1. Kaleb says:

    No mention of Starship Troopers? That’s more of an actual military engagement than Avatar  with, as you said, the conflicted Good vs. the expendable Evil. 

    • Kaleb, I’m not familiar with Starship Troopers. Is that a movie? a book? By what author?

      Avatar certainly wasn’t a classic war picture. More like an assault, with US Revolution tactics in response.


      • Kaleb says:

        Never heard of Starship Troopers? The great classic by Robert Heinlein? (It’s a movie too, but it wasn’t accurate.) 

        Guerrilla tactics, yes., also similar to what’s been used in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and pretty much every insurgency involving a group of fighters fighting against a government with more money and resources. 

      • ionaofavalon says:

        It was also a CGI animated cartoon in the early 2000’s. It’s now on Hulu, if you care to watch it

  2. Literaturelady says:

    Warriors serving the dark side can’t hit the broad side of a barn.  🙂
    You make an interesting observation about moral welfare of good and evil armies: the dark forces are rarely redeemed while the heroes have the ability–and often inclination–to fall.  My guess is that stories are more focused on the choices of the  protagonists, or the actions they avoid based on the betrayal of a friend, or the consequences of falling rather than any doubts Clone 2683 might have about the righteousness of his Emperor’s commands.  🙂  However, I can think of one dark-force servant who was redeemed: Christopher Ens from Burning Light.  He serves his master (though not unconditionally), but at the end, he acknowledges his need for mercy.
    Moving from dark forces to the hero’s armies, here’s something that fantasy writers might find interesting: the just war theory.  According to the theory, a war is just if  there is a good reason to go to war,  and if it is a very last resort: if all political negotiations have failed.  Just thought I’d throw that out there.
    I think that the multiple wars in fantasy–and reality–mirror the spiritual war that will last until Christ returns.
    Great post, Becky!

    • Great comment, LitLady. I agree that the most likely reason those in the armies of evil are nameless and faceless is because the stories are being told from the point of view of someone on the good side. A notable exception to this is Daughter of Light by Morgan Busse. One of her POV characters is a leader on the side that appears to be wrong. I’ll be interested to see where she takes this.

      And yes, I think the fact that physical war can mirror spiritual war affects not only the outcome but the way the characters pursue their agenda.

      I think most of the stories I’ve read, the wars are just from the point of view of the good guys. I wonder if they should ever wrestle with this or be faced with an illegal war or one for self-aggrandizement. Those seem reserved for the evil side (I mean, evil characters do evil thing! 😉 )

      Thanks for adding to this discussion!


  3. Galadriel says:

    I think a lot of fantasy writers begin with the premise of a just war, even if it’s never expectantly stated. One of the rare incidents I’ve seen of a dark-sider repeating comes from the Binding of Blade.  The character had begin his descent into evil by murdering his best friend of a girl, and ended up betraying his city in hope she’d be spared from the carnage. But by that point, he was under no illusions about what he had done, and in the end, he did hope for forgiveness, which was granted.

    • That‘s interesting, Galadriel–a character bringing on a war by his sinful action. Wow! that would be guilt inducing, wouldn’t it.

      I only read the first in Mr. Graham’s series. I often wondered what happened next.


  4. Timothy Stone says:

    Good analysis, Ma’am.
    Two factors that affect just how war is presented are the subgenre of fantasy to which the story belongs, and the experiences and/or research the author puts into the topic.
    On the first part, a straight heroic fantasy like John Carter or heroic/low fantasy like the Ranger’s Apprentice will have far more even odds. There is less (if any) mystical, supernatural, or even Divine interference as in high fantasy. In high fantasy, the long odds are there partly because the protagonists aren’t supposed to be able to win without some sort of outside help or circumstance.
    On the part of experience or research, you have veterans like Tolkien or Robert Jordan who do a pretty good job on describing warfare, and guys like Brandon Sanderson who do the research and thus present a pretty good picture of how warfare works.
    Then you have those folks who don’t try at all. One clear example is the filmmakers of the LOTR movies. In the books, there is actual strategy employed at times, while in the movies, it looks like a bunch of people on both sides who wouldn’t know what a tactic was if it bit them upside the rear.
    I tend to think that what distinguishes a good treatment of warfare and war-fighting, is how the work examines the psychological and spiritual cost of warfare, and also how quickly it shatters the illusions of war being “cool” or somehow “manly”. It is horrible. Again, LOTR showed this in the books, but the filmmakers failed to show this beyond a few scenes lasting a few seconds each. In the struggles that Vin and Elend have in Mistborn, Sanderson addresses it. So does Terry Brooks via Flick and Shea in Sword of Shannara, Will in Elfstones and Brin and Jair in Wishsong of Shannara. For that matter, the issue of the consequences of war is addressed somewhat in the works of Spec Faith contributors Donita K. Paul and Morgan Busse.

    • In the books, there is actual strategy employed at times, while in the movies, it looks like a bunch of people on both sides who wouldn’t know what a tactic was if it bit them upside the rear.

      I’m curious about examples. How would you have improved upon, say, the melee in the Fields of Pelennor in The Return of the King?

      • ionaofavalon says:

        Exactly, the charge of the Rohirrim (hope is spelled that right) was very sound and the way the horsemen wove their way around the oliphants was sound too, if you notice, Eowyn hamstrung one. One of the ways the bad guys try to get ahead is by fighting dirty, examples include the Mouth of Sauron pulling out Frodo’s mail shirt out and implying that he had been killed. Other tricks include kidnapping the hero’s girlfriend/wife/children or  superior magic or weapons (see Hitler). On the other side  the heroes do things straight up, like finding a way to get rid of the superior magic or weapons, like in the Black Cauldron when the Prince throws himself into the cauldron to destroy it. The heroes never resort to dirty tricks to win and are viewed by the villains as weak for it, see just about everything associated with Superman.  

    • Timothy, great observations. No doubt a dystopian fantasy would portray war in a completely different way from a medieval mythic retelling or an epic fantasy. And of course science fiction would be on a whole different page.

      I agree that experience of the writer, or research, shows through, as it should. Those who put in time on the battlefield know things the rest of us do not.

      Also I agree about the emotional/psychological effects. One of the things that bugs me in books is when a character experiences a great trauma and then moves on as if nothing has changed. Your comments make me wish I had you as a beta reader to vet the reactions of my character when he first experiences battle.


  5. Timothy Stone says:

    In general, I would say to NOT just throw yourselves forward in one long zerg rush. Okay, in the books, there is the scene where the Rohirrim is described as slowly and methodically taking out the orcs holding merry and pippin prisoner. Partly for time constraints much of that was left out, but the film shows it largely as the Rohirrim swooping in and quickly killing everyone.
    In the Gondor battle, Denethor’s (and after he goes ax-crazy/suicidal), Gandalf’s tactics and commands were discussed. There were more than words of encouragement shouted in the book. In the book, there was some plan discussed or put forth as to fighting the enemy. This distinction between book and film is less so in regards to the bad guys, because Sauron and their fellow-orcs didn’t care much if many of their number died.
    In the movies, the main tactic was “charge!”. Now, a funny story related to this. I have read that early on they were using a computer program that WETA developed with the folks at ILM (Lucasfilm), to simulate large numbers of combatants on both sides. Apparently they did their job too well, as the computer would have the good guys retreat instead of fighting in the background of the main characters. The computer thought the good guys were toast, so had the good guys run away. Needless to say, they had to reprogram the computer to just have redo footage of guys fighting, and not be quite as complicated in how it portrayed the war.

  6. Timothy Stone says:

    Rebecca, Ma’am, I’m happy to do any beta reading any time. 🙂 That sounds neat.
    I would say that the best example I have literally EVER read of a character dealing with the emotional impacts of war are (fittingly enough as the audience surrogates) the Hobbits in LOTR. Especially Sam looking mournfully on the dead Haradrim soldier, wondering if he was actually all that evil, or if he HAD to fight there. That scene was one of the most poignant in the whole book for me.

  7. D.M. Dutcher says:

    I’m not usually a fan of war in fantasy or science fiction, as it’s often done very poorly. One thing is that no intelligent side ever thinks of itself as being evil, but novels do this all the time. Or they refuse to humanize the other side and instead make it a race of subhuman things that it appears it’s almost a duty to kill. Usually there’s a lot of bad politics along with it-Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is a particularly heinous example of this, as his views on suffrage only for soldiers would lead to a military elite dominating society.

    I’d recommend the Forever War by Joe Haldeman just because it’s an antiwar military sf book, and it makes a good counterpoint to Starship Troopers. The first Cobra book by Tim Zahn is also decent because unlike others, he manages to be balanced about war. Cobra soldiers deal with battle-related problems leading to the shortening of their life after service is over, suffer mistrust (possibly warranted) while trying to reintegrate into civilian life, and even the dilemma of how soldiers abandoned by their command should act.

  8. Timothy Stone says:

    Sir, Zahn is great at that sort of stuff. In the Star Wars novels he wrote, he solves the quandary of why so many folks (aside from the clones and conscripts who had no choice) would even want to volunteer and join the Imperial Navy. Because not all of them are evil. Some truly believe in their cause. They are wrongheaded, to be sure, but not evil.
    I think the reason that their are “all-evil” races in fantasy is because often it’s the equivalent of the Devil or other demonic type of baddie who is creating them for this purpose, like  Morgoth and later Sauron in LOTR, the Dark One creating Trollocks in The Wheel of Time, or the Lord Ruler and Ruin using hemalurgy in The Original Mistborn Trilogy.

What do you think?