2005-08-30 : Coming-of-age Fantasy for Adults
(It's taken me a week to get back on the horse.)
My favorite set of fantasy fiction tropes - well, my second-favorite - is the "Dark Ages Britain" one, the tribal or clannish Iron-age Celtic/Welsh/Brit one, you know the one I mean? You probably first encountered it where I did, in Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books. It's got some great stuff in it: the King of Death and undead armies, ignoble and strange fairy creatures, mortal kings fallen from their past glory, enchantresses flawed and sexy, scary goddess-crone-witches, animals and people tortured out of their natural nobility, rune-sticks and oracular pigs, someone sacrificing the thing he or she loves, someone else showing nobility we never expected, the brown man of the woods, uncanny havens from war and violence you'll never find except by desperate luck. Prydain like I say; the fantastic elements in Susan Cooper's the Dark is Rising and Alan Garner's the Weirdstone of Brisingamen; it underlies the best Arthurian stories, like Gawain and the Green Knight or Gawain and the Loathly Lady; even strip the Germanic stuff and the D&D out of the Lord of the Rings and it's there too.
Formative stuff for me.
So here's one: The Dreamstone by C.J. Cherryh. Maybe not a great book, maybe a fine book, that hardly matters, the point is that it's a grown-up book that hits many of Prydain's notes. I was rereading it a few weeks ago, thinking about this third RPG I'm working on, and a scene in it struck me.
Our hero seizes his rightful holdings - a little hill fortress and surrounding farms - in battle from his cousin. We see the scene from the point of view of the cousin's wife though, and what she does is, she locks herself and her children into her inner room. Her husband's enemies have taken the hall and are putting her husband's men to the sword, and - pay attention - there's a real possibility that they're going to murder her sons and rape and enslave or murder her daughters and herself. It's a grim and fearful thing, she has no hope for mercy and no way to protect herself or her children.
And I'm like, what if, what if...
So, this fantasy RPG I'm working on, right? Not the Ars Magica ripoff, the other one, working title The Dragon Killer, subtitle "coming-of-age fantasy for adults." The first thing you write on your character sheet is "I'm a boy," "I'm a girl," "I'm a man," "I'm a woman," or "I'm a creature." The point of play is "what does it mean to be a woman, what does it mean to be a man?" As players, we look at the stories of the boys, girls, men, women, and creatures we play, and we reflect: who is really a woman, who is really a man? Why? How did they come to be? Thus the subtitle: coming-of-age, for adults. We all care about this stuff, it's serious and real. I struggle with it in my life, in my relationships, raising my sons. I want to share the struggle with the men and women in my life, I want their honesty and reflection. I want the kind of deep access to their hearts that roleplaying can give you.
Rape has to be on the table.
It's not the only thing that does, of course. Love does. But sex and violence, that's what adulthood is made of. Sex is obvious, but violence too: how many stories have we heard that go "...so I took a baseball bat to him, and he never laid a hand on me or my mother again"? That story is about manhood.
So, yes. Sex, violence, rape. I have to handle it not with delicacy, but with honesty, without coyness or prurience or snickering. I'm inspired by the way Under the Bed handles child abuse, for instance. Or consider the way (if I may) Dogs handles gender. Presented as is, not idealized or romanticized, or demonized either. Problematic and real.
(That's completely unlike how Dogs handles rape, of course. Rape + judgement = violent revenge and capital punishment fantasies. Rightly or wrongly. Including rape in your Dogs town is and will always be a provocation. "I'm a right mean bastard," it says. "Are you? What are you going to do about it?" In Dogs, rape is demonized exactly.)
But rape + adulthood, though. Rape + adulthood = ???
One last thought: I know several people who, in their early roleplaying, had a character raped, and hated it. I know several more people for whom rape figured in their early roleplaying not quite so directly, but it was still ugly. How cool would it be - how useful - to have a game where we can take that shit on directly, now that we're adults?
1. On 2005-08-30, Piers said:
2. On 2005-08-30, Vincent said:
3. On 2005-08-30, Piers said:
4. On 2005-08-30, Ben Lehman said:
5. On 2005-08-30, Matt Snyder said:
6. On 2005-08-30, Neel said:
VB go "there is a man in the story..."*
NK go "Who?"*
VB go "the unnamed 'he' is the man."*
VB go "...and also, about non-universal moral notions..."*
NK go "I've never..."*
SLB go "The problem with Kohlberg..."*
*click in for more
7. On 2005-08-30, Ben Lehman said:
8. On 2005-08-30, Vincent said:
9. On 2005-08-30, Jay Loomis said:
10. On 2005-08-30, La Ludisto / Josh BishopRoby said:
11. On 2005-08-30, Ron Edwards said:
12. On 2005-08-30, Vincent said:
13. On 2005-08-30, Jason Lee said:
JBR go "Love, Sex, Marriage"*
JL go "Yeah, I agree. And the conservative view comes in a cycle: Love -> Marriage -> Sex. We can look at the opposition to"
JL go "Heh. Oops."*
JL go "Oops again..."*
NK go "My uncle once asked me..."*
*click in for more
14. On 2005-08-30, Brand_Robins said:
15. On 2005-08-31, Matt Wilson said:
16. On 2005-08-31, Meguey said:
17. On 2005-08-31, Ninja Monkey J said:
18. On 2005-08-31, Tom said:
XP go "Agreed"*
MB go "Um, no."*
MB go "A story != THE story"*
JL go "Too specific"*
JBR go "Sex & Gender again"*
VB go "this is all play fodder!"*
TLR go "When the bough breaks..."*
NInJ go "Stop talking about it and play the game!"*
*click in for more
19. On 2005-08-31, Gordon said:
20. On 2005-08-31, Vincent said:
21. On 2005-09-02, Lisa Padol said:
22. On 2005-09-02, Sven said:
23. On 2005-09-06, Lisa Padol said:
VB go "as it happens..."*
NInJ go "MmmMMmm."*
VB go "the winners are..."*
*click in for more
24. On 2005-10-13, anon. said:
25. On 2005-12-11, Judd said: