasy? But that’s only fictional, isn’t it? Why don’t you write something real? That’s more or less the kind of response you’ll get, when you tell anyone you’re writing fantasy novels. All those fantastic worlds are just fictional, of course, and there’s no magic in reality or elves, dwarves and demons. But the stories behind it, the characters in it, they are as real as you and me.

The times, when Hercules mastered one great deed after the other without so much as a hick-up or when shining knights stood up for justice without the sliver of doubt are over. Today, people want to get more out of their favourite characters. As a reader we want to know about the challenges our heroes have to face. We want to read, how the characters grow with their experiences! We want to accompany him on his hero’s journey, be with him when he rises above his fears and insecurities and makes peace with his past. The epic battle over the world are just the special effects in our blockbuster.

Herkules

Hercules’ victory over the centaur

The character as the result of his environment

When I develop my characters, they don’t appear in a vacuum. At first, there’s the society. What rights do men and women have? Which role does religion play? Is there a class system, racism or freedom of speech? All those decision I’ve made during world-building are vitally important for my character development. I can’t have a whole bunch of misogynistic characters, when their country has been practising gender equality for half a millennia.

Of course, there will always be exceptions: People that rebel against the system or assholes that have radicalised themselves. Revolution is nothing new in fantasy, often culminating in a violent rise against the system and subsequent modern development of the once medieval world. But what I find really exciting, is trying to build the characters within the system. Especially if the world’s value system does not resemble our modern values, you always have to ask the question: How would a character act, feel and think within this society?

When you’re done with the society part, you need to take the personal environment into account. This could be his or her family, friends or even the whole village. We all know that. Some of our values we adopted from our parents, some despite of them. Other values have been adapted by us after thinking about them for a long time. And thus, when we develop our character, we need to think about what values and experiences he or she grew up with. Of course, each individual will turn out differently.

My aim is to develop my figures in such a way, that each decision they will make in my story is an organic result of my prior decisions. And that’s the moment, when your characters take over and you mourn your carefully crafted plot 😉

 

The experimental lab of fantasy literature

Fantasy literature is an ideal way of experimenting with human nature. In this medium we can switch up the boundary conditions of our world. We can ask ourselves, how it would change a people when you live eternally like Tolkien’s elves. We could also explore how people would cope with nightly demon attacks as in Peter V. Brett’s ‘Painted Man’.

Within the fantasy genre we have this giant lab where we can push humans to their limit. How do you cope with the responsibility of being the chosen one – or the chosen one that will destroy the world? What do you pick, if duty and family are at odds with each other? And of course that very thought intensifies when we develop whole races that are different than ours.

In Insignia of Magic, my Urban Fantasy series, I have asked all these questions of my demons. They are entirely different from my humans. But it is not just their magical prowess. It’s their whole view of the world. My demons live for the absolute freedom with no thought about anyone else. They see our morals as something we’re shackling ourselves with. Wars against a group that is different than us, may that difference be religious, ethnological or just a different mind-set, are entirely beyond their comprehension. Only the individual is of notice. Having this mind-set as a base to experiment with while keeping the inner logic of the race, is a lot of fun. It also widens the horizon when looking at cultural differences in the real world.

Melchius aus Zeichen der Macht

An early drawing of Melchius – Insignia of Magic, Season 1

 

The realistic inner life of fantasy characters

It’s no secret that my stories are very character-driven. My knight in shining armour in Ravenblood is not so intriguing because he is a lawfully good character and has a strong moral compass. The real crux is that he struggles with remaining lawful and good in a world that continues to worsen around him and how hard it can be to keep holding onto your principles. And doesn’t everyone agree that we are mostly fascinated by those deeply broken characters that battle with their inner demons?

I often like to take a step further. Often enough, fantasy literature tends to get over traumatic experiences surprisingly quick and unscarred. Mostly, you encounter that phenomenon while roleplaying. There, you get the former, deeply scarred sex slave who finds the love of his life within two weeks. Of course, the two of them practically live in the bed from then on. It’s a common trend that we love to develop dramatic background stories that remain entirely in the background.

I try to take a different approach. My hero in Ravenblood only manages to get over the traumatic event of his youth in the fourth and final book. When my characters go to war, some come back with PTS. Also, I like to give other mental health issues a spotlight. If you want to be more specific, you could say that it is quickly becoming part of my trademark to focus on such disabilities.

Rise of the Raven

Rise of the Raven, Book 3 of Ravenblood

And these are the characters and stories that I want to read about in fantasy literatur as well. But…

 

What do you need to develop a realistic character

Even if your fantasy characters battle with supernatural problems, they often face the same challenges we do. Often the hero questions himself whether he is good enough. Just because their world is threatened doesn’t mean that they don’t also fight some internal struggles. Even the chosen one needs to deal with jealousy, a thirst for vengeance, insecurities and fears. And when those characters overcome their internal struggles, then we are often much more moved than when they are victorious over some dark mage.

It’s these weaknesses, these peeks into their inner soul that make us root for these characters. In the end this is what we identify with while at the same time we are entertained by the magic.

 

As the blog series is by German bloggers, there will be no more English posts other than my second entry about environmental agency in fantasy novels. If you liked this post, I might revisit this and other topics at a later time.

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