While attending Chicon 7 I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussing violence in fantasy and how much was too much. Or if there was such a thing as too much.
The usual things you expect to be said on such a topic were said.
But I was surprised, genuinely surprised, no one seemed to really get it. I mean they kept saying things like “Violence is terrible and we don’t know why humans are so excited by it. It must say something fundamental about the human experience.”
I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand then and I don’t understand now. Violence is human. It’s who we are. It does define us. We can pretend otherwise, but the fact remains we are a violent species. All you have to do is open a history book of you don’t believe me. We respect and elevate and revere people like Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King. But they are the outliers. The norm is much more base, more cruel, than that.
This is important because I feel as writers what we do is we write about the human condition. There is violence in my stories, especially the Haxan stories. I don’t describe every splatter of blood and drop of gore. That’s not violence. That’s torture porn. Violence is cold and brutal and fast and hard and often unexpected. It’s over in a flash and it leaves a cold empty place in your gut. In Haxan, which I use to reflect not only western mores but human ones as well, that’s how violence is presented. It’s real and it’s part of us and it’s not going away.
Human beings are very violent animals. And that’s the key, I think. We are still animals despite all our laws and culture and architecture and mathematics and striped toothpaste. Do I wish it were otherwise? Of course I do. But I also recognize we don’t live in a sane world because we ourselves are not sane. We never have been, and sometimes I think we never will be. Then again maybe we are as sane as our natural violent tendencies allow us to be.
Either way, as a writer I will continue to shine a light upon all the facets of the human diamond. So. Everything considered, why is this important?
Because I have no respect for the “safe” story. I guess when you get down to it I never have. I like stories that push the edge of the envelope. I want stories that question ourselves and how we look at others and why we do the things we do. That doesn’t necessarily mean a story has to have violence or violent words in it….but it has to be true to the human condition and the human experience. Not a reflection of how we want the world to be, but a reflection of how the world is.
Like I said, I will let others write those stories. They will do a much better job than I ever could. Nor do I argue stories like that have no place in the genre. But that’s not what I write.
I probably read too much Nietzsche. I plead guilty. But I think he sees deeper into the human heart than many other people have the stomach to endure. I don’t care for blow by blow descriptions of violence in stories and I don’t write those scenes. But I don’t go around pretending humans beings are warm happy puppies living in sunshine, either.
The truth, just like real life, is much more cruel and cold and distant….and violent. That’s what I try to do with the violence in Haxan. That’s how I try to portray it.
Edit: This got me to thinking about writing dangerous stories as opposed to safe ones. Maybe someday I will blog about that, too, but I think most of the points I could make about it are also covered here, even if they don’t rely on violence per se.