Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sex, Dating, and Ignorance

28 days: Day 7


Have you ever wondered why so many fantasy characters know very little about sex? I'm talking about Epic fantasists now, like Tolkien and Jordan and Goodkind. (George R Martin writes high fantasy, a different genre that is far more 'realism' oriented) I mean, the main characters are either idiots when it comes to the opposite sex, or not that interested. (Tolkien) In our culture, it seems gratuitous perhaps to have teenage characters who bumble around with these crazy notions of romance like those mythologized in the 1950's, when everything was supposedly innocent. The 'innocence' of the 1950's is a myth, of course, but Epic fantasy writers are not interested in creating realism, but rather showcasing the time in our lives when we are ignorant of sex, and when our notions of it are silly, idealistic and occasionally, romantic. The time right around puberty when we experience all of the things that characterize early adolescence.

Epic fantasies, at least most of them, are working within the parameters of medieval times when the awkward age would have come much later for men and women. (The age of puberty has dropped greatly the past 100 years, due mostly to the food we eat and the resulting shift in our hormones.) In Forerunner, Josh is eighteen and awkward around girls. (Especially one) Although he's past puberty, he was raised in a small village and did not have much contact with girls. As a result, he's something of an idiot – and a romantic – when it comes to women. I'll be honest, this awkwardness is not difficult for me to write. I remember it very well. And when Josh tells me he's frustrated over not being "cool", I understand.

When I was in Grade Six, I liked this girl, Kathy, for four years. I could barely speak when I was around her. (And she's now a friend on Facebook. Go figure.) In fact, I had trouble speaking around girls, period. Getting braces in Grade 8, long before it was cool, did not help. That said, I still regarded women romantically. I was past puberty, but I didn't view them through the lens of sex. When the pretty girls were around I became nervous and said silly things, things I always wanted to take back when I went home. Safe in my room, I would replay the conversations in my head and then say the cool thing, imagine them nodding at me in appreciation for my wit and overall coolness.

Today, many cultural critics decry our lost 'innocence', they note that children are too mature and too sexed. Some of that is true. I don't like seeing seven year old girls doing a sexy dance or wearing 'slut' clothes. (I also don't like 'modest wear' for women either, but I digress) But that time of nervousness and ignorance still exists however, it just does so at a different age and in a different way. Puberty is still puberty. Observe a bunch of eleven or twelve year olds at a school dance, and you will find the same butterflies and nervousness and silly comments that we delivered during our own spring dances.

Towards that end, the idea of fantasy is not to recall what the current society has lost, (because no society has ever been guilt free) but to create a world that reflects both our ideals and our humanity. A good fantasy reminds us that the first time we went through the awkward phase we were aiming towards something bigger than ourselves. And a good fantasy reminds us that we can always go back. That we can always start over. Speculative fiction is as much about recreating our childhood as it is reliving it, in the hopes that when we fulfill the quest, when we finish the journey, we will remember the awkward dreams of our childhood. That we'll remember and come out on the other side just a little bit changed, formed the way we always imagined we would be when we were young. And innocent.