Fantasy as a Vehicle for Social Justice

I believe passionately that writers of fiction  can ply their craft to help effect positive social change and offer a platform for values and principles. The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale both reflect this and I have a series of books focusing on social issues in the US (all based on San Francisco) beginning with Unwanted Heroes which will be released by Three Clover Press in the spring and highlight the way we treat war veterans and the homeless.

I was delighted when Kaitlyn Cole from Online Universities shared a list that their faculty had put together entitled: 50 Best Novels For Political Junkies.

Kaitlyn wrote: “True story: Some of the best political novels aren’t explicitly about politics. Yes, some of the books on this list deal directly with governments and politicians, with laws and the ways they’re made or abused, and with the peril and promise inherent in every governing body. But some of them use adventure, parable, or satire to subtly explore our political system with a depth that wouldn’t be possible any other way.”

Great point and relevant to those of us who write political fiction. But how about fantasy? Is there room to use our elves and dwarves to promote social injustices or causes? 

Over the last two summers I was blessed with the amazing experience of writing two fantasy novels together with my 11-year-old son. While I have read a few fantasy novels, I had no idea about the “rules” of the genre.

Writing with my son, however, compelled me to include moral issues such as racism, dictatorship and freedom, as well as the values of friendship and freedom. I was writing for my son and there are plenty of swords, quests, elves, dwarves etc., but as I watched him read and listened to his feedback, I waited for his comments about such issues and derived huge satisfaction when he brought up issues.

In setting my goals for an exercise at Author Salon, I wrote:

“I have seen the impact of the Harry Potter series and Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance series on my son and his friends. I want to help shape the landscape of the next generation’s imagination and maybe even the society they strive to create.”

My lack of knowledge regarding fantasy leads me to ask the question: Can fantasy offer a vehicle to discuss political and social injustice? I would love to hear your answers fantasy-fans.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#elfwriter).

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The Power of Paolini

Anyone reading this blog is probably very aware that this week Christopher Paolini released the fourth book in the Inheritance Trilogy (sorry Christopher – even though we are all thrilled that there are another 800 pages of Eragon, we all remember the moment somewhere in the third book when we realized it was not going to end there).

The Final One

Our copy of Inheritance will arrive in the next couple of days and my 12-year-old will devour it, before passing it on to me, hopefully in time for the Thanksgiving vacation. It has been a wonderful bonding experience. Whether it is Harry Potter or Eragon (or most likely both) who are responsible for his leap in reading ability and desire is immaterial, I am eternally grateful to Paolini and J.K. Rowling.

My son and I spent endless hours reading the books, listening to the audio version, watching the (only!!!!) movie, and discussing how it will end in Brisingr, the third and not final book of the trilogy, and then Inheritance.

When Paolini released Brisingr, my then 10-year-old stood defiantly at the front of the line in our local Borders, falling asleep on his feet literally as the clock approached midnight. I remember the lady who was working there, encouraging him to stay awake and hang on. At exactly midnight, she put a copy that she had hidden under the counter into his hands and whispered that he should buy that very copy. It was the only book in the store that Christopher Paolini had personally signed.

The autograph & the fan.

Five minutes later, my son was fast asleep in the car clutching his autographed copy by his hero who was barely ten years older than him.

Paolini has proved a number of important points:
1. The young generation will read 400-page novels if the material is gripping enough.
2. They will read rich descriptions, convoluted plots, and identify with characters that are deep, vulnerable, and profoundly human (or elf or dwarf).
3.  They will thrive on a high level of language.
4. Tolkien might still be king, but he has good company. Paolini is young. His level of craft is only going to improve and that is an exciting prospect.

Two years later, my son and I wrote our first 90,000-word fantasy novel. The seeds were sown in the land of Alagaesia, on the wings of dragons, and in the art of an incredibly talented young man.

The Master

As the excitement has grown for my eldest son and I as the release date for Inheritance neared, my youngest son,  who is eight-years-old, has quietly read more than 250 pages of Eragon.  

So Christopher, if by any chance you ever read this: Thank you, as a reader, a fan, and a father.

The Trilogy!

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He has written two fantasy novels and the first will enter the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award in January 2012. More on Alon Shalev at alonshalev.com and on Twitter (#elfwriter).