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One of the staples of many fantasy books is the way they can play with government and politics. Fantasies of epic scope have to involve the government somehow, even if the hero has nothing to do with it. Other fantasies focus on the more private aspect of the lives of leaders like kings and princes. At the very least, every fantasy world should have some sort of government set up. Many good stories will show how the government would react to events that are happening in the story. We can’t expect a government to leave its people alone, now can we?
The default government for fantasy stories is a monarchy. Why? Because of King Arthur and Lord of the Rings. These stories and others that came after have influenced generations of writers and movie makers. Because of them, fantasy is usually set with a medieval government, the king at the top, followed by other nobility. This can make interesting dynamics, as corruption can easily be explored, or the king could be a hero that saves everyone. But it’s not the only form of government a fantasy story can take.

Types of government
Monarchy is where there is one ruler. King, queen, emperor, patriarch, matriarch, high prince, they’re all titles for the head honcho. Other titles can apply, like president or prime minister, even if we don’t usually associate them with monarchy. It just depends on how powerful you make them. Dictators are usually monarchs. Generally, though, it’s the king. He might have pretty much unlimited power and can do whatever he feels like, or he might be limited by previous laws or customs, or he might even be a figurehead. Often hereditary. The difference between a kingdom and an empire is that an empire is not limited to a single geographic area. They usually acquire land through invasion and conquest. Story ideas for this can include rebelling against a tyrant or a good king sacrificing for his kingdom.
Aristocracy or oligarchy is where there are several high ranking people working. Supposedly they are the best at what they do, but in practice, it usually stays within family. So the noble class runs things, instead of a king. This is a good venue for commenting on the waste and debauchery of the super rich, or showing how educated leaders might make a change in the world.
Democracy is rule by the people. Athens was one of the first to practice it. Today, pure democracy isn’t practiced. Representational democracy is the current form. This type of democracy is where we vote for people to represent us in the government, at all levels, from mayor to governor to congressman to president. This was put in place and used because it is impossible for the population to get together all the time to debate and vote on issues. Ironically, we now live in an era where we could have a direct say in governing the country, through the internet, but no one is even mentioning the idea, and if they did, it would be fought against, to keep the status quo. Just as well, as trolls would take over the world. Democracy is rarely used in fantasy, especially medieval style fantasy, but it could be interesting.
Theocracy is rule from deity. In practice, it is rule of a religion. In fantasy, it could be an actual deity ruling. Although that would beg the question as to how to define a deity. A super powerful mage? A representation of a force of nature? The creator of the universe?
Other possible types of government could be rule of corporations, rule of bureaucracies, rule of machines, rule of another race. Pretty much anything is possible.

Politics isn’t just about the type of government. It’s about the laws and social issues of the time and place. You can take positions on modern issues, boil them down to their timeless essence, and comment on them safely in fantasy while not actually talking about the issue itself. Example: gay marriage. Controversial subject right now. A whole story could be about gay marriage without having any gay characters. How? You could take the gay marriage debate as being about a minority being discriminated by the majority. The story could be about a small tribe trying to preserve its traditions and wanting to be accepted, but in the big city they are looked upon as strange or evil. That way, it is more universal than just pertaining to gays. Or you could take the other side, and talk about how a society that becomes too morally permissive will open itself to internal enemies that will cause its collapse, or having people practicing dark arts that end up controlling and consuming them. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo had to fight his addiction to the ring, and in the end, he couldn’t cast it off without help.

Court intrigue
A lot of people enjoy the medieval setting because of the intrigues that can go on between the nobility. Alliances can be made or broken through marriages or secret trysts, power obtained through assassinations or blackmail. Everyone presents a face of unity, but underneath that they are plotting, refusing to trust each other. Everyone is cheating on their spouse, but only the person exposed causes a scandal. A Game of Thrones is famous for this type of politicking. Now, this can obviously be transferred to other settings. Modern day senators can be bought with lobbying, affairs can ruin a political career, and lies are made to secure the votes. Or even more appealing for many, the gossip of celebrities: Justin Bieber broke up, Miley Cyrus has weird hair, Angelina Jolie got a double mastectomy, etc. They serve more as the noble class in our society than the actual government. The people that are supposedly worshipped, but have many admirers who are also jealous and would love to see them fall. Fantasy is a perfect venue for that, especially where power is split up and a fragile balance is the only thing that stops people from going to war.
Finally, stories can be used to express political opinions that would get you reprimanded at work for discussing, or get you into arguments with friends. Religion, politics, nothing’s taboo for writing, especially fantasy. Plus, it can be entertaining.


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  1. By Politics | Sage Eyes | Sage Eyes on 24 May 2013 at 9:07 pm

    […] Politics | Sage Eyes. […]

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