Some people can watch a show and just enjoy it.
I am not one of those people.
Fiction that glorifies and celebrates technology is effectively making a promise to the audience.
That promise is: “Commit your resources – time, land, raw materials, money, people – to the development of technology, and you will reap rewards – prosperity, military power, medical advances, etc.”
Now, I should note that fantasy fiction promises little, if anything. At most, R. E. Howard’s Conan stories promise, “Trust your animal instincts, and you’ll be admirably savage!”
The thing about fantasy magic is that it’s NOT New Age magic. The people who promise that Tarot cards can tell your future are writing New Age books and self-discovery workshop manuals; for the most part, they are not writing fantasy fiction. Most of the people who write fantasy fiction are writing spectacles, not occult stories. The founders of the fantasy genre were those writers who broke away from the New Age. It’s fascinating to note that W. B. Yeats’ “Golden Dawn” crowd included very influential writers – Machen, Blackwood, arguably Bram Stoker – but what they wrote was New Age fiction or occult fiction, not fantasy fiction.
New Age fiction resembles a ghost story more than sci-fi. The premise of New Age fiction is that ghosts are real, psychic abilities are real, and occultism can work.
Was Bram Stoker a serious Golden Dawn member? His fiction is more like fantasy than New Age fiction. By contrast, folks like Machen and Blackwood were effectively promising the audience the same kinds of things that New Age nonfiction books promise – spend the time mastering these weird rituals and your life will get better – you’ll be able to see the future, or you’ll be able to “manifest” luxuries, or you’ll get more sex, or you’ll start talking with ghosts every week, or something.
This is very different from fantasy magic, which is typically Big Glowy Power, kind of like having a non-physical laser cannon. The bigger and glowier it is, the schlockier the story is.
A typical example of schlock would be The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Fantasy magic allows Thomas to make big, sizzling, spectacular gouts of white fire. This is useful for frying fantasy monsters. It also has very little connection with New Age beliefs. The guys writing for the Golden Dawn didn’t promise that – they worked on occultism every day, and the results were not nearly so spectacular.
If I’m going to spend time on fiction, I want it to fit into my philosophical choices. I want it to match my priorities.
I recently dropped Akuma no Riddle because it doesn’t match any of my priorities and it has no relevance to my life. I also dropped the first Fullmetal Alchemist series because it was too angsty and badly written. By contrast, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood was totally unrealistic and irrelevant, but I absolutely loved the writing, and so I felt it was worth finishing just because the writer earned my respect.
It will take some hard work, but I will have to go through the stories that stick in my memory, and try to evaluate them in terms of relevance to my life. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood might have a life-relevance of 2/10, and Thomas Covenant might have a life-relevance of 1/10.
In the end, I might actually get through all of my fiction and discover that none of it rates any higher than 4/10, and thus I might have to consider reducing my fiction intake.
Fiction should expand the horizons of your thoughts about your real-world actions. Maybe fiction really fails to deliver on that duty, but horizons must be expanded, one way or another.
Here’s a very small example of real-world expanded horizons. At some point in my life, I had never ridden a motorcycle. I took buses.
Buses were realistic, but they set the bar of my aspirations too low.
Then, some years ago, I considered it POSSIBLE that I would not have to depend on public transportation for the rest of my life.
I learned how to ride a cheap motorcycle, because cars are too expensive.
I got the benefit of private transportation in my life – because I believed it was possible.
Fiction might teach us some very dysfunctional ideas about how to aspire. If I tried to produce gouts of flame from a white gold ring like Thomas Covenant, I might lead a very unpleasant life; I might even get locked up as insane.
If I tried to see ghosts like a Machen or Blackwood character, I might just waste a lot of time.
If I tried to live like an A. J. Cronin character, I might have a good job, but I might hate my life and end up wasting my life working at a job I hated.
How do we aspire to eudaimonia? That’s a question I hope to answer by evaluating various fiction and its effects on my aspirations.