Truth in Fantasy

(I’m a fantasy writer and I wrote the following for my fantasy blog, but never got around to posting it there. So, I’m going to post it here as it deals with a philosophical question)

What is truth? (A correspondence between what is said and the way things actually are—‘nuff said—actually, there are at least two other competing theories, but that’s the correct one) Anyway, back in the day when I was in college, my suitemates and I were always arguing about truth. A friend of mine was a relativist, and I was an absolutist, and we’d go on and on. That was then. This is now. What interests me now is how one deals with truth in a fantasy setting. Will you take a relativistic position? Or an absolutist one? Or be really daring and try to incorporate both?


Writing influences younger generations, so this is an important question. It is even more pertinent to the fantasy genre, because, I believe, the default audience of fantasy literature is a younger, more malleable, audience. Writers of fantasy should take that idea into consideration when they produce a work. What are the advantages of each approach (for now we will limit ourselves to absolutist versus relativistic)?


Writing relying on absolute truth is usually more stark and clear. The good guys and the bad guys are usually more clearly defined. Perhaps, that is also its weakness. It may be too simple for sophisticated consumption. Writing relying on relativistic truth is usually … well, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done. At least not pure relativism. Such would be incoherent and untenable as a legitimate world or worldview. Relativism can only survive when it is limited in some fashion. I think the best solution is to start from an absolutist view and then muddy it. Some things are relative (the sacredness of Hannukah and Christmas, for example). Other things are simply fuzzy and unclear. Not too long ago, I read “Game of Thrones,” and was struck by an interesting line. He was describing Eddard Stark’s uniform as the Hand of the King. It was white, grey, and black: all the “shades of truth,” as he said. I thought that was a pretty good line. Although I think that is simply fuzzied truth and ignores the relativistic sides of some truths (emphasis on some, not all). Still, it was pretty cool. I’ve also seen novels where someone misleads someone by telling them the truth, just not all of the truth. That’s interesting too. Anyway, despite the muddied waters, I think the most important moral truths (and it is worth noting, that relativism and absolutism are usually applied to moral truths; they can be applied to others, but most often the discussion is usually a moral one) agree or tend to agree: don’t murder, don’t rape, don’t steal. Etc… That, I think, serves as a foundation that should only be muddied after said foundation is set.


Anyway, those were my thoughts for today.


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