We geeks have a complicated relationship with religious violence. We live in a world where religious fanatics are practicing conversion by force, and that’s putting the situation in the Middle East in the most sanitized terms possible. It’s hard to find anyone today who would condone any type of religious violence, or try to defend it. Even historical religious violence, which occurred in a different cultural context than our own, makes us uncomfortable. With such an intense reaction to real religious violence, one would think that our pop culture would reflect it. Instead, geek culture seems to accept religious violence in some contexts, but not others. So why is that?
Spoilers for His Dark Materials, Doctor Who, Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra below.
When it’s done well, fictional magic combines a certain amount of mystery with a solid set of rules. Without well-defined limits, magic takes away any and all problems facing a protagonist, and no one wants to read a story without conflict. Magical creatures are no exception. Magical creatures need a list of things they can and cannot do. Vampires are a good example of this. There are plenty of variations on the original pop culture vampire theme, and the strengths of each version’s limits gives us a good idea of how much staying power each variation has in our culture.