R. Scott Bakker, both a fantasy author and a scholar with a masters in literary criticism, is known for his analysis of the fantasy genre and its importance in the lives of its readers. In this essay, Bakker asserts that fantasy literature is often seen as an escape—a literal escape from our world into another—but it is, more than that, a metaphorical escape from a rational, scientifically-based mindset of the post-Enlightenment Western world to a world where faith in something more pays off. The prophesied chosen one really does save the world, good morals have good consequences, and the bad are punished.
“The world we live in has been revealed by science to be indifferent and arbitrary. Where we once lived in a world steeped in moral significance, now we live in a world where things simply happen. Where once the meaningfulness of life was an unquestioned certainty, the very foundation of rationality, now we must continually struggle to ‘make our lives meaningful,’ and do so, moreover, without the sanction of rationality. Questions of the meaningfulness of life have retreated into the fractured realm of competing faiths and the ‘New Age’ section of the bookstore. In our day in age, the truth claim, ‘My life has meaning,’ is as much an act of faith (which is to say, a belief without rational legitimation) as the truth claim, ‘There is a God.'”
“It is no accident that fantasy is preoccupied with our pre-Enlightenment, pre-crisis past. The contemporary world is a nihilistic world, where all signs point to the illusory status of love, beauty, goodness and so on. This is not to say that they are in fact illusory, only that at a fundamental level our culture is antagonistic to the claim that they are real. Nihilism is a fever in the bones of contemporary culture, afflicting all our assertions of meaningfulness with the ache that they are wrong.
“Fantasy is the celebration of what we no longer are: individuals certain of our meaningfulness in a meaningful world. The wish-fulfillment that distinguishes fantasy from other genres is not to be the all-conquering hero, but to live in a meaningful world. The fact that such worlds are enchanted worlds, worlds steeped in magic, simply demonstrates the severity of our contemporary crisis. ‘Magic’ is a degraded category in our society; if you believe in magic in this world, you are an irrational flake. And yet magic is all we have in our attempt to recover some vicarious sense of meaningfulness. If fantasy primarily looks back, primarily celebrates those values rendered irrelevant by post-industrial society, it is because our future only holds the promise of a more trenchant nihilism. One may have faith otherwise, but by definition such faith is not rational. Faith, remember, is belief without reasons.”
· End of Excerpt ·
This is just a little taste of Bakker’s full essay, which we encourage you to read in its entirety at sffworld.com. Or take a look at the summary of the first book in Bakker’s latest series (Aspect-Emperor, tightly following his last series, The Prince of Nothing), The Judging Eye:
Widely praised by reviewers and a growing body of fans, Bakker has already established his reputation as one of the smartest writers in the fantasy genre—a writer in the line stretching from Peake to Tolkein. Now he returns to The Prince of Nothing universe with the long-awaited The Judging Eye, the first book in an all-new series.
Set twenty years after the end of The Thousandfold Thought, Bakker reintroduces us to a world that is at once familiar but also very different than the one readers thought they knew. Delving even further into his richly imagined universe of myth, violence, and sorcery, and fully remolding the fantasy genre to broaden the scope of intricacy and meaning, R. Scott Bakker has once again written a fantasy novel that defies all expectations and rewards the reader with an experience unlike any to be had in the canon of today’s literature.
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Richard Scott Bakker is a Canadian fantasy author. He grew up on a tobacco farm in the Simcoe area. In 1986 he attended the University of Western Ontario to pursue a degree in Literature and later an MA in Theory and Criticism. He is known for the epic fantasy series, The Second Apocalypse. You can find him at his blog Three Pound Brain.