Continuing my blog series about hope in the fantastical, today I am delighted to feature a guest post from Ricardo Victoria. Ricardo is the author of the excellent hopepunk series, The Tempest Blades (you can read my review of book 1 here). Here are his thoughts on hope in the fantastical.
When I was a kid, I often wondered why the last thing to come out from Pandora’s box was hope. After a myriad of evils, hope comes up. What can a tiny bird can do in what’s basically a screwed-up world with deities that border on evil?
It’s a question that even today I make myself, with different answers every time. Especially this time as I’m writing this post on hope in the fantastical. Why even write about hope, or even include it as a main component of your books, when the world is going to hell in a handbasket?
I can only think of one answer: because as with the tiny bird, hope is always there, in the back row, on the bottom of the box, waiting to jump off, to be noticed, to be remembered. So someone has to write about it. I kinda touched on this very topic at my blog during the toughest time of the COVID pandemic (so if you want to read about that, here is the link: The Power of Hope).
I’m well aware that one of the modern trends in fantasy is grimdark, this –and apologies for the succinct and probably inaccurate- depiction of morally grey characters barely surviving an uncaring world. Power to those who like it (the farthest I got into grimdark was GoT), and more power to those that have the fortitude to write it. I just can’t. And I tried. My most ‘morally ambiguous’ story ended with no ambiguity, rather more like with the hope of redemption for the character.
So that’s why I latched onto hopepunk, which is kinda the opposite of the aforementioned trend. A common misconception of hopepunk is that everything is sunshine, candies, and happiness. Nah, it’s not like that. Hopepunk is more about finding hope and using it to keep moving, to keep fighting, to keep living, even amidst the direst of circumstances. Paraphrasing the message of the superb third episode of “The Last of Us”, it’s not enough with surviving. You have to live. Which I think is the actual message of hopepunk and of writing hope in your fantasy stories in general.
There is no denying that both in real life and in fantasy stories, things can get dark, very dark, before the light at the end of the tunnel is glimpsed. The main cast of Lord of the Rings, the granddaddy of modern fantasy, is always on the verge of total failure, and yet somehow, the quest gets solved by a series of events that started way back in The Hobbit. Hope is sneaky like that. Like a ninja.
And like a ninja, will always jump at you even when you least expect it. That’s why hope hasn’t gone out and probably will never get out of fashion, at least when it comes to fantasy. Maybe it’s because humans need hope to process real-life struggles as part of trying to remain somewhat functional. Because we have to believe that in real life, as with our favorite characters in fantasy, things can and will get better at the end of the day, and the end of the story. I would even dare to say that having hope is essential for our mental health. This is why we use stories to process trauma, fears, dreams, aspirations, desires. Fantasy is not just about escapism –though it can be part- nor is less “worthy” than “literary fare”. Fantasy is about what can inspire us to keep fighting against the dark forces of our demons, against the pressures of our daily lives. It’s about giving us a chance to believe that things can improve, that maybe, in our small trenches, we can contribute to make a better world, with perhaps something as mundane as smiling at that retail worker that has been enduring rude customers all day.
Fantasy and hope are allies, are companions, are the weapon and shield we take on our dangerous journeys. Are about finding solace when we need it the most. And that’s the importance of hope in fantasy, I believe. Hope is at the end of the day, an inimical part of the human psyche, the root of faith, the fuel of willpower, the foundation of creativity. And that’s why at the end of the day heroes like Superman, like Captain America, the goody two shoes speak more to use even if we don’t actually listen -and are probably the hardest to write because not many writers get them, shock value and cynicism is easier to write and sell than actual hope against all odds-. Thus I tell you, don’t dismiss hope in fantasy as a childish thing. Hope in fantasy is the foundation on which we can build a better world, fight for a better one. Heck, as Pratchett showed us in the Discworld series, hope can even feed the kind of silent, slow-burning righteous rage at the state of the world that makes try to make it right, even if it never will be, because the other alternative is to fell into despair. And if we allow that, then all will be truly lost. As long as hope remains, you can get up for another day and live.
I write hopepunk, yes, in part due to my own mental health circumstances, but also because as much of a cynic as I can be, I want, I need to believe that you can get out of problems, change things somehow if you believe you can (and has served me well). My characters, like those from LOTR, see defeat closer than victory at the most critical moments. Yet they get up and keep going at it, as long as they can draw a breath (and sometimes even when they can’t) because for them the alternative is losing their heart and with it, the world.
And that’s where I believe that the true value of hope in fantasy resides: it’s to keep our metaphorical heart beating so we can keep moving and improve the world, in the measure we can.
So maybe like with Pandora’s box, that hopepunk book you just get when you were looking for something else, was there for a reason. Don’t dismiss it, just read it and form your own opinion, because paraphrasing Walt Whitman: Sometimes, Life doesn’t give you the books you want, it gives you the books you need.
About the author:
Ricardo Victoria is a Mexican writer of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and a mix of all of them. He’s the author of the hopepunk science fantasy series Tempest Blades, of which book 3 will be released on June 13th of this year, by Shadow Dragon Press, an imprint of Artemesia Publishing.
He is one of the co-founders of Inklings Press, a small publisher of thematic anthologies, has written episodes for The Wicked Library podcast, and has been nominated to a Sidewise Awards and two New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. He has written and published over a dozen of short stories.
He also holds a Ph.D. in Design –with an emphasis on sustainability- from Loughborough University, and a love of fiction, board games, comic books, and action figures, especially Ninja Turtles. He lives in Toluca, Mexico with his wife and pet dogs and works as a full-time lecturer and researcher at the local university.–
The Tempest Blades series
To pre-order book 3:
The Magick of Chaos