Three reasons Dark Fantasy is beneficial to readers

(Warning: This post contains spoilers for J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The Divergent series by Veronica Roth, Blood Angel and Lord of Bones by Justine Musk, and Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff.)

Dark Fiction gives readers a safe place to explore difficult themes

Fiction, and fantasy in particular, beckons readers in with a promise of fantastical lands, impossible realities, and alternate universes. Within these wondrous stories, there is always at least one underlying theme. For example, in the Harry Potter series, Harry has to learn to deal with loss. He has to process, grieve, and overcome loss of a potentially happy childhood, friends, people he considered to be family figures, and eventually even his own life and future. The overarching story keeps the reader interested and their emotional investment in the protagonist helps them to experience the loss with him, instead of just reading about it. Because of the fantastical setting, it isn’t as threatening as reading about grief and loss in ‘the real world’ –it’s safer to explore.

A reader can draw strength and guidance from a character’s experiences.

When I read a book, I’m all in. I experience everything as the protagonist, the good and the bad. I expect this is the same for most book lovers, and for good reason. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve drawn on fictional experiences to help in my real life. Whether it be knowledge I absorbed, a moral lesson learned, or even a truth about the world.

In both the Hunger Games trilogy and Divergent series, the protagonists experience what it’s like to live under a corrupt government and learn how to follow your heart and do the right thing (Actually, so did Harry Potter. Boy those books sure get around!). These stories reaffirmed something that was hard for me to believe–those in authority aren’t always right, and don’t know everything. They also taught me that if something is wrong in the world, it’s your duty to work to correct it. Even if you’re young, even if you’re alone and think no one is on your side–there will always be others who undergo the same struggle. It’s always worth standing up for injustice.

In the Hunger Games, Katniss suffers from PTSD after the first book and struggles with Depression in the third. Her struggles with mental illness have made me more empathetic to the struggles that others have. Her memories of living in abject poverty and the class system within her district have informed my views on social equity. And the way she draws strength from those she loves has shown me how to overcome dark places in my life.

In Divergent, Tris experiences segregation of a different sort–separation by ‘types’ of people. Tris declares: “I don’t want to be just one thing. I want to be brave and selfless and intelligent and honest and kind.” (This is also seen at the opening feast in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when the sorting hat questions whether it is right to sort people into different houses). This quote actually made me stop for a moment in reading (which never happens) and think. People cannot be segregated by any imaginary boundaries, for we all are an amalgam of every trait in various levels. When I was younger, like many people, I segregated people in my mind based on labels. Gender, income level, education, skin color, the way they acted or dressed. But as I grew older I realized that these labels were worthless. Fiction can teach us so much, if only we’re open to listening.

A reader can relate, discuss, and share with others to talk about personal issues.

Building off of the safe place that fiction gives us to learn about and experience darker issues, I’d also like to mention the benefits of sharing the stories with others.

The book Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff has several themes–one of which is dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. Willie, the protagonist, has many reasons for not wanting her pregnancy–she had an affair with a married man, she’s an ambitious college student, and she does not want to be trapped in her small town with a child like her mother was. Willie struggles with her emotions surrounding the embryo and the potential effects on her future while she tries to decide whether to abort. A reader who is undergoing the same struggle, or knows someone who is, can use the character’s experiences and emotions to help put perspective on their own. Do they feel the same way? In what ways and why? Did the character make the right choices, or does the reader have different morals? I firmly believe fiction can be a wonderful tool to encourage critical thinking and self-reflection.

The issue of addiction is explored in Justine Musk’s Blood Angel and its sequel, Lord of Bones. These books specifically helped me to understand and empathize with a friend of mine who confessed to using Heroin. While I hadn’t experienced it myself, I felt that I could somewhat understand the need and the drive to do whatever was necessary to fill the addiction–and how hard it was to stop. My friend had the strength, courage, and resources to get help, unlike some of the characters in these books.

While fiction is a gateway for many things, I strongly believe that dark fantasy specifically is ideal for readers who would benefit from empathy and introspection about difficult circumstances (read: everyone). The suspension of disbelief required to accept the fantasy elements of a story helps the reader to more easily relate to and empathize with the plight of the characters in a story. Dark fantasy’s trend towards the more difficult topics and themes sets the reader up to learn about experiences different to, or perhaps similar to their own. The books can be used to help others to relate to issues that the reader is dealing with in their own life.

Have you related to something in Dark fantasy and used it to grow? Comment below and let’s talk about it!

Creating Culture in The Wraith

Image credit: Freeimages.com

Happy Weekend! How is everyone doing? I’m having a good Saturday morning so far, I had my coffee and then went out to water our flowers and discovered a bird’s nest in one of our plants. That was a surprise!

Today I’d like to discuss..

An important aspect of my books and how I went about creating the culture and world that the demons reside in. I had so much fun coming up with this culture. It isn’t explored a lot in book one, but it’s a huge part of book two. Since book two isn’t finished yet, the culture may evolve some as I explore the world more, but I just wanted to share what sorts of things I think about when creating a fantasy culture.

Firstly, the culture or people themselves needs a name. You also need social structure, and to consider whether their society has a class system or not. If so, how would this affect the individuals in each class, and their relations to one another? Their economy? What sort of social system runs this world, and what languages are spoken? Is there a religion? How do the different gender roles and ages interact with each other? There are also things to consider such as leadership and politics, geography and its effects on the people, and more.

It sounds like a lot, but it’s important to know these things even if they aren’t shown in the book. There’s even more I haven’t covered and probably haven’t thought of myself, but I’d like to share what I have so far about the culture and world of demons in my upcoming book The Wraith.

The world of the Yoruta, more commonly known as demons.

The Yoruta are divided into two types, the Erlaubi and the Rux. These two categories of demons live separately from each other and rarely interact. Their languages are similar enough that they can communicate if needed, but there are misunderstandings. The dialect the Rux speak is called Ruta, and the dialect of the Erlaubi is Yoca.

The Rux demons are what Dana and the Order members are more familiar with. Their power are physical-based and they are often baser demons, reacting in more animalistic fashion to aggressors. Some of them stray into the world of humans in search of sustenance or else on orders to target an individual. The leadership of their region have targeted humans in the past, but the reasons aren’t given to the soldiers. They simply do as they are told.

The region the Rux live in is mostly barren, with small pockets of flourishing nature surrounding an oasis. Their towns are structured around these, with the fortress bordering the largest one. Outside of the borders of the fortress, the Rux have marketplaces, villages, and all of the other makings of civilization. Their economy isn’t doing too great currently and relies on a mixture of coin and the bartering of goods and services. The main occupations are farmers, builders, and weavers. Some also dedicate themselves to maintaining their villages through leadership, cleanup and waste disposal, and healing.

Inside the wall however, is where the real power lies. The ruler, or Daeheru, resides in the fortress along with his advisors and council. There is a barracks on the grounds where soldiers are housed, as well as a farm adjacent the water where crops and livestock are raised for the fortress. The soldiers themselves are used mostly for keeping the peace and enforcing the collection of taxes, however they do occasionally have to put down rebellions.

The succession of power and title of Daeheru (Lord) is passed down either be appointment by the current ruler, or else taken by force. The Daeheru’s power is limited to the region of the Rux –The Erlaubi have their own leadership and laws.

The Erlaubi consider themselves a higher order of demons than their counterparts. They are physically more appealing, to humans at least, and their powers are more mentally based. Because of this, empathy is a common trait and they have more peace than the Rux—their economy is even an approximation of human Socialism. For professions, there are a few that tend their crops and maintain infrastructure but the majority consider themselves to be artists, political ambassadors, or teachers. Hobbies like weaving are common, but are not considered primary professions. The region they reside in contains plentiful water sources and has much more vegetation and animal life, which also makes it so they don’t need to struggle as much as their brethren. This breeds resentment from the few Rux who know anything about the differences between their regions.

Despite their differences, the Rux and the Erlaubi share most cultural values. The staggering majority of Yoruta feel that physical sex is irrelevant- some individuals lay eggs and others fertilize. Elders raise offspring until their adolescent years, at which point the parents take over and teach them about the world and trades. There is very little religion to speak of, and not much prejudice over races or power traits aside from the main division of Rux and Erlaubi.

One thing that all Yoruta have in common is that they are private about their true name. A name is generally made up to use with others, and the polite form of inquiry is some variation of “What can I call you?” This is because knowing the demon’s true name gives power over them—they can be invoked in rituals and spells and weaker ones can even be forced to do the user’s bidding. The sharing of a demon’s true name is a sign of the utmost trust.

That’s all I have so far! I’d love some feedback on what I have so far on this culture. What do you all think? Do you have any questions or suggestions? Comment below!