Alan’s post about torture and mention of Osama bin Laden got me thinking about how real world events affect our writing. My book, Thief of Hope, takes place in a medieval-like society where executions occur frequently, punishments can be brutal, and torture is somewhat commonplace. It’s a pretty bleak setting. I had someone once tell me the title of the book was off putting; why would she want to read a book about stealing hope when our own world is facing crisis situations the likes of which we’ve never seen before? The fact is, my book is more about finding hope and fighting for it. I can honestly say that in some ways the events of the past 10 years, starting with 9/11, have profoundly affected me and had an impact on the book that I never expected (and yes, I started writing it even before that). The importance of fighting for what you believe in became a key piece of the story.
The real world continued to intrude on my writing as I was working on a scene in the book where one of the characters is hanged (lots of people are hanged in the book so hopefully I’m not giving anything away) around the same time that Saddam Hussein was executed by hanging. It was an eerie coincidence. Of course that got me thinking about my own views of capital punishment and how differently my characters think. Some of my characters, and this includes the good guys, would employ torture to achieve their goals without batting an eye. I disagree, but I have to let them be true to themselves. That’s the beauty of fiction. Our characters can do things we’d never do, giving us the opportunity to explore other viewpoints.
Fantasy and science fiction in particular allow us to use other worlds to examine elements of our own. They can help us find meaning and even give us hope. There is a memorable line in the movie version of Fellowship of the Ring, which was released in December 2001, when 9/11 was still very raw, where Frodo says to Gandalf, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” And Gandalf responds, “ So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Wise words indeed from a wizard in a pointy hat.