Trump the Iconoclast, Trump the Orthodox, Trump the ‘Hero’

I find it increasingly hard to turn away from the ugly spectacle of American politics. Part of this is envy; I honestly wish that I could have cast my vote (Bernie, then Hillary) in this seminal election, a transition (I hope) from the industrial age to the information age. I live in the shadow of American news and politics, and while I love Canada, it is hard to ignore the tug of that great country south of us.

I often talk about systems on this blog. I feel that systems and institutions are the villains of modern stories more than singular figures.

Enter Donald Trump.

Trump is a man who has shown absolute willingness to cast aside institutions and ideas. Depending on how you view his motivations this is either a good thing or a bad thing, obviously. I see his motivations as guided by contempt for expertise, the power of persuasion, revenge, desire for personal gain, and an ideology that places wealth and business above all else. Some of his followers see a heroic iconoclast that will break the chains that have held back their country for decades and allow them to cast down their enemies at last.They see him as akin to Alexander confronting the Gordian Knot, as Jesus sweeping the money-lenders from the Temple.

We both might be right.

[What is an iconoclast?  a person who attacks settled beliefs or institutions, literally a destroyer of idols.]

Trump shut down the TPP, instantly dealing a blow the flow of decades of globalization. I actually am in favour of this, but mostly because the TPP is full of harmful laws that limit freedoms and make life easier for climate change deniers. If I could bring myself to trust Trump (spoiler: he lies quite frequently), this alone would be enough to gain my support.

I also don’t trust foreign intervention or intelligence agencies; Trump is currently at odds with both.

I can see why some of Trump’s followers view him as a heroic figure, come to break down regulations and set things right.

The problem is that what guides Donald Trump is not a desire for justice or to make America a better place for everyone. Donald Trump’s destruction of institutions and ideas is purely motivated by personal gain and to enhance to power of the wealthy. In this way he often acts like an orthodox republican: spouting tax cuts, attacking climate science, and seeking to enhance the power of the nation with military might over diplomacy.

In this, he is willing to be iconoclastic as well. He does not care about the truth, spewing whatever he reads on his twitter feed without fact-checking. He does not seem to realize the responsibility that seems to come with his office in this regard. His racism and sexism is well noted, but seen by many as a reaction to stifling political correctness, a bullshit claim in my opinion.

Trump is even willing to violate the constitution (article 1, section 9) in order to keep ownership of his business interests, arguing that his voters knew that he is a businessman, wiping out hundreds of years of tradition in a single stroke. What is fascinating is that his followers and party are, so far, willing to go along with this, even though it is a glaring example of the corruption they despise. In fact, the more his corruption irritates liberals, the more some of them seem to like it.

Trump has already changed so much of american politics and he is not even in power yet. And yet, rather than bringing the country into the future, Trump seems to want to return to a mythical era in the past when coal and manufacturing propelled the economy, businessmen were objects of unqualified adoration, and people did not have to give a fuck about political correctness. In this fashion we can see the orthodoxy that shapes his attacks, a hatred of the directions that the country has taken since his youth.

And yet that bygone era has one defining feature that Trump rejects with great vehemence: The Cold War with Russia. Trump loves everything from that time but rejects butting heads with the dictator, Putin. In many ways this is laudable, but in Trump I think we can see how it is motivated by self-interest. The CIA and the NSA have both sounded warnings about Russian hacking in the election and Trump refuses even to talk about it.

I wonder what is in those tax returns, another tradition that he has broken with.

Teaser Tuesday

This week’s teaser is from Bloodlust: Will to Power (Domains of the Chosen #2)

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An intense rivalry over the greatest prize imaginable.

“Why are you doing this Karmal?” said Sadira. Her body was battered, but she too was full of power. She saw now that Gavin and Giselle and Vintia and Cleothera had all been right; Karmal was no longer her fiery rival and fierce friend. She had become a monster, inside and out, a woman who had given up her friends, principles, and humanity to be the next Chosen.

“Because I am better than you,” replied Karmal.

They circled. This time, when Sadira’s eyes met Karmal’s there was no give in them, only hurt and defiance. Karmal saw this as a weakness.

“Why prove it in a Deathmatch?” asked Sadira.

“It’s all about power, you dumb bitch,” sneered Karmal. “You are the only one standing between me and my rightful place. Valaran is old news. He got soft and I took his place. You should have backed out when I declared Ut Nex. I’m the strongest now. I might even have saved a place for you and Gavin in my Hearthbound harem. But you stayed in my way, hogging the spotlight as always, all flash and no substance, and now I am going to FUCKING KILL YOU AND CARVE YOUR SKULL INTO A CROTCHPIECE…, and just so you know, I wasn’t exactly rooting for you, even back in Dreadwood.”

 

Triumph

The concept of the Triumph has always fascinated me. For those who are not familiar with the idea, a Triumph was a special parade accorded to an exceptionally victorious general or emperor in the Roman Empire. Think of it as a parade with a host of side activities, including gladiatorial games and other huge celebrations.

We know a fair bit about some of these Triumphs because the biggest and the best of them also involved a Triumphal arch, like the arch of Constantine pictured below.

These Triumphal Arches contain interesting details which have helped historians reconstruct and interpret some of the events depicted within.

L’Arc de Triomphe, pictured below, is Napoleons version of a Triumphal Arch, an attempt to invoke and connect the French Emperor with the glories of Rome.

Arc-de-Triomphe-de-l’Étoile

Triumphs began as parades and grew into political events. The Roman Triumphs also had religious undertones. The sheer glory of having a massive parade with attendant festivities and a monument in their honour, gave the recipient a platform from which to launch themselves into office, or otherwise further their ambitions. Even Emperors wanted Triumphs, which of course meant that they became more and more elabourate and increasingly common as the Empire ground on.

The idea of a Triumph is rife with potential for fantasy fiction. My next novel in the Domains of the Chosen Series begins with one. I use it mostly because I love events, especially huge public events, but I can see a lot of potential here.

  1. The Triumph as a Character Introduction: What better way to introduce a military leader than with a Triumph? The way said character reacts to the honour provides a writer with a grand opportunity to highlight character traits as well as past accomplishments. Other characters can strut their stuff by reacting to the Triumph. For a villainous character, throwing themselves a Triumph is a great way to highlight their arrogance and recklessness, or their political savvy.
  2. The Triumph as a Plot Device: On the other hand, what better finale to an assassin’s chronicle than to have the main character plan and execute a job where the mark is receiving a Triumph? It would frame a series perfectly, a conniving general or despotic emperor reaches the zenith of their power only to be struck down. A nice transition from hubris to comeuppance in a single scene.
  3. The Triumph as a Backdrop: Finally, for almost any series with an Empire with any sense of ritual and style, a Triumph serves as a wonderful backdrop for a common scene. Thieves can fleece crowds. Any sort of action can start. More importantly it is an opportunity to show off some world-building in a dynamic fashion, since a Triumph recounts recent history.

 

Fantasy Tropes & Theory: Oaths in The Domains of The Chosen

The idea of the oath, promise, or word of honour is prevalent has been prevalent in Fantasy fiction for some time. The roots of these oaths are the divine promises of mythology and religion as well as the deep bonds of faith and trust required in feudal societies. The old idea of oaths might seem naive to the modern sensibility, especially in a world full of phishing, misinformation, and purposeful double-speak, but it is worth noting that honesty and keeping promises are still big issues with North American voters — and that they are punishing ‘establishment’ candidates because of this.

I circumvent the idea of a verbal contract in the Domains of the Chosen with magical oaths. The basic rundown of these oaths is that if they are broken, something bad happens to the oathbreaker, similar to the sword of Damocles. These binding oaths are part of the very foundation of the Domains, the glue that binds the Chosen to the Covenant, the Warbound to the Legions, and so on. Here is the oath sworn by the new Chosen in Bloodlust: Will to Power.

A million citizens gave voice to the Oath along with them.

“I give my oath to serve and protect the city of Krass,”…Power flowed

“I give my oath to defend the citizens of Krass,”…into Gavin and Sadira

“I give my oath to obey the laws of the people,”…and through them

“I give my oath to act to prevent The Reckoning,”… gentle, but irresistible

“I give my blood to seal this oath, freely in good faith,”…like the tide

“My oath is my honour, and my honour my life,”… scouring them

“I am Chosen, I serve!”… and binding them.

And that’s that, all of the Chosen get along well, magically compelled to follow the oath, and the series ends right there, right?

Astute readers noticed early on that the Oath is based on the interpretation of the Oathbound. What Chosen Moltar thinks is good for the Domains and necessary for their protection is very likely different than what Gavin or Sadira thinks. Their actions in the book flow from these interpretations.

Even more astute readers may have noticed a different reference to Oaths, mentioned in passing in a conversation between Gavin and his father, and how a powerful oath might take precedence over another.

I began to examine these ideas in Bloodlust: Red Glory and Bloodlust: The Blades of Khazak Khrim. Blackcloak Sax, a surprisingly popular character, is placed on the trail of a conspiracy that led to the death of a popular Gladiatrix in Red Glory, which leads him to a nest of heretics that almost kills him in Frostbay. Unable to get to the root of the heresy, he calls on aid.

In my next work in the series, Bloodlust: The Roots of Ruin (Or maybe Bloodlust: Oathbreakers), I gather more of these disparate threads. Oaths, lies, and loyalties are revealed and tested. It will be awesome, of course. Better than cats.

The idea is that a promise can be twisted, even a magical one. We see that all the time in real life. The problem is that with magic (or a supposed divine agency) backing up an oath, fewer people will expect those covenants to be perverted than they would a mundane verbal contract, creating a vulnerability than the clever can exploit.

Thoughts on the Canadian Election

This is political, and not directly related to writing or fantasy in general.

We had an interesting election here in Canada this Tuesday. A man who has held power for over almost a decade and has been an influence on Canadian politics for even longer has been defeated resoundingly, even taking losses in places where he was though to be invulnerable.

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Stephen Harper

Harper was a conservative’s conservative. His greatest accomplishments were political, uniting the fragmented Canadian right wing which was lost in the wilderness after many years of Liberal rule and leading them to power. If the CPC survives his defeat then he deserves credit for that, at least. He, along with his media allies, are also responsible for the crushing defeat of the Liberal party, their longtime rivals. At one point the party was declared dead, losing even official opposition status as Harper’s CPC trampled them into the dirt. This led to the rise of the NDP, my favoured party, which captured official opposition status.

Mulcair and Layton

Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair

Jack Layton was a popular figure in Canadian politics. He died from Cancer in 2011, and was succeeded by Tom Mulcair, who led the party this election. The NDP kept the faith for left leaning political junkies like myself after the Liberals were beaten down. Layton was much loved, engineering the NDPs highest seat total ever, and a hard act for Mulcair to follow. And then there’s Justin Trudeau:

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Justin Trudeau

Trudeau was the last great hope for the Liberals and the worst nightmare of the Conservatives, who hated his father, a popular prime-minister (But not popular in all of the country, of course). He came on strong at first, weathering the CPC media assault as only someone who has been under media scrutiny his entire life can. He seemed to stumble a year before the election, but ended up convincing the people of Canada that he was the best choice to unseat Stephen Harper, showing great acumen in defeating opponents who led him for most of the race.

Here are some salient points about the Canadian Election

The Lead Up

  • A year before the election the CPC were on shaky ground. A scandal broke out over the way the Prime Minister’s Office handled one Mike Duffy, a CPC senate appointee. Stephen Harper gave contradictory testimony in question period and his credibility dipped.
  • Then ISIS became an international sensation, which coincided with a series of attacks in Canada that left two soldiers dead, and an assailant shot dead in parliament. Security is a conservative strongpoint and so PM Harper immediately took control. He introduced bill C-51, which is Canada’s version of the patriot act, which Trudeau signed on and Mulcair opposed. He also introduced C-24, which received less attention, but was kind of a big deal as well (we will get to that later)
  • Mulcair stood firm against C-51. This was his proudest moment. He was initially hammered in the media (which usually ignores the NDP), but as Canadians examined the bill he ended up looking better and better for opposing such a knee jerk reactionary, monstrous bull. Eventually he took the lead in polls. Meanwhile Trudeau and his liberals looked weak for not opposing the bill, essentially for political reasons and dropped to their lowest point in years. Harper strengthened his base, and readied to attack the NDP.

The Campaign

  • Harper’s Strategy should be familiar to anyone who has seen a modern conservative campaign. Many of the bills he passed made it harder for people to vote. C-51 declared war on terrorists, which oddly enough also included people who harm the “economic interests” of Canada, which played to conservative fantasies of jailing hippies. C-24 literally introduced the idea of SECOND CLASS CITIZENS in Canada, which certainly nabbed the nationalist, anti-immigration vote. He was for oil, against renewable energy, muzzled scientists, and ignored a plee to start an inquiry into missing aboriginal women. Going into the election Harper had all the weapons he needed to win, despite being scandal ridden and unpopular, he just needed to deploy them properly.
  • Harper, using rules that he wrote, made the campaign longer to give the CPC opportunity to bring its deep coffers to bear.
  • Harper refused to engage in traditional debates at the CBC, opting for friendlier broadcasters where questions could be controlled. He strictly limited media access to himself and his candidates, showing unparalleled message control, but looking a little like a paranoid micro-manager at times.
  • Mulcair was riding high for most of the Campaign. Unfortunately for him, the traditional media are allergic to the NDP, and basically criticized him for anything they could. At one point they actually called him arrogant for running like a front-runner, when he was the front-runner. This is the cross the NDP must bear, and will bear until they get some media support of their own.
  • Trudeau seemed to flounder in the early days of the campaign. The conservatives bashed him constantly with ads noting how he was young and not ready to be PM (Harper was the same age when he became PM, with exactly the same amount of experience) and also a teacher (conservatives these days hate teachers, something about unions and lefty propaganda). He made some odd statements about running a deficit and growing the economy from the heart outwards that were roundly mocked by the media (but not by voters, which is key here)
  • The Conservatives engineered themselves several boosts during the midpoint of the campaign. A sudden budget surplus, which mas mostly smoke and mirrors (selling of assets and dipping into EI funds) gave them a boost among their base who really care about security, taxes, and the economy (except the jobs part).
  • A second boost came from new baby bonus cheques — these are the conservative strategy of ’boutique’ tax cuts meant to win them support with certain groups, essentially by bribing them with some sort of fiscal incentive. This is where Trudeau showed an acumen that really should have warned his opponents: he hopped in with Mulcair to show that the baby bonus was smoke and mirrors since it was taxable, but then he offered his own, better version of said bonus, tax-free, and aimed right at lower/middle income Canadians. (I think the line was “Ill cancel Stephen Harper’s baby bonus, which Tom Mulcair supports, and stop sending cheques to millionaires. I’ll use that money to give middle class families a bigger bonus, tax free.)
  • As the midway point was reached the media turned to the Duffy trial, which had proven to be an achilles heel for the conservatives before. The CPC was smashed and sunk to third in the polls. Harper looked finished, but he knew this was coming and had actually prepared.
  • As Harper sunk, Trudeau and Mulcair began to battle each other. Nobody really questionned why Trudeau was rising though, at least not in the coverage I watched.
  • As the Duffy trial became boring again, Harper deployed his secret weapon. It is pretty much confirmed that he hired Lynton Crosby, a monstrous asshole who engineers xenophobia into victory for conservative parties from australia to the UK. He started using words like “old stock canadians” in his speeches. He stripped a terrorist of citizenship using the powers given to him by C-24. Then he deployed his greatest weapon of the campaign — the Niqab.
  • The Niqab ‘debate’ was an example of dog-whistle politics. A woman wanted to wear her Niqab during part of an citizenship cerimony. She even offered to wear a wire so they knew she was saying the words and so on. But the press went into a frenzy of islamophobia. The CPC surged and the Duffy affair was forgotten as the Canadian election suddenly became about us versus them.
  • The NDP, which was strong in Quebec, was smashed as Mulcair stood his ground on the right of people to wear the Niqab. Unfortunately for the NDP, much of their strength came from the places where the anti-Niqab crowd was the most rabid. This was exactly what Harper wanted, and is actually a very astute, if incredibly ugly strategy when it comes down to it. Most Canadians were offended by the debate in the end, but with his base behind him 100% (all of the time, no matter what — as long as he wins) and his enemies splitting the remaining vote, Harper was withing striking distance of a minority Government.

The Grand Finale

  • The Last week was a frenzy of activity.
  • Voter turnout increased by a massive amount. (61% up to 68%, a huge jump)
  • First Nations leaders, angered at Harper’s refusal to call an inquiry about the missing aboriginal women, called on their people to vote en masse, creation an increase of 270% in first nations voters,
  • Some idiot dissed Atlantic Canada, saying that it had too few seats to matter.
  • To shore up support Harper held a rally with the Crack dealing and Crack smoking Ford brothers, conservative stalwarts.
  • Trudeau kept moving up. As the election day dawned most people thought he would get a majority. It turns out that he was constantly consulting voters and creating an appealing platform while trying to be as positive as possible (the Jack Layton strategy). He actually moved left of the NDP, who were too busy trying not to alienate people who thought they might be secret communists to notice (can you tell how much I hate the way our media portrays the NDP?). In the end he came out strongly against the Niqab ban, smashed C-24 as uncanadian, and even managed to seem like he might be ok on C-51 and the TPP. Canadians saw him as the clear alternative and rewarded him with a majority.
  • VISION mattered. Trudeau articulated a vision of Canada that brought people out to vote.
  • Jon Oliver delivered an awesome plea for Canadians not to vote Harper.
  • The American Media noticed that Trudeau was handsome.

Lessons Learned

  • The conservatives underestimated Trudeau and his team.
    • Trudeau is smarter then thy think he is: The Conservatives famously said during one debate that the bar for success for Trudeau is to show up with his pants on. While this is red meat to their base, who reveled in hating Trudeau, it seems that many of them believed it and were caught with their own pants down when he turned out to be more than just a pretty face.
    • Trudeau’s political team had a smart plan that involved Canadians in creating a winning platform. The slow and steady gains show that this was a winning strategy.
    • Conservatives will blame everyone under the sun for their loss, including maybe dear leader, but it might be time to rework the old platform. Trickle down and wedge politics is getting old, guys.
  • The NDP got hammered, yes, but their strategy going forward is much clearer,
    • Mulcair scored points on C-51 and opposing the TPP.
    • Tech leaders seemed attracted to the NDP because they opposed C-51 and the TPP, which harm the businesses of the future in favour of the current dominant interests. Marrying the NDPs socially progressive policies with innovative business support could be a winning platform.
    • Relying too heavily on one region (Quebec) was bad. Most of Canada is politically volatile. (see insulting Atlantic Canada)
    • The NDP needs a strong media ally.
  • Social Media mattered. Strategic voting was very strong in this election. People also showed up to early voting in crazy amounts and
  • Dog Whistle politics can win, but it can also backfire. Harper’s use of the Niqab to get back in the campaign after the Duffy Dip was sleazy, but cunning.
  • Trudeau and his advisers were much, much smarter than anyone thought, Their strategy was solid, building a platform that Canadians could love, and stealing NDP votes by leaning left while the NDP moved to the centre to rumble with the CPC.
  • Whoever pissed off Atlantic Canada should have kept their mouth shut. Having an entire region vote for a single party in every riding is usually reserved for conservatives. Atlantic Canada has now demonstrated just how important it is, politically. They can give support, and they are willing to take it away.
  • There were very few promises made by any side this campaign. I remember campaigns where politicians would come up with hundreds of promises. The new media makes that type of campaign a liability since people can track promises much more easily.
  • The Conservatives ran on their economic record. The finance minister lost his seat,
  • The Conservatives ran on their support for the troops. Canadian Veterans ran against them.
  • It is fucking stupid to call a gruelling, long, brutal campaign against a guy who is a decade younger than you and immune to attack ads. While Harper and Mulcair were tiring, Trudeau was hitting his stride.
  • Ultimately Canadians did not fall for the politics of division. Good for us.

The Dissenter, A Heroic Archetype for the Modern Age

Like many Canadians, I spent the weekend protesting C-51, in the real world and online. The act, which the conservative government calls the “anti-terror bill” gives an array of troubling powers to spy agencies. While I was standing outside in the rain and cold, I often wondered about how to turn this relatively banal (so far) situation into Fantasy Fiction.

What I came up with the idea of the dissenter as a hero. Now, this is not my idea, and I am sure than any reader of Fantasy can think of several heroes and villains who are primarily motivated by their disagreement with the system. I just think it is a timely archetype, especially since we are living an time of increasing inequality, which creates increasing dissatisfaction with the machinery of our society. Everybody who is not in power, or served by society, has some gripe with the system. We all think that our particular brand of dissent is a special snowflake, but even the most diametrically opposed factions often have gripes about the system, legitimate or not. This makes the dissenter a very figure that everyone can relate to on some level.

Some time ago I wrote a post about how a corrupt, or unthinking system can be the perfect villain in modern fantasy (link). Looking through my posts I can see that it is a bit of a running theme actually, including my review of Django unchained (link 2, link 3, link 4, link 5). The gist of the idea is that the system is the monolithic, monstrous villain that Fantasy often tends towards, but put into a context that the modern reader can instantly relate to.

In the same way the person who stands up and demands that the system be fixed, or at least points out the flaws in a system, can make an interesting hero. Think about some of the great dissenter of past ages, and the interesting lives they led. Martin Luther was not an action hero, and yet his act of defiance sparked a massive sectarian shift that humbled the greatest power in his world.

Here are a few reasons why I think that the Dissenter is a mighty heroic archetype for Modern Fantasy, the counterpoint to the system as a villain.

  • Knowledge is a Weapon: Modern readers prefer a hero who is smart in some fashion, be it simple brilliance or grimdark streetwise. The primary armament of the dissenter is knowledge. The dissenter knows the flaws of the system that they hate. Often they are a victim of that system and have learned as much as they could about it in order to oppose it.
  • Challenging the Dragon: Systems are immense, complex, and can become truly monstrous over time. The same is true of corrupt institutions. Often, in real life, people find speaking out against these entities incredibly intimidating.  Thus, the dissenter shows courage simply by confronting the problem.
  • A Grim Task: History is not kind to those who dissent. People in power, and those who benefit from corruption, have many options in quashing dissent. The sheer viciousness that those who benefit from a broken system will engage in to prevent that system from changing cannot be underestimated.
  • Reform or Revolution: The ultimate goal of any dissenter is either to reform the system, or topple it altogether. Both have their own merits as story points.

The dissenter can easily turn out to be a villain as well, going to extremes to attack the system that they oppose. An anti-capitalist who publishes papers and advocated non-violent protests against the excesses of wall street is a good kind of dissenter, while an anti-capitalist who blows up factories indiscriminately is most definitely villainous. Interestingly from the perspective of those who inhabit the system being challenged, these two are almost indistinguishable, which makes crackdowns the perfect starting point for a dissenting hero.

Humour vs Fanaticism and Honour Culture in Fantasy Fiction

Recommendations?

Ultimately, all fanatics are the enemies of knowledge as part of the public good.

The Charlie Hebdo attacks,  got me thinking about similar episodes in history and then in Fantasy and Fiction. Aside from their real world implications, which while very interesting are beyond the scope of this blog, it demonstrates a stark pattern of behaviour among fanatics.

Killing a person for mocking one’s beliefs is profoundly ridiculous, and all the more appalling because of that. Most people, no matter how faithful or fierce will not engage in such a barbaric act. The use of the word barbaric is deliberate in this case: honour killings in the name of faith, religious or otherwise, are an ugly artifact of the past. If they are allowed to continue and spread then we will return to the barbarity of totalitarianism or even the dark ages.

Faith killings, like the Charlie Hebdo attacks, are a fanatics attempt to uphold the honour of the system that they have dedicated themselves to. They see any affront to their beliefs as something that needs to be avenged. Often this mindset seems strange to rational people, who can have their most deeply held beliefs insulted and challenged on a daily basis without resorting to violence. However, the fanatic is acting from an irrational impulse, usually fear. They fear that if mockery strips the object of their belief of its dignity then all of their work and all of their devotion will be for nothing. A fanatic puts all of his stock in that one belief, and if that belief is devalued in the marketplace of ideas then so is he. The fanatic will not admit to this fear, event to himself, but it is rooted at the core of his devotion. Someone who is secure in their beliefs does not need to kill for them, and will not unless they are directly threatened, which is never the case when mockery and insults are the supposed threat.

In the arena of fiction, fanatics make for interesting villains. The believe that they are right, and do not question the object of their faith. Within the confines of their system, the fanatic is often more moral than the non-fanatic (although this is not always the case). They are not one dimensional, despite how they may seem on the news. They will even deny that they are fanatics, often in a well reasoned fashion, up to a point. (Perhaps I am a fanatical believer in free speech and democracy? would I know?)

Regardless, fanaticism of any sort is an excellent source of villainy for more Epic forms fantasy fiction. A relatively harmless action, like a cartoon, can set off a fanatical reaction where honour can only be restored through bloodshed. In other posts I have detailed types of fanaticism, from religious to economic. It is my belief that Fanaticism can carry over to belief in any system. Pastoral fantasy tends to use fanatics in the same way that it uses orcs — disposable fodder for action scenes and as a contrast to make the hero look good. (see below for grimdark) However, good Fantasy thrives on exploring the beliefs and systems beyond those of the protagonist. In modern fantasy we prefer villains that have some nuance and revel in the justifications for their actions.

Here are a few examples of interesting Fanatics that could appear in Fantasy Fiction

  • The Rathamen of the Kingdom of Yeer believe in keeping their bodies pure. Contact with outsiders is forbidden until they are ritually purified, and touching a Rathaman is considered a deadly insult. Fanatical Rathamen blame outsiders for all illness and will kill them without provocation at the slightest sign of disease. They also believe that illness among their own kind is a sign of weakness and that the infirm and ill should be shunned. This all stems from a belief that arose during a plague long ago.
  • The Dwarves of Hunglelund believe in trade. Trade is both good and natural. They will use their armies to ensure that trade happens freely and unfettered, no matter what the cost. Aggressively opening up new markets is for the betterment of all!
  • The Scrolls of Tharn the Prophet state that the mineral pools of Tradir are sacred and can cure all the ills of the faithful. Unfortunately overuse has polluted the pools. Sadly however, the prophet stated that the pools are sacred, which means to question the sanctity of the pools is to say that the Prophet is fallible. The illnesses cause by this cycle are creating an imbalance in the religion.

More interesting, however, is that the protagonist need not be someone we would normally find heroic when confronting fanaticism. Political cartoonists are not especially admired in normal society, and are certainly far below policemen, soldiers, and first responders in normal estimations of courage. Yet, when fanaticism is at work, and even a cartoon is considered a grave insult that must be avenged then the creators and critics of culture are often front and centre in the conflict. This can make for excellent fiction. Here are a few examples:

  • The God-King is considered infallible and perfect. A simple cobbler discovers that his feet are different sizes, which is impossible if he is divine, setting off a chain of events that shakes the foundations of the empire.
  • A scientists using a primitive microscope discovers that the pools of Tharn contain nasty little critters that are causing illness and corruption. Using his knowledge, he successfully treats the ill. This creates a schism as some claim that he does evil work, while others begin to question the pools, and still others seek to purify the people by infecting them with the corruption from the pools.
  • The Book of Ibb is the only true book. All other books, even those not written by the faithful of Ibb, are full of false knowledge. BURN THE LIBRARIES! (Sorry Alexandria)

Obviously these are simplistic concepts, but they are examples seeds that can be grown into fully fleshed out conflicts for an interesting series. The best fanatical beliefs showcase the unusual nature of the world that the author has created or emphasize the qualities of those who oppose them.

The fanatic can also be a hero, however, particularly in Grimdark fiction. I am minded here of the noble space marines, who are shielded from the shit storm of corruption in the 40k universe by their faith in humanity and the Imeperium. Of course, grimdark takes a dim view of heroes to begin with 😉