High Fantasy as Tyranny

September 2010

My problem with high fantasy is this: I come from a nation that has a real, no-shit monarchy and aristocracy. Consequently you get to learn about this stuff in high school, and see its stilted echoes on the TV news every week. Monarchism, the default political stance of high fantasy, sucks. We have a term for its latter-day incarnation: we call it "hereditary dictatorship", and point to North Korea for an example. From the point of view of most of the population, your typical fantasyland is not a utopia. Anything but! And to make matters worse, the traditional format of a high fantasy novel is that some source of disruption threatens to destabilize the land; it is up to the hero (usually it is a ‘he’) to set things right and restore the order of benign tyranny to the world. Fantasy, in short, is frequently consolatory, and I don't get on with it.

Charles Stross, ‘Books I will not write’