Over at my romance blog, the Word Wenches, I just discussed politics and religion in romance.
This is generally a very literate, erudite group of readers, and they basically concluded that yes, they’d like to see depth of character in historical romances by showing politics and religion within the boundaries of the romance. But basically, they didn’t want philosophical arguments cluttering up their fantasy. I can appreciate that to a certain extent. I read romance to feel good, too. But I also enjoy learning, and I like characters who make me think. Unfortunately, the market at large and editors in particular are terrified of contentious subjects, even if, historically, politics and religion had to be a large part of people’s lives.
Have we always shied away from emotionally-charged topics? Or is the fear of diatribes and accusations instead of rational discussion a new problem brought on by a lack of critical thinking in today’s readers? Or are there more factors involved?
A recent scientific survey concludes that analytical thought results in a decrease in faith. (Really, we need a study to prove that?) What are the chances that I can discuss this subject in public without being called a devil-worshiping atheist who is damned to roast in hell? (FWIW—I’m a devout Christian who dislikes hypocrisy and ritual)
Has polite discourse gone by the wayside in this day and age of mass communication where we can hide behind anonymity? Perhaps philosophical discussions stayed rational in days when you could shoot the person who disagreed with you. (And there’s a subject begging to be discussed—must respect be enforced by violence?)
My theory is that we desperately need to discuss explosive subjects so they become less explosive. If everyone was exposed regularly to rational, intelligent analyses of politics and religion from diverse viewpoints, shouldn’t they be able to learn how to think about these subjects on their own, without need of flaming diatribes? Have we done society a disservice by refusing to discuss emotional topics for fear of retaliation or at the very least, for fear of offending others?
In my Pollyanna optimism, I’d like to believe the popularity of dystopian novels like Hunger Games comes from reader desire to better understand human behavior and not because they enjoy violence. I could be wrong about that.
What do you think? Could we widen minds by including, however metaphorically, politics and religion in our fantasy novels? I know many of the historical fantasy novels use this trope with great success, but what about contemporary novels like urban fantasy? Must all werewolves tear out the throats of the alpha leaders to rise to leadership? Maybe they could drain their pockets first. Or we could have competing bands of vampires worshiping different gods. Now there’s one I’d like to read!