This week: NatureEdited by: Robert Waltz
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Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.
All things are artificial, for nature is the art of God.
Ah, nature. Trees, wind, rain, skyscrapers...
Okay, let me explain.
We humans tend to draw a distinction between "natural" and "artificial." The former is normally used to refer to stuff we had little or nothing to do with, while the latter refers to stuff humans create. That's a useful distinction, I think, even if the line gets blurry: is a radish natural if we plant a seed on purpose, nurture the seedling, pour water on it, pull what we consider weeds from its vicinity?
But then we have to go and make value judgements. "Natural" has the connotation of healthy, pure, wholesome; "artificial" is... well, not those things. Think of all the foods labeled "All-natural!" or "No artificial ingredients!"
Let's not forget that lava, poison ivy, cobra venom, and the sun's ultraviolet rays are also "all-natural."
But then we run into other problems with our nomenclature. Consider a bird's nest. It's made of twigs, grass, bones, whatever - all "natural" - but a bird built that thing for bird uses. Is it natural? Or perhaps a termite mound, built by termites to do termite things and usually devastating the environment around it - a "feature" often used to decry that which we call artificial.
In my view, since humans are natural creatures, anything we do is therefore natural also - including automobiles, nuclear plants... and skyscrapers. Whether these things are generally beneficial or not is a different issue.
But okay, personal opinion aside, again, let's go back to the idea of "artificial" being a synonym for "human-made."
Okay, Waltz, how is this relevant to Fantasy?
Glad you asked. One of the most common tropes in fantasy is other sentient species - think elves, trolls, faeries, whatever. When constructing a world with species like these, or similar to them, then where do you draw the line between natural and artificial? Is it only what humans create that is considered unnatural, or do the elves' treehouses count as well? Sure, generally, elf-types are portrayed as living more in harmony with the rest of nature, but I'm only using that as one example.
How is a fictional troll enclave (or whatever it is trolls live in) different from a bird's nest, in terms of its artificiality?
No, I'm not answering the question here; I'm asking it in hopes that, in writing, you'll keep this sort of thing in mind. "Nature good, artificial bad" is baked into a lot of fantasy, but I'm challenging that.
Oddly enough, those value judgements are reversed for much of science fiction, where nature is sometimes seen as the enemy and technology as savior (think about the common Star Trek trope of exploring a new planet and getting faced by some weird alien plant) - could this be one of the elusive differences between those two genres?
In any case, I hope this has given you something to think about. I know I'll be considering how to play with these themes in future work.
Let's look at some all-natural, artificial fantasy:
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Last time, in "Relevance" , I talked about making fantasy relevant.
Write 2 Publish 2020 : Whether the genre is fantasy, scifi, or drama, inserting a political or cultural theme needs to be subtle. When the theme over powers the story, you're in trouble. Look at any popular book, the themes are so buried in the book the reader is hardly aware of them until some reviewer or dissident point out "The book is about...." Why does every book have to have a cultural meaning? Can't we just have good vs evil?
Of course. I never meant to imply that every story should have an agenda. I agree, though, that if one does introduce contemporary themes into a story, subtlety is important.
BIG BAD WOLF Is 31 on 6/3/20 : One should always do research.
That's gotten to be my excuse for being anywhere. "What were you doing at the bar?" "Research."
That's it for me for August! See you next month. Until then,
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