Inside Idasia: Politics, Part 1

English: Castle at Tamariz Beach in Estoril, P...

Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

At the center of any good nation is the drama, grandeur, and chaos we call politics. It transcends governmental boundaries. Many of us today have experienced the nonsense and bureaucratic nightmare of what we call democracy in action, but the intricacies of the political shadows have stretched long over monarchies, empires, and theocracies as well, hounding us since the moment first laid down roots and declared: this is how we shall live.

Politics, as central to the human experience, is also key, I believe, to any developed world. So many plot hooks, twists and turns, and dramatic pirouettes of story can come when politics factors into the scene. It sets up new hurdles for adventures, roadblocks for characters, and enemies of the sort that might not be all evil—in fact, they might even think their opposition to what the reader sees as “good” is in turn “good” for what they hope to achieve.

Intricacy. It’s always good to have layers.

Such is the case with the nation of Idasia, in my own little novel world.

Today, we’re talking the empire itself, as well as some of the larger players and wheels of the scene—I’ll discuss more of the greater structure in later posts…

English: Henry (V) the Elder of Brunswick, Cou...

Oil painting by Johann Christian Ludwig Tunica. Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

Idasia, lying at the core of the continent Marindis, is often referred to as the Heartland Empire. While its presence tends to be overshadowed in the modern era by the threat of the continental Zuti empire to the southwest, it remains (and continues to grow as) a political and territorial powerhouse, constantly roving its neighbors’ borders. In certain circles, it is believed to be the “Third Empire,” which is to say, the third incarnation of Vata’Marindis, which the continent’s histories point to as the flower of human culture, if real. Though the royal family that could once trace its lineage back as far has since met with unfortunate ends (those pesky civil wars), the nation continues to cultivate that image.

But what makes Idasia truly unique in terms of politics is the nature of its imperial status. Though the Emperor wields utter political power over the state-at-large, the barest shreds of a republic can be seen lurking in the shadows of his death. Seven men, in a hereditary grant, are given the sole authority to choose the emperor. Known as the Altengarde, or the electors’ council, these men have the right to deny the passing Emperor’s own choice in a successor…though tradition does tend to dictate the title stay within the hereditary royal family.

It does, however, leave the door open for evading some truly nasty individuals…or at least the ones that don’t know how to play the game right and proper.

Custom dictates the Altengarde consists of the Dukes of Dexet, Wassein, and Sorbia, as well as the Count Palatines of Usteroy, Berundy, Fritensia, and Varstein—all imperial provinces in their own right. While the Dukes are essentially second only to the royal family itself in power, years ago the rank of Count Palatine was established in the noble hierarchy to give the royal family a greater ability to balance out that power. The palatines, as such, are answerable solely to the crown, and theoretically act in their interest, whereas all other nobles answer to imperial, as well as Ducal decree depending on where their particular realms lie.

The council itself was established to “thin the blood,” as it were, and evade the uncertainty that comes with traditional passage of power to the eldest son. The hope has always been that they would pick the best man for the job.

Sometimes it’s even true.

Reconciling the Fantastic and the Literary

Centuries ago, as it is said, man looked at the world around him, and wondered. The why of existence captivated him, and so did its purpose. The result? He made up stories to explain it. Gave new reasons to old sights.

Then came science, reason, cultural and sociological evolution. Logic worked its way into mankind, and the world became less mysterious—its wonders suddenly had explanations, purposes that didn’t end in men hurling lightning bolts from the clouds (though I think that old way’s better. Cooler, at the least). Mankind grew up. What’s more, in growing up, it struggled to capture pieces of the world around it, and put less and less stock in notion of fancy. That realm, they left to children.

An iconic image for us all, to be sure...

No one can deny it fits nicely into the child’s realm. Such fantasy, such imagination—it cultivates and reorganizes the child’s dreams, the way they interact with the reality around them. Sounds good, right? Nice and simple? Yet the funny part is, as much as the world has tried to turn its back on all things fantastic, the fact is, children aren’t the only ones mired in imagination. Though man has grown up, fantasy still has a key place in the psyche—it is engrained in the cultural fault lines of our society, though the form may change in time.

Fantasy captures and captivates that part of us that longs for an escape from the reasonable, from the knowledgeable details of everyday life. If allows us to ask the great “what-ifs,” and break the boundaries the universe itself has deigned to slap on our weary bones. We enjoy the limitless complexity. Reality remains, in truth, a place contrary to our desires of self-importance. It has this habit of beating us down for thinking as such. Yet in fantasy, we meet characters who truly are important—who are key to the salvation of people, worlds, even universes, and we lose ourselves in them. It gives us a glimpse of grounding, and focus, that many of us will never know.

Yes, that’s right, I said fantasy grounds. It may let us fly to the boundless ends of the universe, but by god, it grounds us in questions.

Fellow fantasy author R. Scott Bakker once wrote that epic fantasy “possesses tremendous social and cultural significance, recording, at almost every turn, the antagonism between modernity and the human soul.” I don’t doubt it. In fact, I embrace that view. Many of us long for something different, an escape from the crushing reality of the modern world. We know our history, and to an extent, we know our future. Yet we can dream. We like to posit new possibilities, however unlikely. We love to dream up all the ways things could be different, even if we know they can’t, because it helps us cope.

But wait! Surely I’ve just provided ample reasoning and evidence for critics’ often uttered denunciation of this genre as mere escapism. Not so, dear fellows. This isn’t myth. These aren’t the old legends our ancestors told themselves to help the world make sense. We know fantasy fiction is just that—fiction. Hell, it’s more fictional than fiction. Fiction takes place in our own cities, our own homes. Fantasy takes place in realms and lands that never could have been.

One of Bakker's gems.

What’s more, it helps us to understand our world, and our relation to it. Yes, I’ll say it again—fantasy helps us to understand reality. By seeing what could not be, we are given insight into our own world. We look at it and begin to decipher just why it would not work, fascinating as it may be. We think of the logic behind magic, for example, how it works in the framework of the presented world, and inevitably find ourselves reclining on the thought of why it doesn’t work in our own.

Too often, I’ve heard people claim that fantasy offers nothing to the world. It’s simply not true. It helps us think. It broadens the mind beyond boundaries modernity ingrains into us. In a way, it sets us free.

…though I must admit, the world would be so much more exciting if we did have a touch of magic to brighten up the day. Make that noisy neighbor a newt for an hour or two? Yes, please.

Why, that’s probably why the genre sells so well. Crafty devils, we.