On Dreams and Heroes (Fantasy 3)

When we read fantasy stories, whether contemporary or antique, certain themes spring to mind. The princess in need of rescuing. The farm-boy turned king/hero/mighty wizard. The plucky tomboy who finds her inner woman and kisses the prince over a pile of dead bodies (slight sarcasm, slight). Seldom do we see a prince becoming a farm-boy, a princess rescuing herself or the tomboy walking away with a trail of broken hearts behind her and a woman on her arm.

The reasons for these themes have been studied dozens, perhaps hundreds of time. We desire to see ourselves in the characters, to identify with them, in reality made acceptable by our understanding of the character. While we want the character to be familiar, we also want something extraordinary to happen to them. As ordinary, every day people, we want to see the poor lad get the beautiful princess, the prince to learn his lesson that he’s just like the rest of us, etc.

I believe there is another element also to the choice of heroes, a parallel, if you will, of the choice of poor over prince.

As a friend says about his bad New Year’s hangover “the year can only get better”, the same can often be said of the heroes of fantasy and sci-fi. In William’s “Memory, Thorn and Sorrow”, the hero is a servant boy with no prospects of anything but servitude. He can go upward, onward, his expansion is nearly limitless. Because of his poor prospects, he is able to dream, and dream big. Adventures, power, wealth, wisdom, strength, love, it’s all there in front of him. Improbable, but possible. Not every commoner gets this chance, only the deserving and useful ones.

The princes, on the other hand, have it pretty good (at least in the stories. You don’t see many fantasy princes with syphilis). Wealth, power, war, as many women as they want, often a lack of responsibility. If the prince wishes, so it is. He has little cause to dream, and so, little impetus to get off his royal bum and go save the world. He’s got knights and wizards to save the world for him. Those dragons aren’t good for the royal health you know, off you go sir knight!

The poor boy dreams. Dreams of changing the world, of coming to the notice of those lofty eyes that see nothing but themselves in the mirror, of saving the maiden fairer than his barnyard sweetheart. An escape from drudgery, from commonality, from obscurity. Dreams most of us share.

Who hasn’t dreamed of winning the lottery? Of saving the life-or maybe just her purse?-of a beautiful, famous woman and of course, after that, she would obviously fall in love with you and your terrible charm. Wouldn’t you like songs composed about you, your face and name in the headlines of AP and Reuters and Forbes? All dreams, for most of us, all fantasy.

And in the stories, reality. Because there the boy does save the queen, the common man does avert disaster and recieve his just reward, and there the wicked are punished for their wrong-doing.

Utopia is our trade in fantasy, Happily Ever After our byline, and Dreams the stock of our trade. It’s a good world to be a common man in, but be careful that you aren’t a prince.

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