Speculative Fiction, Theory, Commentary
What happens when an outsider takes the throne? Sometimes, the story of the new kid, who enters a foreign environment and overcomes it through special skills, friendships, and knowledge (Neverwhere, The Harper Hall trilogy), becomes not the just a narrative about an outsider, but a story about power, privilege, and governance. The outsider monarch speaks to the insecurities everyone has when thrust out of their depth and into the spotlight, as well as to the idea that an outsider – someone excluded from the world of power and privilege – could make a difference, if they only had a chance. Stories that feature an outsider monarch are hopeful and affirming, but are they anything other than a fantasy?
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
- Quoted in this article are selected lines from William Wordsworth, “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798.”
As kids, my sister and I spent long hours constructing complicated fortresses out of blocks, that we then populated with plastic animals and multicolored dinosaurs. We invented stories about the world we had created: sometimes there was peace, and resources were spent building up the fortress – other times war broke out, or a Fisher Price army lined up outside the gates and lay siege. I remember one specific time (was it the last time?) when my sister – almost four years older – declared that a flood had destroyed everything. I insisted that the green pterodactyl had survived; I remember swooping it back and forth, until it eventually found purchase on a shelf. My sister left, considering the game concluded. She was getting too old for imaginary games, but I think that I never outgrew them: instead, they took on other forms, more palatable to my slow-maturing brain. Chief among them was Dungeons and Dragons.
Human beings mythologize, tell half-truths, and outright lie. We mold the details of our lives to fit the stories we tell in the same way we fill in the missing spot in our vision. We have only so much brain power, after all: we can’t properly evaluate all the data we receive. Instead, we classify, set aside, and move on. Faced with a complex world, we ignore the parts that don’t fit our worldview, and exaggerate those that do. This is where the writer steps in - with a straw hat, barker’s jacket, and a firm hand on our back, ushering us into the big top of fiction, promising us that we’re going to see something true. By the time we stumble out – eyes glassy and senses frayed - we have, or we think we have – and really, is there much of a difference?