Welcome back Jodhan Ford, who continues the discussion on sword fights and epic battles!
Why do we like fighting scenes and battles and why are they so captivating… that may be beyond the scope of this writer since my understanding of human nature is limited to my understanding of me, I will try and muddle through? Since I see in others a similar enjoyment of action and battle, I will assume (even if this is hubris on my part), that what enthralls me, takes my breath away, and excites others in regards to this theme carry over too many of you.
Why do we like excitement, and adventure or for some of us, being scared? Many people do not enjoy scary or suspenseful movies, but most of those same people will willingly subject themselves to insanely wild roller-coaster rides. Fear, adrenaline and danger catch all of us somewhere.
Sword fighting and battles appeal to our more carnal instincts, instincts that have no place in modern society but instincts with roots in our past. Most of us thrilled to tales a child, Like the Lion, the witch, and the wardrobe, or the Hobbit, the Belgariad. There is something innate in us that wishes to right wrongs and fight injustice, or just to express frustration in what vexes in our lives and we can vent those inner feelings through what we read. Read in paints a visual in our minds that allow us to walk in the Protagonist’s shoes, and to share those feelings of excitement and daring-do!
Fighting epitomizes the struggle and adds a physical element to overcoming the adversary and trials we go through, but allows us to imagine those victories without resorting to using real swords! Unless of course you have a driving need to run through the streets with a sword and fight your imagined villains… if that is you, please stop reading this article and pick up a self-help book… Still with me? Good.
I enjoy scary movies and the thrill that comes over me as I watch with gleeful fascination, dread and suspense as animalistic xenomorphs or diabolic villains are about to pounce; my wife does not. While I enjoy action driven movies with flashing swords or frantic blaster battles, the wife is less enthusiastic. That is not to saw she doesn’t enjoy those things but we enjoy them on different levels. I am okay with low levels of blood and gore, she is not. I can enjoy the suspense of romantic possibilities in books and movies, but my wife enjoys them more than I do. Take the movie Kate and Leopold (a favorite of mine), the suspense of whether or not Kate will make the fated decision to run after Leopold and get to the rapidly closing time hole to his era gets my blood pumping. But at the same time, I can get just as excited or more so, with The Lord of the Rings and the last stand of King Aragorn and his companions in the last battle before the gates of Mordor, a desperate sacrifice to give Frodo time to destroy the one ring. I am getting goosebumps just writing about it!
I think at bottom we all want to be the hero. Maybe we want to save the world, like Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich in the fifth element. Or win someone’s heart and get the girl/guy like Simon Pegg and Nancy Bell in Man Up.
Emotion drives what we want and what we enjoy. To win the day in adventure themed stories, violence is either the method chosen or forced on the Protagonist. And putting a sword in your hand makes it visceral, up close and physical. We may not have actually held a sword, but we have swung a pat, and we have all wanted to bend someone’s nose at some point in our lives.
In the Belgariad, the young unassuming farm boy Garion is destined to battle the evil god Torak. He has two choices, begin a world war and kill hundreds of thousands of people or dual the god to the death. He is deathly afraid of fighting a millennia old diabolic god. But he only has two choices. We get drawn into his plight and ultimately want him to overcome his fear and fight the god! When he wins we cheer… likely quietly as I have learned that making sounds based on what is happening in a book can be very embarrassing when traveling on public transportation.
Or, in the book, the Princess Bride. A story about Buttercup, a young woman, and her true love, Westley. Westley must find his true love who has been captured by the nefarious Prince Humperdinck. Wesley is forced to battle many evils, villains, and dangers to save her. We want the hero to win and the villains to fail. Love is a universal need, and we can empathize and get wrapped up in this tale of love and adventure and the desire to win back the girl.
In Star Wars, the character Luke (played by Mark Hamill) wanted to join the rebellion, to fight, and later he desired to be a Jedi. In The Patriot, Benjamin Martin (played by Mel Gibson) is driven to lead a militia when a British officer murders his son. What drags us kicking and screaming in the patriot is different than the enthralling tale of Luke Skywalker’s’ destiny to fight his father to bring about a balance between good and evil in the galaxy.
Battles and fighting make things exciting! I have seen my normally peaceful and noncombative wife and daughters, be the ones to yell out and swing their fists in an imitation of something they were watching a movie or reading in a book.
Don’t believe me, that people can have a physical outburst of emotion to drama! Watch someone who is watching a football game who is a fan of one of the teams playing, then come back and tell we how we don’t do that sort of thing.
The trouble with writing action and fighting in literature is the ‘too much or too little’ problem. If the writer bogs down the narrative with too much detail, then we risk offending sensibilities or boring the reader with a play by play overly detailed description. If we abandon and or remove all but the minimalistic details, then we may lose the reader’s empathy with the protagonists struggles.
Fighting and battles scenes also need to be balanced with genre and theme. My novel, To Kill a King, for example, is a war driven story and therefore has lots of sword fighting and battles, which allows me some liberty in giving more detail and flair to writing those types of scenes. Other stories put the fighting and battles as secondary and tertiary to what drives the story. These stories likely will focus less on detail and the high drama of swordplay, but can include the drama regardless even if they make it less detail or make the scene short.
Deep down I believe we all crave adventure, whether it a hike through the mountains, Travel through Europe for a summer vacation, or working with street kids outreach. We want to be a part of something, to make our mark. Sword fighting and battles appeal to us, even if we don’t share a desire for that particular form of struggle, we can empathize and ‘externalize’ through sword fighting and battles as we read along, we escape to adventure.
Jodhan Ford is a husband of one, a father to five, an author of numerous unpublished works, an amateur Historian, and Theologian. Jodhan is a Canadian with literary asylum in the United States. He studied creative writing at Concordia University, Montreal. He owes his love of books to his mother, who kept reading book after book after book to him until she read the Hobbit; after that, she gave up reading and handed over The Fellowship of the Ring at age ten and told her son to read for himself. His current whereabouts are undisclosed due to the writer’s protection program.
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