Thursday, September 25, 2008

It's Good to be the King

A favorite character in literature is the king or the royal family. In the United States, we have a democracy and we can explain why it is the best form of government when the leaders make mistakes. Great Britain has a monarchy, but they learned from their mistakes and the queen has very little real power. Even so, what girl is there who has not dreamed of growing up to be a princess or marrying a prince? In the fantasy genre, authors write stories with kings and queens. You don’t see many books where the protagonist is fighting for democracy. A book like that won’t sell. Sure, we get out on Independence Day and celebrate our freedom and I don’t know of anyone who wants one family to rule our country from now owe. We have a hard enough time putting up with a President for eight years, but there is something about the royal family that triggers the imagination.

The royal family is the symbol for ultimate power, ultimate wealth and ultimate luxury. Reaching the White House is a more realistic dream, but in a novel we don’t have to worry about that. Unlike the President, who must answer to We the People of the United States of America, the royal family answers only to itself. If as in Lord of the Rings we have a king who is living among the people rather than ruling from his throne, we still have the sense that this guy is more powerful than everyone else. We might dream of being him or we want to hang close to this guy because he has the power to help us when he regains his throne.

Real life royal families arm probably nothing like the royal family in Fantasia. In Fantasia, the royal family doesn’t have to do much, other than look pretty. The royal step-mother is evil, but that is true of most step-mothers in Fantasia. Royal brothers tend to fight over who will become king. This is especially hard for the firstborn, since all he can do is try to stay alive, while his brothers can always kill the brothers in front of them. The good kings in Fantasia are prone to long lingering illnesses while the evil kings are healthy warmongers who are invincible until the last chapter of the book. But none of that matters because those are not the things that grab our imagination. We are looking for that happily ever after, in which we are the prince or the princess, the king or the queen and we do not have the problems that the royal family had leading up to this point.

Someday, I expect to write a story with a royal family. It may be classified as a type of modern fantasy because there isn’t a good way to put the land I imagine within our world, but I will carve out a piece of Fantasia and set it there. That is one of the nice things about fiction, a good story does not have to be hindered by the political situation in our world, but at the same time, the royal family doesn’t have to be a true royal family.

In spite of what I said about democracy above, the President’s family or a Senator’s family, even a diplomat can sometimes serve as the royal family in a novel. The CEO of a company may hold the position of a king. Sometimes a gang leader holds the position of an evil king. For this to work, the head of the family must answer to no one who is mentioned in the novel. The one possible exception is that he may answer to God. Characters who equal the head of the family should typically be the enemy. Everyone else should be obedient to the head, either because of their job, their family tie or something else. No one else in the story should have more wealth or power than the “king.”