Meek Heroes Versus Controlling Villains: Who Will Win?
*This is an essay I wrote while studying abroad for my British Fantasy Literature class.*
I, Shelby Lueders, a true heroine that represents the romantic ideals, promise that these words are truly my own and if proven otherwise, then perhaps I am actually a part of dominating class. Who can tell?
Meek Heroes Versus Controlling Villains: Who Will Win?
“In every age the ruling social or intellectual class tends to project its ideals in some form of romance, where the virtuous heroes and beautiful heroines represent the ideals, and the villains a threat to their ascendency.” Northrop Frye’s quote describes the classic tales of heroism as seen in plenty of stories from all different eras. There is always a hero, or a heroine, whose main objective is to defeat the evil villain, who is probably in the form of royalty. This villain has either removed the hero from his rightful position or is simply terrorizing the society the story takes place in leading our hero to regain the control. In this essay, I aim to compare The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the graphic novel V for Vendetta; focusing on how they fit with Frye’s quote. Evey and V, along with the four siblings, are examples of the heroes and heroines that represent the romantic ideals Frye presents. They are ultimately able to vanquish the villains in their stories because of their extraordinary abilities.
Sigmund Freud’s work is well known for debating the the different class structures he saw in society of his time. In the book The Sociology of Religion: Critical Concepts in Sociology, the author, Malcolm Hamilton, aims to converse with Freud’s work in comparison to religion. He says: “Civilization entails social order and regulation and cannot but impose privations upon us. Also, we impose privations upon one another because in any society some dominate or exercise power over others.” Hamilton here is arguing Freud’s point, found in Freud’s original work The Future of an Illusion, that social order and a dominating class is inevitable a major part of civilization, in fact it is even necessary. Freud states this as a matter of fact, as if it is simple enough to have a dominant entity that is in command of everyone else. Perhaps this is why there are many stories taking place in a dystopian world where a hero or heroine succeeds against this defiant and ever present controlling class.
In another course offered here at Richmond, called Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft, taught by Professor Justin Lorentzen, Freud’s idea of the dominating class structure is also brought up. Lorentzen says: “[The dominating class] becomes [like a] father: feared and revered. [This class] is an illusion, only there to console and comfort,” however the grip that this class has have on the lesser classes is so strong, that the lesser do not necessarily notice that this intellectual and higher social structures are an illusion. Instead, those of the lesser class believe willingly what the dominating class forces at them because they are so swept away by the comforting aspects. Hamilton continues Freud’s argument about the good aspects of a dominating class:
“[The dominating class] provides compensation by presenting a picture of a world order in which everything has meaning, everything fits into place and nothing is arbitrary and accidental. All sins will be punished in the long run. Those who seem to prosper by wrongdoing will receive their punishment in due course. Their actions do not invalidate or undermine the moral order. Without this type of belief, Freud argues, the moral order would break down.”
Freud here is arguing that this dominating class is a controlling religion, however, his argument can be generalized further to fit all ruling social classes as Frye suggests. Freud’s phrasing fits perfectly in a dystopian society where those who are deemed wrong will be punished for their actions, as in the dreamers and non-conformists, and those that stay within the “moral order,” such as the quiet and compliant citizens, will be praised and left alone. The wrongdoers are in fact the dominating class, who should and will be punished by the romantically ideal citizens, the chosen ones who will correct this backwards world. And this theory, though not normally associated with literature, is present in both The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and V for Vendetta.
What better example to represent this quote from Northrop Frye than The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The story begins with the four siblings shipped off to live with an old professor outside of London because of the war (2). Immediately, this can represent the fact that these children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, are the ideal because they have the opportunity to escape and find refuge from the air-raids taking place over London. They must be a part of a higher social and even intellectual class because they have a safe haven to escape to and the professor they are living with has a “very large house with a housekeeper” that is “in the heart of the country, ten miles from the nearest railway station and two miles from the nearest post office” (2). The Professor is clearly a wealthy man and does not need to be bothered with the city life. He too is part of a higher social class, not to mention his name throughout the story is simply “Professor,” suggesting he is an intellectual and has had lengthy education, but also leaves an air of mystery as to how exactly he came about this property and name.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, though a children’s story, features many violent encounters with the even, wrongdoing social class in the form of the White Witch. Neverless, and probably because it is a children’s book, the chosen four overcome this evil woman and become renowned:
And Peter became tall and deep-chested and a great warrior, and he was called King Peter the Magnificent. And Susan grew into a tall and gracious woman with black hair that fell almost to her feet and the kings of the countries beyond the sea began to send ambassadors asking for her hand in marriage. And she was called Susan the Gentle. Edmund was a graver and quieter man than Peter, and great in council and judgment. He was called King Edmund the Just. But as for Lucy, she was always gay and golden-haired, and all princes in those parts desired her to be their Queen, and her own people called her Queen Lucy the Valiant. (140)
After growing up in this different world, the children only become more gracious and represent the ideals that every person should strive to obtain. They have defeated the evil witch, the vicious ruling class that tried to dominate the children. When they return to the real world, they are children again and only a few hours have passed instead of a lifetime. But they will always have Narnia to return to, and they will forever remember their time there. They are ultimately now more confident to battle the everyday and realistic troubles that plague them and their family, thanks to their experience Narnia.
In a backwards way, thanks to the society and experiences that take place in the graphic novel, V for Vendetta, the two main characters are forced to battle their troubles, such as waging war on their oppressive government. The setting is our world’s future, however it is a darker world in a dystopian setting. The government is always watching and over controlling, which can be identified in the many alarms for the residents of this future London, England. This society is an excellent example of Frye’s explanation of ruling class. In this age, the ruling class is the government and all of their henchmen and they are in total control. Their ideals are to be an obedient and law-abiding citizen and most importantly, never to think outside of the box. These ideals are projected to the silenced people by the restricted television and radio programs, the henchmen that stalk the streets in search of troublemakers, and the constant trucks driving with curfew sirens blaring.
The main character, V, is the anti-hero in disguise while the heroine, Evey, represents the ideal courageous woman. She begins the story as an innocent and slightly naive young woman: entering into a desperate state, which can be seen in her facial expression in the mirror reflection as she puts her make-up on, Evey must resort to prostitution in order to keep herself afloat. What she does not expect, when she slips into the night in search of someone willing to be her first customer, is that she will run into a gang of Fingermen, undercover workers of the oppressive government searching for lawbreakers. After being saved by the masked V and in a way, kidnapped by her hero, Evey is forced to become independent, no longer scared of herself, and confident in her actions against the oppressive class.
In a way, Evey both represents and contradicts Frye’s quote. She contradicts because according to the ruling class, which is the oppressive government, she is a villain that is attacking their position of authority, as is V. Because of this, the two face many roadblocks and events that try to discourage their rebellion; the intellectuals are trying to defeat them before they can start an uprising that will penetrate the control the government currently possesses. However, to the oppressed, Evey is the ideal leader that will steer the streets of London out of their darkened states and into a free world. She has accepted the mission to conquer the people who have wronged her city and country; she is now valiant, magnificent, just, and gentle, just like the children from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
These two stories, though subtly, have fantasy theory throughout. Freud, to start, also has his own version of fantasy theory. He defines “phantasy” as being a “psychological term referring to the storehouse of fears, desires, and daydreams stored in the unconscious” and also as “wish fulfillment” as we have discussed in the first part of class. This theory is present in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lucy, the youngest child, is could be wishing for an escape from the turmoil of war that has presented itself to her. Her family has been torn apart and moved to a new and strange location, which is certainly scary for a young child; she is desperate for something to make her feel safe, which comes in the form of Aslan the lion, who helps the children conquer the White Witch ruling over Narnia.
Not only this, but all of Narnia is full of animals acting and communicating as humans. Freud also adds the term “anthropomorphism” to his phantasy theory. This term is defined as something which is not human has been given human attributes. Many characters in this story, such as Aslan, the Faun, the many birds that can communicate and understand humans, are prime examples of anthropomorphism. Obviously, as we have discussed in class, the reader of the story is capable of not accepting what C. S. Lewis tells in his stories. The reader has the power to agree or disagree with the silliness that comes with many fantasy stories, however this is a children’s book and the audience is centered around those that would be interested in talking animals.
Freud’s theory of fantasy being a wish fulfillment also present in V for Vendetta. Clearly the entire city of London, and quite possibly the world, is in need of a desperate change. There is an over-controlling government that is condoning despicable actions such as testing on humans, which is what happened to V, and simply down to the restricted programs and curfews. The people of London, like Evey, are not free and they are yearning for a savior. The story, then, shows the wish fulfillment of Evey and the citizens around her. Their savior comes in the form of a questionable masked man named V, but also in the form of Evey herself, seeing as she continues V’s vengeful legacy after his death.
Not only Freud, but Tzvetan Todorov’s fantasy theory can be applied to V for Vendetta. His theory teeters between the real world and the supernatural. As described before, V for Vendetta is a dystopian graphic novel, but there are no obvious evidence of the story being a supernatural story. There are no talking animals or secret wardrobes that lead to different worlds, in fact the setting is very plausible as a future of our own. However, the only subtle supernatural quality that is evident is V’s immense strength. According to the back story, V was a human test subject by some insanely cruel doctors and a regime implemented by the government to “help.” V now has inhuman strength and speed, which is shown in his abilities to jump from different buildings and how he can defeat many men at one time. The reader does not know exactly what happened behind the closed doors of the Larkhill science facility that tested on V and many others, but one can use Todorov’s theory here to explain V’s abilities. Alan Moore, the author of V for Vendetta, makes V’s strength and strange abilities seem subtle enough that it too becomes plausible like the environment around the characters, just as Todorov explains.
So what does a pleasant children’s story and a violent graphic novel have in common? A shared theme of meek heros triumphing over the wicked villains that control the world from all angles. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe features four siblings winning the battle against a scary witch and an eternal winter with the help of animal friends and each other. V for Vendetta presents the dirtier characters of V and Evey of the very lower class being oppressed by their malicious government. With the help of each other, they take down those in charge and restore the natural social order. These two stories can be used when discussing Frye’s original quote of: “In every age the ruling social or intellectual class tends to project its ideals in some form of romance, where the virtuous heroes and beautiful heroines represent the ideals, and the villains a threat to their ascendency.” These are simply two stories of hundreds that can be examples of what Frye is explaining in her quote. There will always be a need for heroism stories, for they are what inspire the children and adults alike to conquer their fears and make their own wishes and dreams come true.
Hamilton, Malcolm. The Sociology of Religion: Critical Concepts in Sociology. London: Routledge, 2007. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005. Print.
Lorentzen, Justin. Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft. Lecture date: 18 February 2015. Topic: Freud and Religion
Mackley, John. British Fantasy Literature. Lecture Date: 15 January 2015. Topic: Fantasy Theorists.
Moore, Alan. V for Vendetta. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2005. Print.