Weather often plays an important role in setting the mood of a movie. I mean, how many times have our heroes battled through wind and rain until they finally triumph and the sun comes out? In fantasy, the connection between the environment and the health of the country is even more direct, near blatant. To celebrate Earth Day, I thought we’d take a tour of the environmental woes that plague our fantasy heroes.
Dark Crystal (1982)
With the aid of a helpful narrator, we learn that this parched and cracked landscape used to be beautiful. Sadly, during a power struggle the crystal cracked and a shard was lost, damaging the land. There are pockets of greenery, showing what a beautiful and vibrant ecosystem the place used to have, but for the most part you’re looking at hot and dry. If there’s a clearer example of global warming in fantasy, I don’t know what it is — though I’m sure you’ll tell me. Sure, the catalyst here isn’t greenhouse gases, but the effect is much the same: In an effort to get more power, someone royally screws the entire world.
Problem: Global warming
Solution: Heal the crystal (aka O-Zone)
We talk about global warming, but the phrase “climate change” is equally damning — after all, who likes unseasonably cold weather? The world of Legend is dripping with flowers while sunbeams gild every available surface. It’s so beautiful, you know it can’t last. The Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry) orders the horns cut off the two Unicorns in a secret part of the forest, resulting in an immediate ice age. We’re talking epic amounts of snow here and people literally freezing in their tracks. Sure it can be solved by bathing the Dark Lord in sunlight, but all those blossoms were blighted by the unseasonable cold snap. The movie doesn’t cover what happens to them afterwards, but I’ll bet it ain’t pretty.
Problem: Climate change
Solution: Giant mirrors! What, you think no one’s done this in real life?
This one starts in an idyllic England full of lush greenery. Merlin (Nicol Williamson) intones repeatedly that the “King is the Land”. Does anyone pay attention to him? No, they do not. (People, if you have a magical advisor, listen to him when he intones.) When Guinevere (Cherie Lunghi) and Lancelot (Nicholas Clay) have an affair, Arthur’s (Nigel Terry) heart breaks, thus so does the land. We go from lush greenery to a bleak landscape of dying trees, and famine sets in. To solve this very real problem of crop failure, Sir Percival (Paul Geoffrey) finds the Holy Grail, which Arthur drinks from to heal the land.
Solution: Find the Holy Grail — or in our case, genetically engineered food.
The Lord of the Rings (2001)
Not all of the environmental problems in fantasy are weather based. Take a look at what goes on in The Lord of the Rings: Saruman (Christopher Lee) strips the forest around Isengard, which is bad to begin with since there are sentient trees living there. Then he digs vast mines into the very bowels of the earth to make weapons. He turns the management of the whole affair over to orcs who, shall we say, are not responsible land stewards. To provide power, he dams the Isen because, you know, he wasn’t doing enough damage. Plus! All of those orcs are smelting without filters. Do you know how many toxins they are pumping into the atmosphere? No wonder it’s always night. Seriously, it’s like Saruman has a checklist of bad environmental practices.
Problem: Poor land management
Solution: Break the dam, kill the orcs. In other words: Eviction!
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
As they are off to see the wizard in the Emerald City, Dorothy (Judy Garland) and gang are felled by a seemingly innocuous foe — a field of poppies. This might be the first use of an invasive species in fantasty, but the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) is following a tradition older than kudzu. Want to wipe out your enemies? There’s nothing like introducing a non-native flora species to attack them. Fortunately for Dorothy, Glinda the Good Witch (Billie Burke) of the North has power over micro-climates and smothers the tropical beauties with a snowstorm.
Problem: Invasive foreign plant species
Solution: Magic snow
There are plenty of other environmental disasters in Fantasy. Tell me which ones I missed and for bonus points, how it relates to Earth Day.
Mary Robinette Kowal is the winner of the 2008 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a professional puppeteer. Her first novel Shades of Milk and Honey is being published by Tor in 2010.Read More