Our future: utopia, dystopia and coping with the present
There once was a time when people still believed that politicians were working on building a better future for everybody. Communists, socialists, even the Christian center, they all had a specific idea of what this future might look like. Everybody would be working together peacefully in order to ensure society’s prosperity and happiness. Now that we know that even the most perfect forms of democracy cannot conquer all the problems inevitably linked with human selfishness, that peaceful utopia of a better world has been replaced by what literary scholars call dystopia. A dystopia is the nightmarish further development of all negative tendencies of our time. A utopia with a negative ending, so to speak.
This fear of the future emerged in the last third of the 19th century, at a time when the whole world was divided between different states gaining an ever-tighter grasp on their citizens, while at the same time disappointment prevailed that the Industrial Revolution, despite all the technological progress, had brought no tangible improvement of living conditions for the working class.
The author of the first known and still widely read dystopia is H. G. Wells. His novel “The Time Machine” is about a time traveler who travels from the year 1895 to the distant future. His accounts are to be understood as a warning to the contemporary upper class. “The Time Machine” is a political appeal to recognize the lower class’s hardships. If all the ladies and dandies were to remain as unconcerned as they were, a development might occur, according to Wells, where the Morlocks as symbol of the working lower class would seize power and do as they please with the useless upper class.
Another world-famous dystopia was written by Aldous Huxley. His novel “Brave New World”, published in 1932, deals with the endeavors of the communist and national-socialist systems to create the ideal citizen, who no longer lives for himself, but for the community. Huxley describes a horror scenario in which man is no longer man, but a perfectly functioning cog in the gears of the state. One in which even the upper class, which recognizes and promotes this exploitation of the individual, is convinced of the absolute necessity of deindividualization in order to maintain general peace and happiness.
The last of the three great dystopias that are still widely read today is George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (“1984”). It is the result of complete disillusionment and despair. Orwell describes the fact that all states have in mind their own power, and not their citizen’s well-being; that all politicians pursue the retention of power, and not positive change. “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, published in 1949 after the Second World War, depicts an omnipotent state where the citizen pursuing individuality is forced into conformity with every cruelty necessary.
After that, what is left? All hope is lost. The nightmare has become inevitable.
Modern trauma therapy is convinced that nightmares can be fought off by repeatedly replaying them, turning them into stories and giving them a positive ending. That is precisely what J. R. R. Tolkien does in his “Lord of the Rings”. He creates a counter-image to our world, in which nothing, literally nothing evokes our daily problems. Only the eternal battle of Good against Bad is the same. And it is this battle that the novel’s heroes must fight. Fantasy novels are characterized by having a happy ending, no matter how big and overpowering the creatures that the protagonists must fight. They are a kind of humanity’s self-insurance that, in the end, everything will be fine after all.
Thus, it is no surprise that fantasy nowadays has become one of the most popular literary genres, considerably more popular than science fiction. We’re not talking about modern fairytales with tendencies of escapism. Far from it. Trends like Urban Fantasy address especially women who are actively working and dealing with the difficulties that committed and successful women still face today. Fantasy is in fact not escapism, but a sort of vacation from everyday life; the possibility to see one’s own daily madness in a different context. Fantasy provides meaning to the meaningless, helping us to face life afresh every day.