Study Guide

Paul Ricouer Files

Notes on a Fantasy World

Background—For Posterity's Sake

A rude sight greeted me this morning. Stopped in at the local bookstore and strolled over to the shelves that house the philosophy books… only to discover that these rows had been converted into a self-help section. Looked all around the store, and not a philosophy book in sight. Owner said they'd shipped them back to the warehouse.

Took a while to get his attention. Some fantasy novelist—older fellow, big white beard, glasses—was signing books. Dozens of people lined up to see him. Had been hundreds, I hear. I'd only caught the end.

Didn't talk to the author, but now I wish I had. Would have picked his brain. I returned home, resolved to make my mark on the world by a route other than writing philosophy. I'm going to be a fantasy novelist.

This makes sense. I'm always going on about the world before the text; it's high time I make a world with a text!

Initial Considerations

Before I get started, I'd better make sure I'm clear about my own objectives. I want to do good fiction here, not just give my own philosophy a dragon-scale coating. Hmm. Dragon-scale coating. I like that. Be sure to include it somewhere. As I've said before, "The true artist only experiences the motivation which is proper to his art and does not yield to any commands exterior to his art" (source).

True artist? Am I serious about this? Right off the bat, I seem to be yielding to commands exterior to my art: to translate my philosophy into a fictional work. No, that can't be my aim. What's my aim?

To build a convincing fantasy world. Okay, but there are a lot of those. What makes mine unique?

Aha! I'll make a world that is about world-making. And I'll keep myself grounded by taking my ideas where the story takes them, not where my philosophical thought would take them.

Themes, now. I need themes. Best to list them.

Theme One: Situated Freedom
I need to come up with natural processes and social structures that order my fantasy world. Somehow, the peoples in the story will need to be both dependent upon this order and free to some extent to disturb and reorder it. Maybe I'll have some social revolution taking place that underscores the desire to be oneself coming into conflict with the realization that each individual depends upon choices made by others.

Didn't some book called The Hunger Games come out about that? Make a note to look into that later.

What about a linguistic revolution? That could be interesting. A people wish to speak a new language? Or maybe something more modest. The oppression of critical language? Could go in a lot of directions with this one. Note: call Habermas.

Theme Two: The Symbolism of Evil
This one could be fun. I get to come up with my own symbols of evil, but I also need to work them into a convincing evolutionary history of symbolism. Several evolutions, most likely, if I decide to create several races of peoples. It has to be organic.

Theme Three: Creative Metaphors
Maybe as part of the linguistic revolution, I can have the main revolutionaries recognize the power of new metaphors to reveal new ways of thinking. But they lose control. Yes. Need to ponder this. The revolutionaries need to control the metaphors, but they can't prevent them from becoming commonplace and losing their revolutionary power. Nor can they maintain control over the way they're interpreted. This could get messy. In a good way. This is fun. Why haven't I done this before?

Theme Four: Interpretation in the Hermeneutic Circle
My characters can't passively accept what happens in the story. No, I want them to be active interpreters—and yet in disagreement about the meaning of the events in the narrative. I probably should make their interpretation of an event itself a major event in the story. Show how the meaning of that event makes different sense depending on who's interpreting and how much of the whole they understand.

I should do something with the narrator regarding this. Does the narrator know all? Can an all-knowing narrator really know all? Can one narrative exist outside the hermeneutic circle? I suppose anything is possible in fiction, but what do I want to say? This is difficult. Need to think more on this.

Theme Five: Ethics
Fantasy readers today seem to like their shades of gray. I should come up with a set of conflicts in which a character has to choose between responding respectfully to an individual and upholding a moral code, thus making use of practical wisdom. I wonder if I could get away with naming a character Phronesis?

No, that's probably a bit much.