So, on to today’s speech. I want to talk to you about prophecy – specifically, whether it has a place in fantasy any more.
Though real-world prophecies have about the same level of accuracy as sticking a pin in a calendar blindfolded and identifying the resulting date as the End that is Nigh, humans as a species seem to have an unquenchable thirst for foretelling. We believe in prophecy. We believe in horoscopes, Tarot cards, runes and tealeaves. In short, we’re pretty darn gullible. We like to think that God/Fate/ the Universe has a plan for us. No, not just a plan. A Plan. We’re desperate for our lives to have meaning, to have structure. To have significance.
And significance is something that fantasy excels at.
In the classic good-vs-evil scenario of many a fantasy tome, everything that everyone does has meaning. Our heroes are fighting for the world, for the triumph of right over wrong. There can’t be anything more important than that. And prophecy – well, that’s just a way of ratcheting things up another notch. Not only is Mr Chosen One battling to defeat evil, it was foretold that he would do so. That’s a double whammy of significance. And as a result, there’s no other genre that can make people feel so much as though there really is a Plan.
Of course, fantasy has changed over the years. The prophecy trope has been visited and revisited, subverted and played for comedy and tragedy alike. Many fantasy authors have left black and white behind and moved into shades of grey; many have used the genre to give us worlds that are brutal, cruel and muddled. Worlds where the difference between right and wrong isn’t clear-cut. Worlds, in fact, much more like reality.
Yet despite that, prophecy has an enduring hold on that part of us that still believes in the Plan. We accept without question the idea that some person or event could be foretold, that the workings of Fate are so inevitable that certain things have to happen – and this in the face of all evidence to the contrary from our own experience. In the heart of every fantasy reader is a little spark of longing for a world where what we do and say actually matters. And for that reason, I suspect prophecy is here to stay.
In fact, I predict it.
Incidentally, I notice that last week’s blog entry was somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with the three comments it received. I’m just sorry the dog didn’t comment as well – I’m sure he would have had worthwhile things to say. Still, in case I’ve somehow developed the power to make my own words come true, I would like to give a warm welcome to the representatives from the publishing industry who are with us today. It’s lovely to see you all. Please submit your offers for consideration and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
* Yes, I used a quote from a T’Pau song as my title. So shoot me.