Thursday, August 23, 2012

Nobility in Fantasy, and Why We Love It

This has turned into a series of articles, but this should be the final one. As I mentioned in my last post, I find the concept of nobility to be romantic in fiction, and offensive in reality. I have met several other people who feel the same way.

How do we reconcile the difference? Too: Why do we enjoy the romanticized concept so much?

For the second question, I liken it a bit to how piracy has gained such a romantic interpretation. Fictional pirates are fun-loving, swashbuckling, hard-drinking rascals. Real-world pirates, both of today and in history, are a different story. The truth has been forgotten and the concept idealized. Now when the average person thinks "pirate" they think of freedom from authority, lack of responsibility, wealth, etc.

Similarly, nobility in fiction has had many of its real-world sins washed away. People don't think of the lie at the base of the concept - they think of wealth and opulence, fancy clothing, courtly behavior, and extravagant mansions. However, I think the real change has not been in idealizing away the bad parts of nobility - it has been in falling for the fiction that underpinned the concept all along.

To quote myself from the aforementioned-post (Oh, the arrogance!):
In fiction, nobility is often something rare, powerful, and real: a trait that elevates one person above another, no matter their other qualities.We see its undefinable effects all the time: an aura, a charisma, a strange power over others.
Of course, at one point in history (and, in some places, even now) this wasn't an aspect of nobility in fiction - it was the accepted truth. At least, accepted by enough for them to remain in power. Naturally, things were very different then. There were all sorts of cultural and physical pressures that attributed to the acceptance of some people as "simply better" than others. Ignorance, difficulty of communication... I'm sure the issue has been studied. My point is, what we accept as romantic about fictional nobility today was believed to be factual by the real people in history.

What we've done is simply moved the fantasy to its rightful place. Once safely ensconced in novels, it can even be reinforced, proven, and verified by other parts of the fictional world. In some books, the question isn't up for debate: the nobility really is better, and they deserve/need to be in power for the good of all.

Furthermore, we as a culture like the concept of nobility because it reinforces the notion of some part of the human creature as ephemeral and divine. Even more important to fiction, though, the concept allows us to think that the spark of nobility might lie inside any of us if, somewhere back when, one of these exalted people preceded us in the family tree. What person doesn't secretly wish to be rich, famous, and popular? Wouldn't it be nice if we could reach that dream without actually having to do anything?

Wouldn't it be nice if we were just meant to have it all?

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