Moral Relativity Invades the Realm of Fantasy

This is one I’ve been wanting to write for a good while. JRR Tolkien’s 129th birthday seems as good a day as any to write about it.

So what exactly am I talking about? There’s been a trend for years to try to draw dissimilar comparisons between fantasy stories and games (especially Dungeons and Dragons) and the real world. Heroes are compared to burglars and mass murderers, while monsters and villains are made out to be poor innocent and misunderstood victims of the heroes’ actions.

There’s so many angles to attack this from. First is the idiotic idea that if you’re truly good, you’re supposed to see ANYONE doing anything bad as a victim and completely excuse their behavior. In many areas today, people are even expected to flee their own homes instead of confronting a burglar. Being truly good does not mean being a doormat, a victim OR tolerating evil. If it did, that would mean we should turn our back on and outright excuse racism, homophobia, rape, pedophilia, etc.. Is that REALLY the kind of world anyone wants to live in? Taken to it’s ultimate conclusion, such a mindset results in a society of survival of the fittest where the strongest take whatever they want with impunity.

Being TRULY good means taking a stand against what’s wrong, but having a measured response that doesn’t exceed the problem.

Then there’s tearing down heroes in general. Most of the people who buy into the above idea don’t pay attention to the pattern the last couple of decades where just about every hero has been portrayed negatively in some way. MLK cheated on his wife, Ghandi helping create Pakistan led to Muslims dying on the move there (as if it were his plan no less), the founding fathers owned slaves, the great thinkers of the Enlightenment started the idea of racism (talk about a complete lie), all the way down to negative portrayals of everyone from King Arthur to Captain America (who was supposedly secretly a Nazi) and Superman. There’s a plan there to take away anyone or anything that people could look up to as a role model.

More to the specific point of the post here, MONSTERS ARE NOT PEOPLE. The biggest flap along these lines was a social media campaign to destroy Wizards of the Coast because people were offended by the portrayal of Orcs and Drow Elves in Dungeons and Dragons. There were multiple complaints about them being representative of black people. D&D is based 90% plus on Tolkien’s middle Earth. Can anybody who has watched the Lord of the Rings movies and seen the nearly identical Orcs tell me ANYTHING they have in common with with black people? Two legs and two arms, that’s about it.

What does it say about the people making those charges that THEY see a black person when they look at the above picture?!? The same goes for D&D’s imfamous Drow Elves:

If anything, they look like a gothic elven vampire with that grey skin.

The Twits on Twitter got their way though, and the 5th Edition rules for Dungeons and Dragons have completely watered down and changed the stories for Orcs, Drow and other creatures. They’re not evil, they’re just misunderstood.

So after the Orcs raid the village, killing most of it and carry off the women as slaves and entertainment, the heroes are supposed to go give them hugs and psychological counseling I guess.

There’s nothing wrong with having evil in a fantasy setting any more than there is admitting that a small percentage of people of every race are legitimately evil in the real world, and a large portion of the rest will follow anyone like sheep.

Without conflict, there’s nothing to drive a story, not a catalyst for the character’s growth either. Makes for a pretty boring story, huh?

LOTR Seen Thru the Lens of Moral Relativism:

Let’s take this misguided utopian ideal and apply it to the Ring trilogy, since it’s Tolkien’s birthday. The book starts out the same, with Bilbo getting the ring and heading off. He’s of course followed by the other 3 hobbits. However, when the Nazgul start chasing them, they quickly agree that the poor creatures must be that way because they led unhappy lives, and that if they just approach them and show some compassion and understanding, everybody will be friends.

The Nazgul kill all four hobbits in a gruesome manner and return the ring to Sauron who promptly takes over Third Earth, reducing it and it’s population to ash. End of book and trilogy.

Sounds exciting, huh? Yeah… not really.

Bottom Line:

Social justice and equality are wonderful ideas we should all embrace. NOT when they’re taken to such an extreme that there’s no such thing as right or wrong, OR we can’t even admit that somebody did something evil.

When it gets to the point that standing up to evil is seen as the real evil, especially in a completely fictional setting, something is VERY wrong with society’s thinking.

As I’ve said before, the worst evils out there have been caused by “well meaning” people taking good ideas way too far.

15 thoughts on “Moral Relativity Invades the Realm of Fantasy

  1. Jaya Avendel

    Thank you for this! I love the examples you show by way of illustration and mention of fantasy races I am familiar with. I like your interpretation: “they are not evil, they are just misunderstood”.

    I am writing a book with black elves as the main characters and nothing could feel more true to me right now!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Silk Cords Post author

      I’ve been fairly occupied, and meant to reply to this sooner. 🙂

      First, I’m glad you commented. Always nice to see new people doing so. I’ve been following your blog also, but poetry is hard for me to comment on / put my feelings into words. 🙂 I hope my post helped in some small way with your story. As I commented elsewhere, I have no problem with good characters coming from an evil culture / race like Orcs. I just hate the idea that there shouldn’t be any such thing as evil in stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The Hinoeuma

    This reminds me, in a way, of Alan Watts:
    “We aren’t better because we want to be. Because the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Because all the do gooders in the world whether they’re doing good for others or doing it for themselves are troublemakers. On the basis of ‘kindly let me help you or you’ll drown’, said the Monkey putting the fish safely up a tree.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Silk Cords Post author

      Somewhere along the line, things got blurred and it went from having villains who had a background that explained their actions (ie Magneto in the early days) to their background justifying their actions.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. joanne the geek

    It’s Frodo that sets out with the ring in Lord of the Rings…

    High Fantasy is different from the real world, as it usually depicts the battle between good and evil. In fantasy worlds there tends to be very little shades of grey, if any, as there is in the real world. Characters are often good or evil, though some like Boromir can have a tragic flaw. A good essay worth reading on this is From Elfland to Poughkeepsie by Ursula K. Le Guin.

    One of the major themes of Tolkien’s writings is corruption. The Ringwraiths were once human kings that were given the nine rings of power made for humans. As Sauron had the master ring he was able take control of them and corrupt them until they became wraiths with no free will. They are merely extensions of his own will. There would be no point in talking to them as they had a singular purpose of bringing the Ring back to their master. If they had managed to find and overcome the hobbits, Frodo would have been taken to Mordor with the Ring, and then he would have watched in agony as the Ring was taken from him by Sauron and placed on Sauron’s own hand. In fact Sauron would have taken great delight in mentally torturing Frodo this way as punishment for even daring to possess his Ring. After that Frodo would possibly be killed or lived on as a broken shell.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Silk Cords Post author

      I think you were getting my point, based on the reply. That being that some people out there are taking things as far as I was saying. They literally would argue that Frodo and the others should have reasoned with and shown compassion towards the ringwraiths and redeemed them, which, as we both pointed out, would have had disastrous consequences.

      The orc example is the quintessential one IMO. How do enough idiots on twitter decide that Orcs are representative of Black people, and then get together to nearly destroy one of the most successful gaming companies ever? That takes an astounding level of illogic and mental illness, enough to make me worry about the future.

      Sticking with D&D for a moment, I have no issue with the occasional good Drow or Orc (village even). Drizzt is easily the most famous character to ever come out of the Forgotten Realms. A large part of what makes him memorable though is his struggles against Lolth and mainstream Drow society, as well as how far he initially has to go to prove himself to the surface world. We lose ALL of that if this wishy washy moral relativism spreads.

      Fantasy, like mythology (and Space Opera like the original trilogy) should continue to be a place where good and evil mean something. The lines are being blurred in too many other facets of life.

      Oh, and no issues with Boromir (or characters like him) here. 🙂 He was a perfect example of Tolkien’s belief in corruption and redemption. Heroes don’t have to be perfect, and Boromir was flawed. He was still a hero though.

      FWIW, none of this was about your post a while back either. It was well crafted and made it’s point. My issue is with people who take things FAR beyond that in Fantasy, comic books, movies, etc…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. joanne the geek

        I’ve yet to come across anyone who would argue about showing compassion for the Ringwraiths. They’re undead, and have an aura of fear surrounding them them which means only Maia like Gandalf, or High Elves such as Elrond, Glorfindel, or Galadriel can withstand them. Anything human about them has long since gone.

        Sauron himself didn’t start out as evil, he was once a servant of Aule the Smith until he was corrupted, but the Wise know that he is utterly irredeemable. “Faithless and accursed” as Gandalf describes him. It’s late here and I don’t have time to give a long reply, but the Kings of Numenor in the Second Age actually came to listen to Sauron’s counsels, believing he was helping them and it led to their downfall. It’s an interesting story but would take a long time to recount…

        Yes Boromir was a hero despite his flaws.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Silk Cords Post author

          Late? It’s 10am. You and your upside down part of the world. 😀 😀 😀

          The Nazgul was just an example I made up after it was WAY past my bedtime (hence the Frodo Bilbo mix up also). BUT, if you put it out there on Twitter, I’d be willing to bet that you’ll find at least a few people that would argue they were butchered and should have been redeemed somehow.

          Those are the no such thing as evil crowd, where as you and I seem to be in accord that true evil exists, it’s just happily fairly rare.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Todd Garlington

    Funny how an exploration of classic fantasy leads us to the heart of present-day reality! It seems that acting with discretion and taking things in context has become a long-lost art. I’m continually astonished by the petty, misinformed, and vengeful individuals who somehow gain a foothold in cultural debates. The Information Age has ironically brought us a high degree of uncertainty, but one thing remains clear: It’s weird out there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Silk Cords Post author

      It’s honestly scary how much trouble some people have separating fantasy from reality, or just putting reality, especially historical reality into context.

      It’s VERY weird out there nowadays.



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