Corona, Or the Future of Fantasy

With a perniciousness matched only by the disease itself, it seems that Corona has infected all of our communications as well.  Fortunately, this particular variety of the contagion is far less dangerous.  Yet it is a rare conversation indeed that doesn’t at some point, in some way, inevitably turn to talk of the disease.  This is understandable, even if it can be trying.  It is what is on our minds and, even if almost all such dialogues are mere rehashes of things rehashed a hundred times before, we can’t seem to help it.

With that in mind, Corona will also infect this blog.  Yet I will, at least, approach it from a less common direction.  Thus we’ll take a week off from my series on “Combat is Boring” to look instead at Corona and the Future of Fantasy.

Corona is one of those pivotal moments that will lodge in our memories and serve as a defining aspect of a generation.  It is taking its place alongside such moments as 9/11, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Challenger Disaster, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  There are some differences.  After all, Corona has already stretched into months while all the events listed above, with the exception of the Berlin Wall, took mere moments to unfold.  Regardless, they all have caused a significant shift in our sociological psyche. 

As dreadfully tragic as it is, there may be some good that will arise in the aftermath of Corona.  Adversity often drives innovation.  For example, many workers devoting three hours per day commuting from suburbia to city centers and back are now teleworking.  It may be dawning on them just how much more of a day they now have for themselves.  Assuming a day divided into thirds with eight hours for sleep, and eight hours for work, that leaves eight hours for everything else.  With a three hour commute, 37.5% of that ‘discretionary’ time was devoured sitting in traffic.  Thus, it may be that they will point out to their employers that they were able to be fully productive while working from home for months on end.  Increased implementation of telework after COVID may see an increase in employee satisfaction and a reduction in the traffic nightmare that is strangling our cities.

On the negative side, even before the Corona virus there was an unprecedented level of social isolation with a growing dependency on non-verbal texts over speech or even, heaven forbid, face-to-face conversation.  The separation we’ve inflicted on ourselves now for the greater good exacerbates this.  If, even after Corona subsides, a more general fear of infectious diseases and ‘mass anthropophobia’ (fear of people) persists, then this isolation will intensify and will likely result in a rise in depression and suicide.

There are many other such possibilities, but I’ve spent enough time on an introduction.  For today, the focus is the fantasy genre of literature.

I see three paths that lay open before us.  Individually, we will each choose one.  Collectively, the genre will be driven by whichever road is chosen the most.  The paths before us are a shift toward hope, a plunge deeper down the path to despair, or reverting unchanged to what was before.

The fantasy genre has evolved over time and has, in many ways, matured and expanded.  Gone are the days where so many fantasy stories focus on a young person from the countryside with little or no adventuring skills saving the realm.  What we have seen over the past couple decades is a rise in the popularity and frequency of grim stories where even the heroes are barely heroes.  Often times, they are only distinguishable from the villains by the meanest measure of higher values, if not better methods of achieving them.  Or, on the flip side, they might have equally self-serving values but mildly more noble means of achieving them.  Heroes no longer ride off into the sunset.  And, should our heroes fall, it is usually into muck and filth rather than with gallant courage.  Those who survive them don’t see that glorious sunset earned by their sacrifice, either.

These are the kinds of stories that I don’t care for.  I’ve talked about this before – the tales where no one is safe and even beloved, important characters can be struck down at any moment.  Sometimes even, it seems they’re slain upon the whims of the author just to keep us uncertain and on edge.  Every time the reader dares believe that something good is about to rise, that hope is crushed.  These aren’t just setbacks, every story has those, but true irredeemable and devastating losses.

Surrounded by the suffering and death (or the incessant talk of it), the isolation, and the economic tensions of COVID-19, it may be that readers will dive deeper into this abyss as such tales provide a manifestation of what they believe the world to be.  If this proves true, the theme of futility will rise more powerful than ever.  Fantasy literature will continue to darken with ever bleaker interpretations of humanity, the world, and the lives we lead.

But perhaps not!  Perhaps the suffering, death, and isolation of COVID-19 will drive readers to proclaim, “Enough!”  Life is hard and losses are tragic, but we no longer need to bathe perpetually in it.  The trends of fantasy may shift toward those stories that don’t revel in the frenzy of despair but rise above it.  To repeat one of my favorite quotes that I’ve shared elsewhere, “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist.  Children already know the dragons exist.  Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” ~ G.K. Chesterton.

Lastly, we could just revert to what already is.  Once the Corona virus has been defeated, readers may cast this time of trial aside and resume old habits as if nothing has changed.  Depending on the motivation here, this could be the saddest choice of all.  There is a certain strength in refusing to allow adversity to affect us.  Yet adversity also should help us grow.  To simply revert as if COVID-19 never happened suggests a certain willful blindness to the ordeal we are going through.

By the nature of my own stories and my tone here, you can easily guess which path I prefer.  Truths may be revealed by delving into darkness and unearthing the shadows that lie within.  Strength may be found in shrugging off our trials to proudly stride forward as before.  I believe, however, that true value can only be found in a message of hope.  It is the only choice that makes us better.  But the three paths lie open before us.  Each of us must decide which to walk down.

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