Where Have All the Wizards Gone?
The undead are in-vogue of late. Vampires, Zombies, Ghosts and so-on are all pretty popular in movies, TV, books, and so on. One thing I’ve found odd, however, is that more and more of these critters are the result of either technology or religion to almost the exclusion of all else, and I’ve been thinking about that idea vis-a-vis the undead, and I’m not sure I love the idea.
The Undead and Science
The science-creating-the-undead thing is much, much more recent than the religious angle and, for my money, also more ridiculous. Science – even pseudoscience – is poorly applied to things that are ostensibly dead. Just think about it for a few minutes and much of the scientific explanations for werewolves, zombies, vampires, and the rest of our popular monsters rapidly fall apart.
I’ve already explored why this idea is nonsense for zombies (if you don’t recall, check out my anti-zombie manifesto), but let’s take Vampires, instead. The Blade franchise, in addition to others, have maintained that Vampires are essentially people who (1) don’t grow old, (2) drink blood, (3) are ‘allergic’ to silver, (4) have poor defenses against sunlight, and so on. You watch Blade devising new technogadgets to combat them, they rationalize things like ‘UV light works like sunlight’ and ‘the vampires can wear sunblock, so…’ and on and on and on. Thing is, they very rarely take it all the way, which is what I find annoying. I ask lots and lots of questions like ‘why can’t the metabolize regular food instead of drinking blood?’ or, ‘if they can’t make their own blood, why don’t they get transfusions instead of drinking it – wouldn’t that be faster?’ or ‘if they’re dead, how come they don’t rot?’ and so on and so forth until I just get so frustrated with the damn thing and start yelling ‘why didn’t you just call it magic? MAGIC!’
The Undead and Religion
The other common origin for the undead comes from religious or spiritual material. Now, this I don’t really have a problem with, per se, in that this is from antiquity. Usually used in reference to ghosts more than any other kind of undead, the religious/spiritual angle is a story with lots of dramatic potential and is firmly based in our collective human canon – everybody’s got their stories of demons, ghosts, vampires, and so on who had something terrible happen to them and they linger on in this world, waiting for something to either destroy them or show them how to ‘cross over’, so to speak.The only issue I have with this particular version of the tale is that it’s so, well, wishy-washy. There aren’t any rules, really, and it’s the rules that make monsters fun. Vampires are the most popular not because they are inherently the coolest, but because they have the most lore built up around them in the form of rules, laws, and ‘gubbins’, if you will, that give the protagonists in stories involving vampires more to ‘sink their teeth into’, if you’ll pardon the pun. Without these rules, we’re stuck with talking about our feelings and trying to ‘make things right’. This can be interesting, but it doesn’t lend itself to rip-roaring adventure, exactly.
The Middle Ground
What I’d like to see more of (and it’s out there, mind you, just I want more) are monster stories that (1) acknowledge we’re working magically here and (2) have set rules in place to keep things crunchy. Buffy/Angel tended to do this, I think Supernatural has done this to some extent, and of course their are Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, but it hasn’t seemed to propagate.
Perhaps that’s just me, anyway, from my position on the periphery of the Urban Fantasy subgenre. Perhaps this is just my knee-jerk reaction to zombie mania, which I find aggrevating, and to the wussing-down of vampires from ‘fearsome monsters’ to basically plain old supervillains/heroes (if that). I want me some scary-ass new monsters, or old ones dredged up, preferably created by wizards or, better yet, are wizards themselves.
Yeah, I’m talking about the lich.
You know what I mean – the oldest, nastiest, most badass undead creature in Dungeons and Dragons, brought back into a new housing. The most recent incarnation of this fella was Voldemort, really, but I’d like to see more done with the idea. Heck, I plan on doing more with it myself, provided I ever get around to it. I want an intelligent, powerful, sorcerous monster who is neither attractive nor numerous to kick some mortal ass. I think much could be done with these wizards-turned-immortal undead, and I’m hoping it happens.
I’m also hoping I can contribute. Perhaps I’ll introduce the character I have in mind here on this blog sometime. Maybe I’ll discuss the Rules of the Lich. In any event, I really want to see fewer plots involving monster-making viruses or demonic possession.
Posted on October 28, 2011, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts, Lych and tagged fantasy, ghost, lych, undead, urban fantasy, vampire, zombie. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.
Right there witcha. I think I mentioned the same thing on Facebook a long time ago, that the lich doesn’t get enough love.
Besides Volde… the biggest other one recently was Arthas the Lich King from World of Warcraft.
Yeah, but Arthas was a pretty thin character (at least where I encountered him in Warcraft 3, anyway–never played WoW, nor will I). He was very stereotypical and not all that interesting.
The thoroughness with which Butcher structures Harry’s world is excellent. I love when writers put real attention into details that make sense, work, and show that they put in thought not only into making it cool but making it work. And if the ‘rules’ ever change, it’s because of something Harry himself didn’t know and is just learning, not because Butcher forgot and just kept making it up as he went along.
Also he gets creative with his monsters. Sure you’ve got vampires–but then, oho, you’ve got at least three different kinds and they all work in different ways! You’ve got the Fae, but they’ve got different kinds and different rules, too. And then there’s different wizardly political factions, monsters who show up from other cultures, varied kinds of werewolves…bravo, Butcher, really!
Speaking of which, how far are you in that series now?
I’m four books in, I think (White Knight was the last one I read). I love his world, characters, and pacing. I’m still 50/50 on how he plots. He seems to be getting better, though–I didn’t figure out the last one until halfway through the book, rather than right towards the start. I’ve been meaning to get the fifth one, but there’s been a lot of other reading interposing itself of late.
You can definitely see him get better as the series continues, both writing and plotting-wise. Hmm, I think you mean Summer Knight. (White Night is the title of a later book)