Monday, March 9, 2020

Philosophy in Fantasy

I found something to watch with Sophie - The Dragon Prince on NetFlix. She watched it because it has dragons in it, specifically a very cute baby dragon. I watched it because it's a pastiche of every fantasy epic ever - there are direct lines and scenes swiped from Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings (including "One does not simply walk into..."), and a dozen other films. It feels like homage, but I'm worried that when Sophie's generation watches those original sources they'll think they are riffing off of The Dragon Prince.

The film is pretty clearing aimed at kids, keeping the bloodshed to a minimum, the romances to holding hands and kissing, and the logistics to entire armies showing up just when they're needed (especially in a scene that totally riffs off of Sansa showing up at the Battle of the Bastards, which of course itself riffed off of Gandalf showing up at Helm's Deep). Despite that, the jokes were well-delivered, the plot was coherent, and the characters were nuanced. In particular most of the tragedy is shown to stem from bad choices made for good reasons.

At one point, however, the show leaps ahead of all of its peers. The king explains Lady Justice has three aspects: the sword, the scales, and the blindfold. He chooses the blindfold so he can know what justice is, and in doing so expresses John Rawl's Theory of Justice in a paragraph. (For those of you who have forgotten, I essentially credit Rawl's theory as the entire underpinning of all morality).

A little research shows I wasn't the only one who noticed this, and as it turns out the author had taken a class with John Rawls. So now I'm jealous and impressed.

I whole-heartedly recommend the show. Its YA-orientation doesn't put me off like His Dark Materials does, for reasons I can't quite name but probably because TDP knows it's for kids and winks at it. And I welcome this trend of real philosophy showing up on TV. Maybe The Good Place has started something.


  1. I could have used a couple more Game of Thrones episodes (to clear up what happened in Dorne, for instance), but otherwise was very happy with the final season. Antiheroes redeemed, and the surviving good people get what they really wanted. Very affirming.

    The Good Place was so incredibly disappointing in the penultimate episode that I still have not, and will not, watch the final episode. The four protagonists spent so long trying to change the nature of reality, but in the end made the choice for *everyone* to trap our souls in a hedonistic VR game with an escape hatch to oblivion. Such meets my definition of evil, dressed up as good.

    Very disappointing.

  2. I feel the way about GoT that you do about TGP - the last season makes me not want to watch any of the show. My problem is narrative, though; I felt the show departed from its original premise. For instance, Ser Jorah should have died alone and unknown on the battlefield while Daney was doing something else entirely.

    And of course it turns out that nothing mattered. After all the miracles, resurrections, betrayals, prophecies, and mythical beings, Westeros ends up exactly where it started: ruled by a disinterested king who cannot produce an heir while a Lannister runs everything from the shadows. But then, perhaps that was Martin's point.

    TGP was *an* answer to immortality. It's even kind of like the answer I used in SotBL. But I agree with you that the VR part renders everything else moot. How can one glory in achievement if those achievements aren't real? How much fun is a game that is rigged so you always win?

    At the end of my book they still have real problems to solve and real threats to face. They just don't have an arbitrary time limit.

    1. You're probably right on the narrative switch, though I didn't really notice.

      Never again a Night King, and dragons are back, but without a monarch or aristocracy to command them against the hoi polloi. What Dany achieved in Essos will be continued by the unsullied (who cannot have children).

      I believe that one of the important "gifts" George Washington gave the US was not having any descendants. And while Westeros won't easily turn into a republic, there's a very good chance the monarchy will remain electoral, and thus the game of thrones ends for future generations. And large parts of Essos may very well turn into a republic.

      At least this king is both younger than the Lannister, and can literally watch over his shoulder in the present and past.


      Continuity is important to me. I was almost unhappy with your SotBL ending. As a booby prize it's better than nothing, but I'll never stop fighting for life to have control over its universe, and not the other way around. I did appreciate the distinction between your ending and TGP ending.