marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,
marycatelli
marycatelli

come the revolution

One thing I happen to have run across in a lot of fantasy worlds is revolutionaries.  And sometimes writers can find the world-building too much for them. . . .

At a con I once heard a writer indignantly holding forth on how SF writers based their revolutions on the American Revolution (a bourgeois revolution!) and not the French revolution (a proletarian revolution!) like there was something odd about that.  Why he thought his fellow writers so depraved that they would voluntarily glamorize something that led to the Reign of Terror and ended with an Emperor -- I do not know.  I mean, the two classics I know about it are Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel and Dickens's A Tale of Two CitiesOrczy writes about the, err -- noble nobles, the descendants of the Crusaders, and about rescuing them from the guillotine.  Dickens writes about the horrific oppression in France and at one point explicitly if fanciful calls the Reign of the Terror a divine judgment -- and about rescuing a noble from the guillotine.  Some things, you just can not write a novel supporting.

Though on subsequent reflection, I have to say that he must not have been reading what I have, beca
use I have read books clearly based on the French Revolution.  Aesthetically, however, you have two choices:  write from the POV of the never-involved-in-politics victims, or have your characters switch sides to the counter-revolution at some point.  Only the second lets you deploy revolutionaries as major characters.

In a certain respect, you have to go to counter-revolution at some point, because the revolution is out to destroy.  You have, at some point, start building again.  And the revolutionaries who just want to see the world burn (who always exist) have to be stopped.  The counter-revolution always has a harder time of it than the revolution, even if its practical effect is to bring back the pre-revolutionary society with a new paint job.  But most elide that.  Some, in fact, topple the government as if it were the Evil Overlord and we had the Rightful King Republic all set to fill in.  (Star Wars, anyone?)  Lloyd Alexander had his Westmark series rather more plausibly.  Every book had to end with a new political setup as the last one had broken down.  Of course, by the end of the trilogy I didn't believe in the happy ending because I knew that one wasn't going to work, either.

On the other hand, the revolutionaries can fail.  Or even not get as far as trying.  Which means that they have all the problems attending ineffectual characters.  Most works that use that technique put them in the background..
Tags: fictional history, politics, world-building: government, world-building: nobility, world-building: social classes
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