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The Three Types of Speculative Fiction

A few posts – and an alarmingly long time – ago, I wrote extensively on the value of Fantasy and how it is connected to (and as valuable as) its sibling-genres. Today I want to expand on that by discussing the three types of speculative fiction. No, not Horror, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy. You see, one of the most common arguments about Fantasy – a reason people mistake it as inferior – is that people generally assume that Fantasy only comes in one flavour and therefore that any socio-politically heavy Fantasy must not “really” be Fantasy. This, however, is a false syllogism.

A what? A false syllogism is a type of logical failure wherein two premises are put forth but the conclusion drawn from putting them together is not valid. For instance: My cat does not chase mice. Cats stereotypically chase mice. Therefore, my cat is a dog.

People who think Fantasy can only be adventures and that they are all Tolkien rip-offs do the same thing. They say: “This high quality Fantasy is socio-political. I believe in the stereotype that all Fantasy is childish romance-heavy, fireball casting garbage about defeating the Evil Overlord and riding unicorns. Therefore, this is ‘really’ Sci-Fi.” Sure, they probably do this sub-consciously, but it’s still what happens.

Incidentally, I don’t have a cat. There used to be a cat, but she only chased string, ribbons, and laser beams. But I digress.

It is extremely silly (and illogical) of people to assume that Fantasy only comes in adventure!flavour, when Sci-Fi (the genre these people tend to prefer) is viewed as having three basic forms: Gadget, Adventure, and Social. These terms, and the idea of dividing Sci-Fi this way, come from acclaimed author Isaac Asimov. In his 1953 article “Social Science Fiction”, which was published in Modern Science Fiction, he declared that all Sci-Fi plots are ultimately one of three types:

Gadget Science Fiction: In which the story is focused on the invention and how it works. In this form the main character would, for example, invent a car and then give a lecture on how the car works.

Adventure Science Fiction: In which the story is action focused and the invention – the science – is a prompt. In this case the protagonist invents a car, only for the bad guys to steal it and force the hero to go on a high speed chase to save the day.

Social Science Fiction: In which the invention neither ignites nor ends the plot, but influences it and considers the ramifications of a world in which such a thing existed. In this case the protagonist invents a car, tries to get mass production funded, people start being able to live further from work because the commute is easier – causing class distinctions to blur – someone gets run over, and most people get stuck in traffic.

 

But this division is not only apparent in Sci-Fi. Its sibling-genres also can be divided up in this way. Indeed, with the blurring genres of Science-Fantasy and New Weird involved, is worthwhile to divide speculative fiction up in this way.  Of course, as Gadget is a Sci-Fi focused term it will need to be replaced, and I have chosen Phenomenon to fill its role as the equivalent of a gadget in fantasy and horror is usually not something the humans have invented or even understand (indeed, it is usually something which cannot be understood). In this case the divisions within the genres would be as follows:

Phenomenon Horror: In which the story is focused on the fact that something terrifying (natural or supernatural) is happening and the protagonist tries to figure out what and why. Whether or not they succeed in this is dependent of whether nothing or knowledge would be scarier.  For example, items start moving in the house and the protagonist tries to figure out if they’re being haunted, stalked, or just forgetful.

Adventure Horror: In which the details of the terrifying occurrence are irrelevant, and the hero is running and fighting for their life because it wants to kill them (or worse). For example, items start moving in the house and shortly thereafter the ghost/serial killer starts chasing the suspiciously buxom leading lady through the house.

Social Horror: In which the focus of the plot is not that something terrifying is happening, but how people cope with this. Such horror tends to be slower moving and lends itself to the psychological. (True dystopias fall into this category.) For example, items start moving in the house and the protagonist suffers from the mind games something/someone/they themselves unwittingly are playing with them while trying to hold their family together and struggling to convince the world that they aren’t insane.

Phenomenon Fantasy: In which something which is not explicable by our universe’s laws of physics (Newtonian, Quantum, etc) happens and the protagonist either tries to cope with it or explain it. If they attempt to explain by the physics of our universe they will, necessarily, fail, but if magic is a type of branch of physics in that universe they may be able to explain it in those terms. Nevertheless, something beyond our physics happens and is difficult, if not impossible, to explain. For example, the protagonist discovers that ice fairies have reappeared and tries to figure out why and how. They fail, or possibly succeed, but cannot truly grasp how it all works, even as they are both awed and terrified by the ice fairies.

Adventure Fantasy: In which something which is not explicable by our universe’s laws of physics is either accepted as a normal part of the surroundings or the instigator for the action, but essentially is a prop for the plot. For example, the protagonist discovers that ice fairies have reappeared and must use their new fire magic to defeat the dark lord of ice, save the world and win the crown.

Social Fantasy: In which something which is not explicable by our universe’s laws of physics exists or comes into existence in the world and the protagonist has to live with the effects. For example, ice fairies reappear and start altering the weather systems – causing food shortages, mass migrations of refugees, and political refugee crises.

 

And this? This is why it’s so painful to see people stereotype all Fantasy as Adventure Fantasy. Social and Phenomenon Fantasies exist too, guys. They’re beautiful and terrifying and marvellous in their own right, if only you give them the chance. The same is true of Horror. Some of the best – most deeply and truly terrifying – Horror comes not from running away from the monster, but in sitting at home, too scared to turn around, and wondering if it’s right behind you. Is that it’s breath you feel? Surely it’s just the fan. Surely. That prickling sensation is definitely not something …right?

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2016 in On Writing

 

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Fantasy IS Fantastic, Thanks, And Is Bloody Hard to Pull Off

This is getting out of hand. I’ve discussed why it’s not okay to try to deny a story is fantasy because you don’t think fantasy can be quality in part one, why fantasy doesn’t deserve scorn in part two, and what fantasy actually is in part three …of a post which was only supposed to have one part. Now I’m going to talk about why Fantasy is actually – contrary to popular belief – the HARDEST genre to write.

The notion that motor-cars are more “alive” than, say, centaurs or dragons is curious; that they are more “real” than, say, horses is pathetically absurd. – Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

In fiction, what is real is what can be made to seem real. An unbelievably portrayed car, for instance, can make it impossible for a reader to accept the fiction as real, and a believably portrayed dragon can hold that belief even though it is less easily accepted and more rigorously scrutinised. We accept what we view as the reality around us as being real. We believe in it. We do not believe in things which we have learned, through our experiences and lack thereof, do not exist in our reality. All fiction hinges on the ability to make the reader put what they know of reality to the side for the moment – to Suspend their Disbelief. In order to do this, in order for the reader to be able to accept this, it must seem to function as reality. Not the same as reality, but as if it were reality. All fiction must be realistic in order to be (temporarily) believed. All fiction must be (temporarily) believed in order to be enjoyed. The more out-of-normal-reality things you pile upon the reader, the harder it is for them to believe in what you are showing them. The author is an illusionist and the reader is far more willing to accept a coin pulled from behind the ear (obviously a sleight of hand) than sawing a woman in half without killing her (…something to do with mirrors, I think). By default, then, the more out-of-reality elements a work, or genre, contains, the more difficult it becomes to suspend disbelief and, subsequently, the more challenging the genre is to write.

Think of it this way:

To create Suspension of Disbelief in Drama, Crime, and other totally real world other than invented characters fiction (such as “literary fiction”), the only illusion the author must successfully make is that of the main characters existence. The only thing the audience needs to be made to believe – to suspend their disbelief on – is that these people could exist.

To create Suspension of Disbelief in Sci-Fi, the author only needs to create two illusions: that the scientific extrapolation (gadgets, alien life existing, etc) they are making could be true and that these people could exist.

To create Suspension of Disbelief in Horror, only three illusions have to be maintained: that these people exist, that this phenomenon exists/could happen, and that it’s fucking terrifying.

To create Suspension of Disbelief in Fantasy, however, the illusion of reality that the author must create (without which disbelief cannot be suspended and on which all successful storytelling hinges) is of pretty much EVERYTHING. This is because the story must, at once, both present the normal laws of physics as existent, and show a force, as real, which is in direct contradiction to them – i.e. magic, the supernatural, whatever. It is also because, most of the time, Fantasy is either not set in our world – necessitating that the audience suspend disbelief on an entire out-of-reality world, complete with its own laws of physics – or asks us to believe that we’re all stupid enough to somehow miss magic in our own reality.

Now, a lot of fantasy doesn’t put in the sort of grounding effort of realism that, say, George R.R. Martin and J.R.R. Tolkien do and, thus, their fantastical elements cannot be believed (all suspension of disbelief is used up elsewhere). Nevertheless, for fantasy to work suspension of disbelief must be applied to the very way the universe works, as well as to the characters existence and so forth. Fantasy isn’t the “easy” genre. Fantasy is the HARDEST. The illusionist who saws a woman in half in a glass box has far harder time of it than the one using an opaque box. Fantasy is that transparent box – the impossibilities of the world are in full view, whereas what Sci-Fi and Drama need to suspend disbelief on is carefully covered with the firm, real, opaque box of the Known and Possible.

And, coming full circle to what started this series of posts in the first place, THAT is why it is not right to try to deny that high quality Fantasy – like A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones – isn’t “really” Fantasy because it’s good.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2016 in On Writing

 

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Fantasy IS Fantastic, Thanks, And Has Its Own Worth

Welcome to Fantasy IS Fantastic, part three. Better known as what happens when you yammer on too long about what you want to say, instead of saying it, or why part two should never be allowed to take steroids.

Okay, so last time I talked about how and why fantasy is disparaged by fans of other genres and society in general – and I failed to get around to what I actually intended to talk about. To avoid a similar mishap this time, I shall get straight on to the two issues which need to be discussed. To save you having to go back and check what I said last time, I will quote myself: “This disparagement of fantasy comes from two basic errors. The first is the fallacy that because fantasy can include things which could not be in reality that anything goes – and therefore that it is the “easy” genre. The second is a fundamental failure to understand what fantasy actually is.”
Huh. Pretentious much? Well, I never claimed to be perfect. In fact, in hindsight I now realise that I should have listed those two fallacies in the order they would have to be discussed rather than the order which sounded best. Oh well.

 What is fantasy? There is a common misconception that fantasy is about dragons and medievalism and magic, although not all fantasy has those aspects and not all stories with those aspects are fantasy. Likewise, science fiction is not merely space tits and death rays fiction, nor is horror merely jump scares and vampires. This is how they are commonly viewed, due to a typical error of assuming the thing is the same as what is often used to wrap it, but it is highly inaccurate. At its core, each genre pulls at a different emotional or psychological (or even physical) aspect of the reader. In most non-speculative genres it is very easy to see this:

  • The core of Erotica is arousal.
  • The core of Romance is attraction.
  • The core of Comedy is humour.
  • The core of Mystery is puzzlement (and the solving of puzzles).
  • The core of Adventure is curiosity.
  • The core of Action is aggression.
  • The core of Historical Fiction is nostalgia.
  • The core of Tragedy is grief.
  • The core of Drama is grief (this is because drama and tragedy were – to the Ancient Athenians responsible for their invention – the same thing; there was no differentiation in genre between the possibility of terrible things happening and their actually having happened).

These make sense. After all, to use the most straight forward example, no one reads Erotica for puzzlement (save, perhaps, baffled teenage Asexuals trying to understand why everyone their age has suddenly gone insane).

However, if you try to apply this to Speculative Fiction while only looking at the trappings of it, is simply doesn’t work.

  • The core of Science Fiction is NOT spaceships.
  • The core of Fantasy is NOT wizards.
  • The core of Horror is NOT things going bump in the night.

So what is?

We often talk about Hard and Soft, or Technical and Social, Science Fiction – an idea started by Isaac Asimov in his 1953 article “Social Science Fiction” (in Modern Science Fiction) when he suggested that all Science Fiction plots fell into one of three categories: Gadget (“Look, I’ve invented a car: this is how it works”), Adventure (“Oh no, the bad guys stole my newly invented car, we must rescue it!”), and Social (“Some idiot invented cars, now we’re all stuck in traffic”). But those are distinctions within the genre, not the core of the genre itself. Nevertheless, it does illustrate quite well what the core of Sci-Fic actually is. Every plot type, you see, hinges on scientific knowledge being extrapolated into something new.

The core of Science Fiction is comprehension. It is knowledge – both current (science fiction being based on current scientific fact) and future (what possible advances in knowledge can be theorised from current scientific fact)

  • The core of Science Fiction is THE KNOWABLE.
  • The core of Horror is, of course, THE FRIGHTENING.
  • The core of Fantasy is THE UNKNOWABLE.

And that is why I spent so much time, last time, talking about how the arrogance of humans – in their belief that they will one day understand everything in the universe – results in distain for fantasy.

Now, this might sound totally crazy, given how strongly how strongly fantasy is tied to magic, but answer me this: what is magic? Not; what kind of magic are you playing with? What is magic? Magic is a term for things that exist but which science cannot explain. Not “hasn’t explained yet”: cannot explain. Science is a system of making sense of the universe which doesn’t work on magic. And this is precisely the point. Magic is the most common term for this, but it doesn’t have to be “magic” to be the incomprehensible-unknowable that is present in all fantasy (because it is, in fact, the core of fantasy). Magic is, also, easily confused with the knowable – even though it is not actually comprehensible. This is because people often conflate coping with something (learning to do spells, for example) with the ability to understand something (there is not a single work of fantasy out there which can explain why magic can break the laws of physics which otherwise govern the universe it is in – and no work which did give and explanation could truly be fantasy). A way of coping and the ability to recognise a specific phenomenon is NOT the same as being able to understand it.

To illustrate: In Science Fiction the characters come across, or create, a phenomenon and proceed to understand it. In Horror the characters come across a phenomenon and proceed to be scared shitless by it. In Fantasy the characters come across a phenomenon and fail to understand it, forcing them to accept and cope with its status as incomprehensible. Now, this does not need to be overt – both because the presence of the unknowable, or incomprehensible, will inevitably subtly touch upon itself in the background of coping with it, and because the incomprehensible lends itself to themes such as good versus evil (the paradox of right and wrong) and the question of death.

Fantasy is a liminal genre. But the threshold upon which it stands is that between what can be comprehended and what cannot. Sci-Fi, on the other hand, stands on the threshold of what is currently understood and what is going to be understood. This is why all Sci-Fi stories which end with the “some things man’s not meant to know” cliché fall flat. The audience is not reading or watching Sci-Fi to experience coping with the unknowable. They are reading or watching Sci-Fi to cope with what is known and the process of coming to know more. Fantasy is the genre readers and viewers go to when they want to cope with, or experience others coping with, that which cannot be explained or comprehended. Horror is about being scared by either the known or the unknown.

Or, to put it in simpler – yet far more laden – terms: Science Fiction is about the expansion of the Self, whereas Fantasy is about coping with the Archetypal Other. WAIT! Don’t panic. I’m not going to start quoting Sartre at you. Instead I will direct your attention to the fact that, after variations on “Dark Lord”, variations on “the Other/s” is one of the most common and recognisable terms for big bads in fantasy.

The importance of Fantasy as a means for coping with the incomprehensible and unknowable cannot be understated. The Archetypal Other can be incomprehensibly huge – when the Other is not our universe or other than life (cosmic horrors, existential dread as related to the question of death, etc) – and it can be painfully close to home; not only in Us vs Them and the Othering of those we reject socially, but also in that we can never truly understand another person. Other people, other races, other species, phenomena which follow other rules than the norm of the universe, other states of being or not being; these are all things which ultimately we can never truly comprehend – which frightens us – and which, at the same time, we dread because our nagging doubts make us wonder if we could become like that or might already be that way. Ultimately, we fear the Archetypal Other because we fear that we may become something which we are incapable of understanding. And that’s why Fantasy is so important. Because without Fantasy as a coping method, all we have is fear – Horror.

This key difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy, between knowledge and the impossibility of knowledge, is best expressed by considering the third major genre in the umbrella of Speculative Fiction and why, perhaps subconsciously, it has been placed with the other two. This is because fear is a reaction to both the known and the unknown and thus Horror cannot exist without one of the other two. Thus Horror, roughly speaking, comes in two forms: that dealing with real or soon-to-be real dangers and fears, like serial killers wielding Jigsaws and Aliens, and that dealing with incomprehensible or inexplicable dangers and fears, such as the House of Leaves, Stephen King’s IT, and most things written by H.P. Lovecraft. Or, in other words, the two main forms of Horror are that which falls under the genre of realistic extrapolation (Sci-Fi) and that which falls under the genre of trying to cope with the incomprehensible (Fantasy). Fantasy is looking at Eldritch things humans cannot comprehend (like magic: laws of physics which do not follow physics and appear to be utterly lawless) and finding it within oneself to see beauty as well as Cosmic Horror.

“We find it difficult to conceive of evil and beauty together. The fear of the beautiful fay that ran through the elder ages almost eludes our grasp.” – Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

But this, precisely, is what Fantasy allows us to do. We no longer view magical creatures as a terrifyingly incomprehensible reality, as our ancestors did, but we still find the archetypal Other frightening and difficult to perceive as something which is not terrifying. This is also, perhaps, why Fantasy lends itself so strongly to the notion of Good Vs Evil. This notion allows for both the fear of the Other and the acceptance that some things cannot be understood to be expressed. And that’s a hell of a lot for one genre to (inherently) have to handle. There is no easy way to handle Fantasy because the core of the genre is our deepest unease.

But this is, once again, getting a bit long and I don’t want to rush my last point. So I’ll see, or not see depending on how you liked this, you next time in the (hopefully) final part four: Fantasy IS Fantastic, Thanks, And Is Bloody Difficult to Pull Off.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2016 in On Writing

 

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Scrap Pile 5 – Portraying Phobias

This is another piece I originally wrote for my characterisation advice book (which I finished the first draft of at the start of last month and am now editing – so if anyone wants to complain about or compliment any self-publishing platforms, etc, now’s the time). Ultimately, I decided that the amount of space I would require to flesh this out into something which covered all the bases for considerate discussion was just too much for an already large section of the book. It also, like Scrap Pile 1 – Life Without Smell, felt a bit too personal as a description.

Having a phobia is like living out your days in a horror movie, but one which everyone else is convinced is a comedy in which you play the clown.

Phobias. Those things that people claim to have when they want to get out of something they don’t like having to do, which often gets confused with merely being really scared of something, and which has a long, proud history of terrifying authors so much that they go on to traumatise the rest of the world into sharing that phobia by portraying the thing they are afraid of the way they view it in their works. (For example, J.R.R. Tolkien, who nearly died of a spider bite in his youth, made giant spiders into a nightmarish thing for his readers long before the B movies portraying such things would manage to, and the chilling layer of casual racism in the works of H.P. Lovecraft wouldn’t be nearly as frightening if it hadn’t been based on Lovecraft’s own phobia of everyone who wasn’t a white, antiquarian from Providence or a cat.) But the thing is; for all that authors who have phobias are good at portraying their fear as something that can terrify the audience, most authors who don’t have phobias have difficulty portraying characters that do have phobias. This is problematic for two reasons. Firstly it’s problematic because there is huge potential for drama, plot complications, and horror in correctly portraying a phobic reaction which is otherwise wasted. Secondly; because phobias are genuine anxiety disorders and it is hugely offensive to those suffering from real phobias to portray it (and thus teach the audience to believe) in the typical way seen in pop-culture – that is; something which requires a deep breath or two and a snarky comment about why the obstacle had to be that, then “will power” allowing the so-called phobic character to save the day and, having done that, continue on without any adverse affects.

Phobia does not merely mean being “very scared of”. Phobias are anxiety disorders; they are abnormal fear reactions and can range from the debilitating “cannot function in normal society” to the mild “behavioural coping mechanisms of avoidance and low-level paranoia” and “moderate panic attack” (panic attacks, by the way, are also not just being worried; they are a serious medical problem that has symptoms matching those of a heart attack – with the only major difference being that instead of actually dying you just think you’re going to). Abnormal fear. Abnormal. ABNORMAL. Not every lifelong fear of something is a phobia. You, and your characters, can just be really, really fucking scared of something. And this is an important distinction, because the over-use of the term phobia, caused by misuse in screen and page making it a popular buzzword, results in real suffers being denied the aid and compassion they need. The idea that (heroic) will power can allow a phobic person to overcome their problem during the climatic moments of a story has lead the majority of people to believe that someone having a phobic reaction can simply suppress it (“deal with it later”) or “get over it” and that they ought to “stop being a wimp” about it. That’s disgusting. It’s also extreme cruelty by ignorance, because the key difference between someone who is really, really fucking scared of something and someone who is phobic of something is that the former can suppress their fear and get over it, while the latter can’t. Can’t. Not won’t: can’t. Cannot. Is unable to. Telling a phobic person to “get over it” or “stop being a wimp” is kind of like telling a person with no legs to “get over it” and “stop being a wimp” about being asked to run a marathon without artificial limbs. It’s inappropriate, it’s degrading, and it’s fucking stupid of the person making those unreasonable demands. Also, full disclosure here, I do have a phobia (which I believe qualifies as mild, but I’ve never done an in depth comparative study on the matter).

Now, while I’ve mentioned several of the major reactions, I should specify that there is a fine line (the; can get over yes/no line) between being really, really fucking scared of something and being phobic, and because humanity comes in an infinite variety, the human mind has an infinite variety of ways of fucking itself over and therefore symptoms can come in wildly differing forms – and at different strengths in a person’s life. This means that on some occasions a person may have more or less trouble coping with a phobia or getting over a fear and that, while it is easier to illustrate phobias with examples, no set of examples is going to accurately cover every phobic person’s experience of their problems. With that in consideration: let’s take Arachnophobia as an example, as it’s one of the most common fears and one of the most common phobias.

Scenario: In order to rescue their Love Interests who have been tied up by the Evil Overperson, our brave heroes must cross a room full of spiders.

Hero 1 is an Arachnologist and loves spiders, so has absolutely no problem with this and does his best to not hurt any of them as he passes.

Hero 2 is a completely average and normal person. He takes a few deep breaths to steel himself for this because only someone insane or an arachnologist would not be at least a little afraid of walking through a room full of spiders, and then rescues his love interest.

Hero 3 is really, really fucking scared of spiders. He lets out what he will later deny was a scream at the sight, takes a lot of quick breaths before steeling himself to enter, gets a little sweaty and half-way through a spider gets a bit too close to his face so he gets angry and panics and starts yelling at them to get away while using his torch to set them on fire. He manages to rescue his love interest, but complains that he really needs a shower ASAP because of the spider webs.

Hero 4 is arachnophobic. First he screams at the sight, then begins mentally bargaining with himself (does he really love the love interest that much? Can he find someone else to go in there and rescue his beloved instead? Wouldn’t it be safer to just blow up the room and hope his beloved isn’t too badly scarred …but that’ll fling spiders everywhere no no nononono abort!). By this point Hero 4 is hyperventilating and getting dizzy from the lack of oxygen that causes, he’s crying and shaking, but also sweating, and his entire chest feels tight. He thinks it’s quite possible that he’ll enter the room of evil monsters from hell only to faint in the middle of it and then they’ll eat him or lay their eggs in him or worse crawl all over him, and that just makes him more terrified. Hero 4 covers himself in as many layers of clothing, and if possible a hazmat suit, as he can – once he’s discovered there is absolutely no one around to help him and he’s discovered that screaming at his love interest to free herself isn’t actually going to achieve anything – and attempts to use his torch and some flammable materials to set as many spiders on fire (and, to his horror, sends the rest fleeing in the direction he needs to go) as possible before he has to go in. He has to convince himself to not turn back with every single step and thus a short walk takes three times longer than necessary. He eventually frees his love, only to nearly set her on fire because of a spider crawling on her, and practically runs out of the room full of spiders. Then he strips of all his cloths and starts tugging at his hair, or possibly chopping it off, because even though his beloved assures him that there are no spiders left on him there might be. At this point he actually goes even more to pieces and switches from crying to bawling because room full of spiders. For the next two weeks he mistakes every itch (and he’s constantly itchy), tickling hair, and touch of fabric against his skin for a spider, and claws at himself because of it, and every night he has horrible nightmares about them crawling all over (and inside) of him and his beloved.

Hero 5 suffers from severe/debilitating arachnophobia. He can’t make himself go in to the room full of spiders. He wants to go in and save his love interest more than anything, but he literally cannot make himself do it. He’ll live with the grief and guilt for the rest of his life, but he can’t go in. He spends the next month jumping at every shadow, with his mind’s eye decorating each room he enters with spiders, and every night for months afterward he has nightmares about his love interest being crawled on by spiders and what might have happened to him if he’d gone in.

Now, the reason that the portrayal of phobias in fiction is such a problem is that most heroes are claimed, by their authors, to be Hero 4 (arachnophobic) but they act like Hero 2 (or, in rare cases, like Hero 3). This is also, admittedly, a strange situation given that most people do not have Love Interests who are available to kidnapping from Evil Overpersons who have fully furnished rooms full of spiders for them to adventure through. So let’s take a look at a more every day example.

Scenario: A spider is found crawling along the edge of the wall right before a person goes to bed.

Unafraid of Spiders Person shrugs, checks if it’s the bite-y kind and removes it (possibly barehanded).

Normal Person either gets the vacuum cleaner or a pot, to urge it into, and removes it while going “ugh” and “eeep”.

Really Fucking Scared of Spiders Person shouts, and either removes it (via pot or vacuum) while trying not to shake.

Arachnophobic Person screams for help upon spotting it, keeps a terrified eye on it (so it doesn’t disappear because if it does it could go anywhere) while someone else gets a pot or vacuum, whines with fear as it’s removed and then calls in help to remake their bed, check the floor for spiders, and promise that it’s really definitely gone and spiders don’t come in groups (the response to this, from the arachnophobe, is likely to be “I know that but it could still be here” and “I know they don’t come in groups but they might!”) . The Arachnophobic person will then, approximately ten minutes of unaccepted assurances later, proceed to continue getting ready for bed while worrying that there might be spiders. If the arachnophobe is in possession of a particularly vivid and/or visual imagination, this may be accompanied by “helpful” what if scenarios playing out in their head throughout their nightly routine (i.e. imagining spiders crawling out of or into their mouth while brushing their teeth, feeling every brush of fabric or hair as little legs, imagining spiders somehow turning up in the water that just flowed from the faucet into their hands – which they are about to splash on their face, thus meaning that their eyes are closed and will remain closed until the water-which-can’t-have-a-spider-but-might hits their face – imagining spiders crawling out of their retinas, and imagining spiders crawling onto and into them as they sleep. They check their bed again before climbing into it, then imagine the shadow of large spiders crawling over those parts of their bedding they can only see out of the corner of their eyes for hours until they finally fall asleep.

Severely Arachnophobic Person has a similar response to the mere arachnophobe, only it involves actually turning their entire room upside down looking for non-existent spiders, then applying tape to the places the windows meet their frames and the edges of the door. This process is elongated by the panic attack at the start, which they are unlikely to mistake for a heart attack as they are likely to get them often, and possible further panic attacks along the way as they work themselves up and down from states of frenzy and terror with every new potential hiding place for spiders. Even if they climb into bed at the end of their hour long search, they won’t sleep a wink.

 

If those example reactions of arachnophobes seemed a little crazy to you: congratulations; you’ve grasped the point. They are absurd, insane reactions, because a genuine phobia means a genuinely abnormal and not-sane or reasonable reaction to whatever it is that triggers the fear. Now, as I said, different people will react to their own phobia in different ways, so those examples above definitely won’t apply to every arachnophobe in the world, but they make for a very good comparison between those people who are merely really fucking scared of something (which is nothing to be ashamed of) and those who are suffering from a genuine phobia – an anxiety disorder.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2016 in On L.C. Morgenstern's Work

 

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