Magical Mondays: When in Doubt, Destroy Civilization

Nothing quite spices up a universe like some kind of cataclysmic event. Luce has written at length recently about the Dragonriders of Pern series, and it’s a perfect example of the plot device I want to discuss. In this series, a colonizing expedition to a new planet is unexpectedly overwhelmed by an indigenous threat: rain-like silvery spores called Thread that threaten their survival on their new home. The settlers use their highly advanced technology to bioengineer dragons that can withstand and destroy Thread, but as time—entire centuries—goes by, knowledge of the technology is lost.

When we’re introduced to the world in the first Dragonriders book, it’s reverted to a more prototypical fantasy world with medieval levels of scientific advancement and an understanding that the dragons and their powers are the result of magic rather than science. This sort of genre-switching destruction of civilization can be a powerful storytelling device, but it has to be used well to be effective.

What are these magical black rectangles?

What are these magical black rectangles?

Vague, minor spoilers for the new Star Wars movie after the jump.

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Magical Mondays: Magic and Consent

Imagine you live in a world where magic is real. Awesome, right? Now imagine that people can and regularly do use that magic to force you to do or believe or forget things you otherwise would never do, and we’re getting into more frightening territory. Unfortunately, this is the case in many magical worlds, where bodily autonomy and consent fall easily in the face of a well-cast spell.

hermione obliviate gif Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Jesus: Warrior Priests and Armies of God

Organized religion has a lot in common with the military. They both have a hierarchy of power, snazzy outfits, and ostensibly, a founding interest in protecting others from danger, whether it be physical or spiritual. Sometimes religious folk will make the connection explicit, as with the Jesuit sect within the Catholic Church, which was founded by a military man and whose members are called “Soldiers of God”. Nevertheless, in most cases religion and military forces have very different images and priorities.

Fiction sometimes tends to conflate religion with the military to the extent that they are the same thing. Although many religious leaders have spoken out against the idea that violence is ever necessary, it’s not uncommon to open a book, watch a movie, or read a manga that involves priests or religious folk fighting—for any number of reasons, but in a decidedly physical fashion.

gunslingerAnd I find that unsettling. St. Thomas Aquinas and other “just war” theorists may have argued that war can be justified for certain reasons, but it’s difficult to look at a regiment of crusaders or even just one nun with a gun and really believe that their intent is to bring peace to a troubled land or to protect innocents. Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Zealotry: Religious Fanaticism in Fiction

bloodlust1It’s my opinion that the scariest sort of villain is the kind that believes that what they’re doing is truly good. Hell, a quick Google search tells me that a lot of people have trouble deciding whether Umbridge is more evil than Voldemort himself. This sort of villain is even more frightening when they think they’re doing God’s work, because for them, that’s the ultimate justification for their actions. No human force is gonna convince someone who thinks they have divine purpose to stop what they’re doing. Continue reading

Oh, My Pop Culture Rebirth: Reincarnation in Fiction

Reincarnation is the idea that a person’s eternal soul is reborn numerous times in different bodies. In a religious sense, reincarnation tends to occur as a purifying process: through each life cycle, you either learn important lessons, cleansing your soul and becoming closer to heaven, or rack up karmic negativity, setting your eternal self back in the queue and, depending on the belief system, guaranteeing a shittier vessel for yourself in your next life cycle. The monotheistic Big Three—Judaism, Islam, Christianity) don’t generally hold with this concept, but it is an important part of many Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism.

1360572554_45118_reincarnationReincarnation is also a time-tested trope in fiction, and I find it interesting that in most cases, it’s a hard and fast aspect of the fictional universe rather than a religious belief that some follow and some don’t. It’s just given that reincarnation exists. Continue reading