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On The Subject of Politics and Characters . . . .

Long Overdue.

So I told John I'd post something here from time to time, and as life has a habit of doing, it went by. Three years?

Anyway, I promise I'll be a little more timely from now on.

As I write this we're facing an election in the US, and at the moment, it looks to be an interesting one. Can the Democrats actually get a nomination without eating their young in the process and can the survivor beat the Republican nominee, John McCain?

American politics is unique in many respects, and for those reading this that want more insight, there are hundreds of good books on the subject, having been written since, well, since about 1789 when the Constitution of the United States was adopted. So I won't bother to turn this into a clinic on "how it gets done," but rather I'll speak to "why would anyone want the job?"


The answer is power. Some observes have opined that there is no more exclusive and power deliberating body on the planet than the U.S. Senate. Fifty men and women who belong to the world's most exclusive club. They get instant tenure, as each term of office is six years. And the terms are staggered so that at any one time, only one third the senators are running for re-election. The House of Representatives, by contrast, stands for re-election every two years, so those boys and girls are constantly looking over their collective shoulders. Five minutes after taking the current oath of office, they're out looking for contributions for their next re-election campaign.

The President of the United States is considered the single most powerful individual in the world. Even if not that, he's probably the most influential. Given recent occupants of the Oval Office, that is not entirely reassuring. However, there are enough checks and balances in our system that we somehow manage to keep from being totally destroyed by ourselves, though we are willing to learn!

So, looking at the American political landscape you can start thinking that only crazy people run for office, and you might be right, but some are crazy in a pretty pro-social way. We've had bona fide millionaires seek public service, like Nelson Rockefeller and John F. Kennedy, simply because they felt the need to give back.

Which brings me to the question of leadership in fantasy.

Leaders often get short shrift in fantasy, unless they are the stars of the story. They can either be "noble sad king," "out of his element king," or "heroic king" or any other number of cardboard clichés.

My first question as a writer is, "Why does he/she want the job?"

Now, when you're born to it, often the question never gets asked, because the subject of the conversation feels as if there's no choice in the matter. Arutha felt duty thrust upon him as a birthright, and never for once questioned it. He was a complex man, but he approached that one key question without thought. He just did it.

His half-brother Martin, on the other hand, agonized about it at the end of Magician. "Why not Martin?" he asked, as the eldest son. But being his father's son he weighed his own desires versus what was best for the Kingdom that his father loved. In the end he made what he saw as the right choice.

Guy du Bas-Tyra, one of my favorite "villains" was a man who simply was driven by vanity, really, but it was vanity grounded in reality, he was a brilliant general and a talented leader. His ambition wasn't personal as much as he didn't see anyone else around who would be better at the job of King. He and Kaspar of Olasko had a lot in common, though Kaspar was certainly a great deal more ambitious.

When writing leaders one must always start with that question, in my opinion. It's a question that will become more critical as I near the end of The Riftwar Cycle.

Copyright Raymond E. Feist 2008
No reproduction without permission


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