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Posts Tagged ‘dystopian fiction’

In my last two posts, I rambled on about dystopian fiction and how it plays a developmental role for young readers as they move toward adulthood. I also mentioned the different types of dystopian fiction directed to adults, which involves zombies, conspiracies, and other material that reflects adult concerns. Finally, I get to my point! Which is my theory is that dragons used to be what zombies are now. Stick with me while I talk this through.

I recently had a conversation with a teacher at the school where I work, about a Fouth Grade boy who wrote a story where a hero shoots zombies. The teacher was dismayed by the violent and inappropriate content of the boy’s story. I said to her, “Look how common zombies are in entertainment right now. Books, comics, movies, TV, video games — they all include zombies. This boy is probably writing what his parents were watching on Walking Deadthe night before.” “Could be, but it’s still inappropriate.”

Believe it or not, this is what got me thinking and comparing between dragons and zombies. In every era, there are fictional villains everyone loves to hate and who are considered appropriate targets for violence. You know them — bandits, goblins, wolves. Criminals have broken the law, so it’s okay for superheroes to beat them up. Wolves are dangerous, so it’s okay for hunters to kill them. And, yes, dragons are a menace, so it’s okay for knights to cut their heads off. Currently, zombies are both dangerous and (depending on the story) contagious, so it’s okay for video gamers to shoot them.

So, similarities between zombies and dragons. 1) Hideously ugly. Zombies are bloody and maimed, maybe with a few parts falling off. The greatest dragons were also awful to behold, like Hydra with her nine heads. 2) Horribly powerful. Dragons have breath weapons and zombies can overwhelm almost any defense, given time. They both are really hard to kill. 3) Not very smart. Modern readers are accustomed to super-smart dragons, but the classic dragons, like Fafnir, were creatures of instinct rather than intellect. And, as we all know, zombies are constantly searching for brains because they don’t have their own.

Dissimilarities? Sure. Dragons are much, much bigger. Zombies don’t fly, unless they’ve snuck onto an airplane. People mostly run away from them, whereas they actually look for dragons due to the lure of rich hoards.

Long ago, dragons were the ultimate monster. People who were safe at home told heroic stories about dragons and brave knights. They passed stories around like comic books, and talked about them the way we talk about zombie movies. What dragons were then, zombies are now — the ultimate monster everyone is afraid of.

Well, what do you think? Are zombies the new dragons?

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My next thought on dystopian/apocalyptic fiction may seem a bit cynical, but here it is: many readers enjoy such material simply because we are bored and these scenarios are the opposite of our real lives. Yes, there are people in the world who live in crime-ridden areas, even in war zones, and I would never dismiss the anguish of that, but those aren’t the people I’m talking about. Actual refugees and crime victims don’t buy apocalyptic novels. They don’t have to.

The people buying apocalyptic and dystopian novels are comfortable residents of developed nations. We read about struggle and starvation while surrounded by peace and plenty. We shudder at some horde of filthy zombies while ensconced in our tidy gated communities. Essentially, we want to read/watch dangerous and challenging conditions because there is so little real challenge or danger around us.

When our lives frustrate and disappoint us, we can invent conspiracies to explain it away. Failing school? It couldn’t be because you stayed up all night playing video games and slept through classes. No, it’s the teachers conspiring against you. (I’ve had this conversation with one of my kids, can you tell?)

Or maybe you took over an isolated wildlife refuge and expected the whole U. S. population to rise up in revolt against the evil government, but then nobody showed. It can’t be because your conspiracy was all in your heads! No, the American public have become sheeple.

This is just mental masturbation. It’s manufacturing an adrenaline rush because our daily lives are so totally without adrenaline. Remember how I said the teen heroes in dystopian novels act to change their worlds? You don’t see that so much in apocalyptic and conspiracy stories. Once there’s an apocalypse, it’s too late to change anything, so why try? And a great conspiracy can never be put to rest. There will always be some new factor to weave into the scheme.

Tons of people enjoy these stories, and I’m sure you all think I’m just a cranky old broad who’s panning what she doesn’t understand. But I do wish that some of those who dwell in apocalyptic dreams would occasionally wake up and spend a little time in the actual, physical world. It’s a pretty cool place, too.

Now, am I done rambling? Heck no! See you on Tuesday.

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Prepare yourself, for I shall ramble a bit over the next few posts. I’ve been thinking about zombies and dragons and post-apocalyptic dystopias. This all started with a post by Charles Yallowitz, so you can blame him. And do check out his blog, Legends of Windemere.

Charles asked for thoughts on dystopian fiction, and this was my reply to him. “I would observe that in some ways dystopian storytelling is a developmental phase for youth. Calling it a phase makes it sound trivial, but really I think the process is important. As kids, most of us view our families and the world as safe places with benevolent rulers in the form of our parents. A utopia, if you will. However, as we move into our teens, we begin to see flaws in our parents and the world. Beloved parents now are seen as despots. We question, demand, bicker, depending on family dynamics.

“Dystopian fiction reflects this process of questioning as children move toward adulthood. Although the dystopian story setting is often bleak, in fact the youth usually ‘solve’ many issues. So, though questioning the values of their world, they also accept responsibility for changing what they don’t like.”

Charles replied, in part, “I keep thinking about Brave New World and 1984. Those are more adult, so do you think the genre has shifted to a younger demographic?”

And I said, in part, “In the era of the books you mention, there was little or no writing specifically directed to children. But I do think young readers have really claimed dystopian fiction as their own. Although there’s some overlap, more overtly horrific material, such as zombies and conspiracy theories, are more the domain of adults because those reflect adult fears.”

But what does this have to do with dragons? Come back Wednesday and I shall ramble farther on.

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