Ever go to the bookstore and realize that every single book is about shitty problems? Wars, affairs, lust, lies, murder, wars, more wars, betrayal, medical problems, laser guns, cheating husbands, lost loves, weird sex guilt, money problems, and ancient prophesies of destruction? Why the fuck does anyone enjoy reading this crap? If you think about it, novels are horrible, and the novels that aren’t horrible are unreadably boring.
Stories have conflict because we have conflict. Even if the only conflict in your life is that you hate the president of your homeowners association, that is your epic struggle. Lord of the Rings is a metaphor for the struggle against the one true evil, whether you take that to mean the relentless prick who won’t let you paint your house neon blue… or the unconquerable spirit of the demon-knight who crafted the one ring. They are one and the same. Conflict in stories will always be interesting so long as we are burdened with our own conflicts. We like to subconsciously analyze our struggles inside of the picture frame of the characters who struggle, fail, and triumph over dark wizards, cyborg dictators and their planet destroying space stations, or even just that mean, shitty old lady who briefly ran Hogwarts. We want the catharsis of framing problems from a distance, watching them unfold and get resolved (for good or bad), and feeling some sort of bond with the completely fictional characters whom we silently accompany through these imagined trials.
And if you don’t have any problems, you’re probably bored out of your mind and you want to ride around in that little Disneyland boat and watch all the animatronic pirates raise hell and entertain you with their vices. This is one reason why people read horrendous shit about murders, child abuse, destroyed marriages, spies, danger, monsters, and Satanic possession. They enjoy the shock and scintillating safety of careening through the twists and turns of these psychotic roller coasters. Where their own lives are missing these tensions, they supplant with fiction.
So novels are about problems; not because problems are good, but because novels are about the human condition and the human condition is a shit-show of never ending problems.
Sherlock Holmes with no crimes to solve is too terrible to consider. If Moriarty needs to bump off a couple of hapless Brits so that we can be entertained, so be it. The Borg made Star Trek interesting. If Romeo meets Juliet, gets married, has four kids and lives happily ever after, we don’t read it. If Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts, graduates with a B average, gets lucky with Ron’s sister, and goes on to become a responsible father, it wouldn’t have sold a billion copies. We all have a Voldemort in our lives, and we are energized as we live the experience with Harry as he faces his nemesis, kindling within us a new spark to keep toiling in the shadow of our own great fears.
I hate war. I really hate it. It’s horrible and I hate that innocent people die so that politicians can advance whatever two-faced money grab they’ve concocted, but god damn do I enjoy Star Wars. I hate that Porkins had to die, but Porkins’ death was a metaphor for the menace of the Empire, and the Rebel triumph over the Empire is like espresso for the soul. It reminds you to get up every morning, lock s-foils in attack position, and keep making trench runs until a handsome rogue and his walking carpet swoop in and act so heroic that it convinces your sister to stop trying to make out with you and marry him instead.
I think the metaphor got a little tangled up there, but what can I say? Star Wars has a weird plot.
Magnus Von Black is the author of his own horrible book full of horrible things.