A lot of sci-fi and fantasy stories like to delve into alternate realities at some point—and why wouldn’t they? Alternate realities can be a lot of fun. They allow writers to discuss characters from multiple perspectives and explore “what if” scenarios, which can certainly be interesting. After all, a character in one dimension may have completely different motivations and personal history to their counterpart in another dimension.
I love alternate realities. I love seeing how the same character reacts to different situations and upbringing, and I love how seeing these differences presented in an alternate reality helps to inform that same character in the main reality. Thankfully for me, alternate reality storylines are everywhere, from Charmed, to Stargate SG-1, and now even in Shadowhunters. These storylines are interesting character studies and an effective way to teach both the characters and the audience the consequences of bad decisions. Because this is often the purpose they serve, alternate realities are almost always dystopias compared to the main reality. Very rarely are they used for the opposite purpose—to be utopias compared to a main dystopian world. So I found myself pleasantly surprised when Shadowhunters did just that in its latest episode.
Nothing makes me angrier than when a fantasy story uses religious elements but ignores everything about the faith those elements come from. There is a way that such a thing can be done well, but often fantasy writers seem to cherry pick religious elements and then don’t discuss the religious implications that come with those elements. We see this all the time in shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where vampires can be repelled with crosses, but nothing about why that works is ever discussed. Or in shows like Supernatural, where various gods exist all at once, but for reasons that make little sense, the Abrahamic deity and other beings like angels are more powerful than the pagan gods. I am seeing this same thing again in the TV show Shadowhunters. I don’t remember the books very well, but I vaguely remember that they did not do any better with the religious elements either. For example, despite being half angel, Jace claims he doesn’t believe in angels in the books.The TV show doesn’t have this issue when it comes to religious elements, but it does have other problems that need to be addressed. And not addressing the religious baggage that these elements bring to the table actually contradicts the message of the overall story.
Shadowhunters premiered last night, and while it wasn’t everything I had been hoping for, it was certainly enjoyable. Not only was this a good start at bringing in a newer audience to the series, the show takes a lot of creative liberties with the original source material and changes enough things around that even someone who has read the books can be surprised by all the developments happening. As the first book is told almost explicitly from Clary’s POV, we don’t get to see a lot of the Shadowhunter world. On the other hand, Shadowhunters isn’t limited the same way. The show is taking the time to explore and develop its universe by engaging with characters we don’t get to see all that often in the books. The first episode “The Mortal Cup” was fun, exciting, and had enough new things going on that I didn’t know what to expect all the time.
With the new television show coming out next month, I decided to sit myself down and reread The Mortal Instruments series. I just got done with the first book, City of Bones, and I can safely say that I was not blown away by the writing. Now that I’m older and more aware of social justice issues and my own internalized sexism, I definitely loved Clary, our main character, a lot more than I did on my first read through, but the downside to that is that I detested just about everything and everyone else. In theory, the ideas behind City of Bones are fine. The plot is fairly compelling, the relationships between characters give us significant conflict, and the worldbuilding is interesting—but the story doesn’t know what it’s doing half the time, and many of the good things about the book get lost under the bad.