Monday, October 25, 2010

100 Days of Fantasy: Day 75

This is an ongoing series looking at books that have influenced me as a fantasy author.

The Prince
by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Prince (Bantam Classics)Written in 1513 but not published until 1532, five years after the author's death, The Prince is basically a lengthy letter or treatise from Niccolo Machiavelli to Lorenzo de Medici, one of the higher-ups in the ruling class of the Italian Medici family. Somewhat controversial over the years, even when it was initially published, The Prince outlines qualities and skills and tactics necessary for a leader of nations or states to be successful.

Much of this is about politics, even seemingly modern republican politics, but some of it also has to do with warfare.

Yes, as one might expect, to the modern ear much of this makes for quite dry reading.

But for writers, especially writers of historical fiction or writers of fantasy fiction set with a political back dropping, The Prince is important reading. More important than Machiavelli's ideas are his beliefs and thoughts and philosophy behind those ideas.

In other words, The Prince can be of aid to a writer when working on political plots and political characters, especially in Medieval or similar worlds and times.

For those with an interest in modern politics, there will still be much here of interest. In places, Machiavelli promotes quite harsh measures for a ruler to take, but all with an ends in sight. For example, Machiavelli generally promotes fear over love for a ruler, not that a ruler should go out of his or her way to be feared, but that people will obey the ruler more often than not if the ruler is feared than if the ruler is loved.

Make of this what you will, but it is hardcore politics. It's also political philosophy, which means it doesn't necessarily translate into the real world. Even Machiavelli himself was not a character who went around trying to make everyone afraid of him.

This is important reading for many writers. If you write about politics, real or fictional, you should get your hands on a copy of The Prince. Yes, it's not the most fun reading you're likely to ever have, but the plus side is that at least it will be a short read, and informative.

Up next: Book of the Dead


David Barron said...

I have to agree in every particular, and not just because I'm a political scientist.

However long it takes you to read a mere 100 pages, that time will not be wasted reading The Prince if you ever intend to write a "cunning" character, or a character that falls on the far sides of the Cynicism vs. Idealism range.

Bonus: There was a time when I couldn't wrap my head around Medieval/Renaissance history, but then I read in The Prince (paraphrased): "Don't worry about the Pope, a new one comes around every ten years."

And so I was enlightened.

Charles Gramlich said...

I liked it a lot because of the insight into character it gave. A great study for fiction writers for sure.

Ty Johnston said...

David, you're so right. That one line sums up a lot of the political thinking in the late Medieval, early Renaissance periods. By the time of Napoleon, the papacy was practically a moot point, politically speaking.

Charles, thanks for summing up my whole post in a couple of sentences. ;-)

BTW, I've got ole Niccolo's Art of War in my TBR pile, and looking forward to getting into it.