The fantasy genre champions true diversity and ennobling hierarchy. It views enforced uniformity and levelling equality as the ultimate evils.
The fantasy genre, which has enjoyed wide success, especially since the publication of The Lord of the Rings, has largely been overlooked as a meaningful cultural stream for the Right. Its wide appeal has not gone unrecognised by the Left, which is trying to capitalise on this and use it as a vehicle for the spread of woke ideology. This has been tried before, to little effect — this is because fantasy is essentially a reactionary genre of the true Right. The fact that the Left recognises its power while the Right largely ignores it is a discredit to the Right and should be amended.
Without entering into a discussion of the relationships of the various subgenres, let us say that we take high fantasy, and above all that of Tolkien, to represent the ‘purest’ expression of the impulse at the base of all related genres. Although we may find various of the elements of fantasy in subgenres, we find all of them in high fantasy. Unlike horror and its variations, which are sometimes put forward as a genre of the Right due to their appeal to traditional ways of life and aesthetic and moral intuitions, fantasy is more positive than negative. If fantasy stories almost always take place in a fallen world, Tolkien’s legendarium contains stories and episodes which are entirely positive — a literary rarity, if nothing else — describing the beauty, wisdom, and craftsmanship of the various divine beings, Elves, and Men. This is one of the advantages of the genre compared to others.
All fantasy contains a reactionary, romantic impulse, and draws from philology, myth, history, religion, folktales, etc., but later examples of the genre often betray a basic incoherence and inner contradiction — the very authors of the works do not understand the appeal, charm, and inner logic of the genre. Tolkien, on the other hand, was a self-described reactionary — his worldview was basically pre-modern, or rather, non-modern; he believed what ‘before the French Revolution, every well-born person considered healthy and normal’. He did not feel compelled to create the worlds he did out of a vague nostalgia and delight in mere aesthetics: he was a philologist, immersed in ancient languages, cultures, history, literature, and lore; he was a monarchist, traditional Catholic (famously opposing the reforms of Vatican II and continuing to use the Latin responses at mass), a patriot, anti-globalist, anti-feminist, etc. If Tolkien abhorred allegory and propagandising, and the art is always greater than the artist, he was nevertheless uniquely placed to create and represent a reactionary and traditional cosmos, and it is for that reason that we should look above all to him in our appraisal of fantasy: he represents fantasy at its best, clearest, and most profound.
Having provided a brief outline of what we mean by fantasy and our approach to its analysis, I will now discuss the reactionary and traditional aspects characteristic of the genre before addressing some of the common — and somewhat legitimate — criticisms levelled against it.
Because in fantasy stories the level of technology is generally low or pre-modern, the events described are often considered to have taken place in the past. Tolkien explicitly stated that his stories describe the past of our world, as did Robert E. Howard and others. This temporalization is a literary device, which has little meaning for the narrative as such: the links between real-world history and the in-world history are never pivotal and often do not exist at all1 — not the case in much of science fiction — and if they do, they exist to reify and legitimise the events described, as in myths, folktales, etc. Fantasy should be understood to take place in the past only in the sense of a mythical past, an ahistorical illud tempus2 in Eliade’s terms, ‘both perennial and archaic, and thus more present to us than the present’3. This appeal to the ‘past’ is obviously a reactionary impulse in the best sense.
Fantasy presents a mythical, spiritual, and romanticist account of creation utterly at odds with the idolatrous, physicalist, and absurd one presented by modern science. Tolkien’s legendarium, to take the best example, describes a chain of being descending from the one God through various lesser hierarchies (the Valar, Maiar, Eldar, etc.) down to Man, which takes shape both vertically (i.e. causally and in terms of spiritual greatness) and horizontally (i.e. in time and history). In general, we find in fantasy some notion of cyclical time, and a general progressive decay which is stopped through a return to, or re-actualization of, the divine origin: chaos is defeated and cosmos re-established4 through an act which recalls the original cosmogonic moment, after which a new ‘era’ or age is inaugurated under the aegis of divine powers5.
In such a world, it could never be the material, economic, or even social conditions that drive and shape history, but great men, hierophanies, and spiritual forces. It is not quantity, but quality that makes the essential difference — the outnumbered heroes win the day through valour and divine aid, fate, etc. The heroes become instantiations of supernatural powers, the Gods, etc.
…Théoden could not be overtaken. Fey he seemed…. like a god of old, even as Oromë the Great in the battle of the Valar when the world was young6.
In fantasy’s elevation of the heroic, it gainsays supposed equality; in its celebration of kings, nobles, wizards, etc., it upholds a caste-based, hierarchical society. Disaster arises when this order, which is a reflection and continuation of the divine order — as described above –, is corrupted. In fantasy’s glorification of battle and the martial spirit, it presents the possibility of a warrior transcendence and holy war. Death in battle is not only a tragedy, but a great sacrifice which brings the fallen honour, glory, and even divinity.
Much is made of the humble origins of many fantasy protagonists, who are often farmers, peasants, live in backwaters, etc. Suffice it to say that this motif, rather than being progressive, is reactionary in the utmost, and in interpretation is often distorted. If the circumstances and upbringing of the protagonist are simple, he is nevertheless the scion or even bastard of a great house, descended from an ancient king, warrior, etc., or the child of a miraculous birth or conception. Even the leading Hobbits are endowed with noble ancestors, which justifies and supports their exceptional character vis-à-vis the rest of their race. The fact that the hero with humble origins or ‘lost heir’ retains his qualities regardless of his circumstances speaks to his vocation, destiny, the supernatural origin of his right to kingship, etc., and presupposes a latent occult power in blood. To speak to the last point, which we have not yet addressed, the Kingdom of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings is said to be failing because the blood of the ancient kings has been spent; in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the blood of the imperial Targaryen family confers on its descendants certain magical powers; in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, the messianic protagonist is, despite being raised as a farmer, a descendant of a line of kings, a warrior race, a mother sworn to virginity, etc.
One of the great appeals of the fantasy genre is the wonder produced in the discovery of new worlds, peoples, customs, etc. In its celebration of nations and their distinctions, fantasy stands in contrast to the modern flattening, erasure, and blurring of peoples, traditions, languages, etc.: imagine a Lord of the Rings in which there is no significant difference between the Hobbits, the Dwarves, the Elves of Rivendell and Lothlorien, the Men of Bree, Rohan, and Gondor — this was, in fact, what would have awaited Middle-earth had Sauron been victorious7. In fantasy, the existence and reality of nations as organic units — with their own characteristics, ways of being, and destinies — is assumed; the evil most often opposed in fantasy is that of a homogenising, dissolutive force seeking to establish a unity in evil, which would annihilate nations, customs, folkways, etc. Against this unity in evil, fantasy puts forth a universal empire — a diversity of peoples, customs, and traditions, which have as their axis a superior principle justified and sanctified through hierophany and destiny: in The Lord of the Rings, it is Gondor, a colony of the semi-divine Numenoreans8, that is the seat of empire; in The Wheel of Time, it is the reincarnating Dragon himself. As we have in part addressed above, in fantasy, the emperor or king is a universal sovereign who rules through divine right and presence rather than cunning or violence. He is variously presented as a monarch of the pontifex, chakravatri, mediator, ‘lost king’, or avatar type, and is the guarantor of peace and prosperity9: upon assuming the throne, he rules over a world of nations with their own customs, lords, etc.
We will now address two common criticisms of the fantasy genre: 1) that it is a pastiche, incoherent, etc., 2) that it is a kind of pressure valve, a safe way of satisfying the readership’s reactionary impulses, and readers would do better to study the canon, etc. Another common criticism, that fantasy and the rest of ‘genre fiction’ are unserious, unworthy of attention, etc., may be addressed briefly in passing by saying that such opinions, true or not, are irrelevant to our concerns: what primarily interests us about fantasy is its reactionary worldview, wide popularity and the implications of this for the Right10.
The first criticism, that fantasy is a pastiche of incoherent elements which do not belong together and even contradict each other, is broadly justified. In most examples of the genre, this is true: the characters, especially, have attitudes towards government, religion, war, etc. which betray the author’s biases and incomprehension of pre-modern man. There are, however, several points to be made in response. Whenever one judges a mass or type, internal points of differentiation are necessarily obscured, and the greatest examples reduced and blurred in with the worst. In the case of fantasy, the dismissive attitude taken towards it has hindered a clear-minded appreciation and analysis of the genre. Tolkien himself makes some points relevant to the criticism in On Fairy-Stories, writing that the production of ‘inner consistency of reality’ is precisely the aim of the storyteller and what distinguishes the great ones from the poor. He furthermore writes:
That the images are of things not in the primary world (if that indeed is possible) is a virtue, not a vice. Fantasy (in this sense) is, I think, not a lower but a higher form of Art, indeed the most nearly pure form, and so (when achieved) the most potent.
In the best examples of fantasy, we do not find a hodgepodge, or wild unreality, but a synthesis, reflection, and even a kind of intuitive, metaphysical speculation11 — a ‘nearly pure’ art, detached and distilled from the ‘primary world’, as the very word fantasy implies. Here we might compare Tolkien’s Gondor, which is not easily identifiable with any historical empire12, to the Oxenfurt of The Witcher series, and the Lannisters of A Song of Ice and Fire, both of which have obvious historical parallels.
The second criticism is more interesting. Although it is true that many, if not all, the appealing elements of fantasy are present in the great works of the Western canon, — which are furthermore important on historical, cultural, spiritual, philological grounds — with reference to the points made in the previous paragraph, it may be that the ‘historicity’ of these works is precisely what works against them, and that the advantage and appeal of fantasy is, in part, the fact that it is ahistorical, a speculation relatively ‘purified’ of historical contingencies, grievances, etc. Consider, for example, the extremely high esteem in which Tolkien is held by both neopagans and Christians13 — not to mention the public — of all political, cultural, and spiritual orientations. The ‘distance’ inherent in fiction, especially fantasy, which is the most fictional, provides an opening for treating and representing issues and themes which would otherwise remain too politically ‘hot’, divisive, difficult, etc. As to whether or not it is a ‘safe reactionaryism’ or outlet, the BBC felt sufficiently threatened by Tolkien’s early success to warn viewers to be careful not to let Tolkien’s work lead them into accepting the ‘reactionary doctrine’ present in it14, and the recent trend and promotion of ‘diverse’, politically correct, and ironic fantasy productions suggest the same concern, as does the presence and prevalence of dishonest readings of the genre, such as that of the supposed ‘humble origins’ mentioned above.
Now, it is obvious that for all the readers of the genre, very few of them consider themselves reactionary. How they consider themselves does not bother us: their aesthetic preferences betray their disposition. Fantasy is a reactionary genre of the Right. If a particular fantasy story is subversive, progressivist, ironic, its setting cannot be, and the story succeeds in spite of those elements, not because of them. The genre should therefore be of interest to the Right as a more or less pure distillation of our past, culture, and history, as an ‘easing into’ the world of divine forces, heroes, and hierarchy, as a revelation of the public’s real disposition, and as a possible gateway to the Right. Tolkien himself saw these possibilities in fantasy:
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.15
If the storyteller’s task and challenge is to shape a ‘sub-creation’, in which both the author and reader participate, the task of the Right is rather simple: to tell the reader, as Tolkien told C. S. Lewis, that some stories are true, and make clearer the blurred image of the distant king.
1Compare also the Arthurian legends, which are only tangentially historical, if relating to real places.
2Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, currently victim to an Amazon adaptation, describes such a universe. The books all begin in the same way: ‘The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past… The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.’ See also Tolkien’s discussion of ‘Once upon a time’ and similar phrases in ‘On Fairy-Stories’.
4Hence also the frequent criticism that fantasy is ‘black and white’. This issue is discussed in greater depth in Zolla’s ‘Foreword to the Lord of the Rings’: ‘a subtle and radical difference… distinguishes Tolkien… he does not seek mediation between good and evil, but only victory over evil. His dragons are not meant to be assimilated, to somehow be felt to be brothers, but to be destroyed… His fairy-tale… celebrates St. Michael, or Beowulf, or St. George.’
5Amongst many other examples we may cite Aragorn’s coronation by Gandalf, representative of the divine hierarchy of the Maiar, and his ‘re-colonisation’ of Gondor, in which he repeats the words uttered by his forebear. The legendary White Tree, originally given to Men by the Eldar as a symbol of friendship, blooms again upon Aragorn’s ascent to the throne.
6The Return of the King
7See Letter 53, The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, in which he expresses this sentiment vis-à-vis ‘Americo-cosmopolitanism’ and English’s emerging status as lingua franca.
8Númenor is Tolkien’s Atlantis, a lost star-shaped continent near Valinor, the island of the gods. The Men living there were the most Elf-like of all and were responsible for the civilising of Middle-earth.
9It is often the case that the state of the monarch has a direct effect even on the weather, harvest, etc., as was traditionally held of historical kings. See Jean Hani’s Sacred Royalty.
10Compare the success in Chinese media of the xianxia genre. We again refer our readers to Zolla for further discussion of this objection.
11See particularly ‘The Music of the Ainur’ in The Silmarillion. Many of the works published in The History of Middle-earth have this character and similar concerns.
12This is not to say that fantasy works have no relationship to national or civilisational character: Tolkien’s legendarium, its values, and its populations are obviously Western and even, in some of its aspects, English and Celtic — as identified by Tolkien himself — while the previously mentioned xianxia fantasy draws on the forms, traditions, and values of the Far East.
13We think especially of Varg Vikernes, who makes continuous reference to Tolkien’s legendarium. As for Christians, it is plain enough — there are even efforts to have Tolkien canonised.
15Mythopoeia. The poem continues:
I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends –
if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.