Swords are not more elegant than pistols.
This has been a source of irritation ever since I suffered through a panel at WFC 2010 in Ohio that talked about gun control in high fantasy settings.
Instead of coming up with real reasons for the absence of the compelling and the modern in a genre that could use a healthy dose of both, allusions were made as to the sexiness of a sword vs a gun. It was argued that swords are simply more elegant than guns and that fighting “man to man” with blades is somehow heroic while guns represent cowardice, sniping and the absence of drama.
Can I just ask if everyone on the panel had lost their minds?
Now I realize I’m a nub-author and my opinion may be a touch askance from the perspective of other folks but a certain scene in The Patriot comes to mind where very clunky guns *and* hatchets form one of the most emotionally imperative battles I’ve seen. Yes, Mel was getting his crazy on in that scene, something he’s inherently good at we’ve discovered. But it was gorgeous. Hero and villain wrapped up in the same character for an instant. Racing from one loaded gun to the next to fire? His children caught up in the fray? Gripping is not even a sufficient word.
There are plenty of incredible gun dramas out there in all sorts of movies, from The Matrix on down to The Professional. Yet it was argued on the panel that guns are unfair, antiheroic, and non-escapist.
The only point I might be persuaded on is the non-escapist bit, which in the context of a CIA spy novel set in Iraq, might or might not be more escapist than Harry Potter. For the Iraq War veteran, maybe not. But for someone else, both might be so far removed from daily life that they are equally escapist. I believe the reader is generally right.
My main gripe with the panel was that I found it insular, backward-thinking and elitist. Swords do not a hero make. Nor do dramas spring from the clang of sharpened weapons. Rather heroes rise from the situations in which they are placed. Drama is a product of the writer’s skill and in no way linked to the object in the hero’s hand. And finally, escapism, if that is truly what you seek from the genre, is a matter of whether the text transports you someplace else. If it does, I’d argue that you escaped. But perhaps this is not what everyone is seeking.
The difference might be, and I’m just making shit up now, that there are unspoken comfort levels associated with drama. Comfort might be linked to resonance.
I think Crime dramas like CSI, despite much of its science being outside of reality, have a high resonance with headline news and modern life. A whole lot of people like it, even though I think it’s very disturbing, uncomfortable and steps carefully along the edge of true horror.
Conversely, Narnia is low resonance. Not only do people no longer use swords, but they don’t even talk like that. Let alone the speaking beavers. I suppose we can have real heartfelt drama here, and shed a tear if it’s our first time watching Aslan die, but at least we’re not thinking that a real white which turning folks to stone is uncomfortably close to home.
Anyway, I’ve vented and now feel better. I say put guns in your fantasy. Or don’t. But don’t be fooled that doing so (or not) will somehow affect whether your book is dramatic or whether your hero is heroic. You have to have your wits about you when you’re making a story. Faithfulness to genre can often undermine your ability to get it right.