Here in the US we commemorate a number of events associated with war. One of those is Veterans’ Day, formerly known as Armistice Day–a day to remember those who fought and died in World War I to earn the peace established by the Versailles Treaty. Now the day is an opportunity to recognize and honor any soldiers or former military personnel who served in the armed forces.
Certainly thanking those who served is appropriate as is commemorating those who died. And what better way than to think about wars and warriors in speculative fiction. After all, there are plenty of them. Fantasy is filled with armed conflict–good fighting evil. Science fiction isn’t short on military engagement either, Avatar being a prime example.
I couldn’t begin to do an exhaustive study of the subject–there simply are too many wars and warriors in speculative fiction. But I thought it might be interesting to look at some commonalities.
Warriors Serving The Dark Side.
From J.R.R. Tolkien’s orcs to Stephen Lawhead’s Demon Hoards, Stephen Donaldson’s Cavewights, Terry Brook’s Once Men, and Star War’s Storm Troopers, legions follow Evil. Generally speaking these are faceless beings, easily entrapped or seduced because of their desire for power or fear of it. They follow mindlessly and are motivated by greed or selfishness more than anything else. They are also largely expendable, not redeemable.
Often there is a hierarchy, with an inner circle holding more power, such as the Watchers in The Last Guardian, the Nazgul in The Lord of the Rings, or the Wolves in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Their power often seems overwhelming, whether because of their numbers (Storm Troopers, orcs) or because of some ability they possess (the Borg), the firepower at their disposal (the Watchers in The Last Guardian), or their access to magic (The Others in George R. R. Martin’s The Game of Thrones). Generally they derive their power or position from the antagonist who has either created them, deformed them, or infused them with what he can use.
Certain warriors may rise to second in command or come to that position through an alliance, but they are either vying to take over (His Dark Materials) or are being set up (Morgan Rhodes’s Falling Kingdoms).
What can you add about warriors serving the dark side?
Warriors Serving the Side of Truth.
The forces of good seem more eclectic, more individual than do those of evil. Faramir leads a company of men to defend Osgiliath in Return of the King, Théoden leads his Rohirrim, and of course Aragorn brings the lost army of the undead oathbreakers.
Generally the forces of good seem to be outnumbered (Wayne Thomas Batson’s The Door Within) or lacking in resources (Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain). However, they are loyal (Reepicheep in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader), to the point of willing sacrifice, seem less interested in personal goals than in the good of the land and people (Wizard Fenworth in Donita Paul’s DragonKeeper Chronicles), and are determined even when all seems lost (Frodo in Lord of the Rings).
In addition, the army of good often seems more complex, more conflicted. Good and evil aren’t always as clear, their path may be uncertain. The D’Haran army, for example, in Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth, first follows Darken Rahl against the protagonist, Richard, only to give him their loyalty later in the series.
Boromir in Lord of the Rings, of course, is the classic example of a conflicted warrior–believing he knows what will save his nation but bowing to the will of the council … until he doesn’t, then repenting of his madness in the end.
The Ents take their time in The Two Towers decided with whom they will side and whether or not they will take action. The Dwarfs in Prince Caspian and The Last Battle similarly follow a conflicted path, and not all end up making the right choices. In other words, generally speaking, while evil warriors rarely are redeemed, it seems good ones can be lost.
What else have you noticed about warriors of good?
Wars are pivotal.
In some instances, wars are the precursor. For examaple, foundational to Terry Brooks’s Shannara is the war between the Word and the Void. In The Seeker of Truth Darken Rahl invades the Midlands. The defeat of Talking Animals is part of the backstory of Prince Caspian.
Wars can also be part of the increasing conflict as they are in The Book of Three and The Fellowship of the Ring.
Less often, it seems, wars bring a story to a climax. The Last Battle does so, though the cause appears lost. The Return of the King ends with the battle for the Shire, a much smaller battle than the epic fought earlier in the story.
What are your observations about war in speculative fiction? Any thoughts about war and peace in the world today and those who serve to protect your nation?
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