The Politics Of Big Fantasy by John C. McDowell (book review).

November 17, 2015 | By | Reply More

If there was one reason alone to buy this book then it would be the cover where Princess Leila Organa is showing muscle and a reminder not to tangle with her. It’s unfortunate, that there is so little focus on her in this book.


Although the title of John C. McDowell’s book is ‘The Politics Of Big Fantasy’, the sub-title ‘The Ideologies Of Star Wars, The Matrix And The Avengers’, the latter being the super-heroes not the British TV series, shows it doesn’t focuses on three realities as much as it should.

In the introduction, McDowell points out that George Lucas wanted to create a modern mythology with ‘Star Wars’. Looking over the past 39 years, I think he kind of succeeded at that. I do think it might be advisable to be well-versed across comicbooks and Science Fiction to get all the references in the opening chapter.

The book is essentially divided into three chapters and a worrying sign that there are 20 pages of chapter notes at the back of the book. Most of these are reference and I have to confess mostly ignored, which also defeats their objective of being read when there are so many in twin columns. From writers’ point of view, it’s used to point out that they have done the research for their books but it also tends, for me, to mean they are relying on the research for opinions than compose their own.

Point in case came to a fore in the opening chapter on ‘The Avengers’ because a lot of the material didn’t focus on the team but switched to the opposition with Batman and Watchmen which would have deserved chapters of their own if he felt that much about them because there was some useful observations. The argument that super-heroes beating the super-villains as a means to keep the status quo is fairly old but these areas have gotten a lot greyer over the years, especially with the growth of the anti-hero who has elements of both and something McDowell misses. There is a lot more on Captain America, whose film must have come out as this was written, than the likes of Iron Man and little on them co-operating as a team.

It’s pretty obvious that McDowell, after his earlier books which I haven’t read so can’t comment on, is more familiar with ‘Star Wars’ but there are still the odd divergents to the other cross-references from the previous chapter and it’s like mixing chalk and cheese because of the generation gaps. Enough to make me think that he was either groping to fulfil a brief than stick to the subject.

Considering his depth of knowledge, McDowell only references George Lucas’ guru, Joseph Campbell, a couple times in the entire piece rather than the latter’s political stance. There is more of an emphasis on Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader and the pairing of Seth Lords than the Empire versus the Rebels. Mind you, how do you discuss the political differences of a Empire dictatorship and Rebels who presumably support a galaxy-wide democracy? Something that did make me think is that considering the Seth ascendency is for the apprentice to kill the master to take over, why would any master select someone capable of being their own murderer? Mind you, it gets rid of any pension deals. It probably prevents too many Force-orientated potential dictators vying for the top position, too. Something that is mentioned but not developed is what happens to Force manipulators who are discovered but are too old to be taken into the Jedi Academy. After all, Anakin only got in by a whisker. Looking up the Net for that particular answer, it seems undeveloped, such folk aren’t seen as a danger. As if lack of training wouldn’t make them formidable.

The final chapter on ‘The Matrix’ deviates quite sharply into ‘Blade Runner’ territory with some interesting observations and briefly explores other films like ‘Dark City’, ‘Twelve Monkeys’, THX 1138’ and the ‘Terminator’ films. Yes, there is an argument for their dark dystopia but they are divided in term of how it was achieved and can’t see much in their political connections, let alone any ideologies.

Objectively, although there is much to give you thought in this book, don’t be persuaded by the sub-title as to the content. If there was a connection between ‘Star Wars’ and ‘The Matrix’, then it would be the underdogs fighting the establishment and yet McDowell ignores this completely.

For me, if you’re going to examine the politics of any reality, then it certainly needs an examination of the opposing sides as to whether they had a point to their rule and why they needed to be taken down. After all, the Empire in ‘Star Wars’ is run by a dictator with powerful military made of single-purpose clones backing him up. With ‘The Matrix’, the subjugation of mankind to running a digital reality by an artificial intelligence which powers its own batteries couldn’t be further from this. Neither point is really addressed in this book and shows more weaknesses than any strengths that might have made reading easier.

GF Willmetts

November 2015

(pub: McFarland. 219 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £35.50 (UK), $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-78647-488-2)

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Category: Books, Scifi

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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