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Theory of.....Relatability

Updated on July 16, 2017

Frank Herbert's Dune

How often during a conversation involving literature or a particular literary work or even the act of pleasure reading itself will a person hear another say, “I don’t really like to read. I just can’t get into any books.” This is the theory of relatability. With so many literary entities to choose from, especially those that are of the more specific nature such as Shakespeare or science fiction, a person may find it difficult to immerse himself in the plot, characters or even time period. Each type of literary work has its own defining elements, as one can appreciate with the Japanese haiku or the darkness of Poe. The genre of science fiction and fantasy retains certain characteristics that make it science fiction or fantasy or science fiction/fantasy. These most often include advanced technology, a uniquely creative vocabulary, and settings that have yet to exist. This can often be the fundamental reason people just can’t get into it. This is not because laser guns aren’t cool or words have multiple syllables but rather, how can a person relate to this type of entertainment? The essence of a successful science fiction author is not only the ability to draw the reader in and keep him entertained as he should do regardless but also to make his audience relate to his creative genius. This hub will outline a few ways science fiction authors make their work relatable and how they are successful at it.

One of the strangest facets of literature is that it transcends time. Stories, poems and plays are still being enjoyed hundreds and thousands of years later. Although not quite as old as Aristophanes, Frank Herbert’s novel Dune was written in the mid-1960’s and is still leisurely and academically enjoyed today, almost 50 years later. Herbert has achieved the theory of relatability with this work through his intertwining of multiple concepts. Some of the most easily relatable of these are religion, culture and politics. Herbert has brought into his fictional world of Arrakis elements of Islam, communal living and political intrigue, all of which are some of the most opinionated areas of modern society. Rather than create these concepts out of mere imagination, Herbert has incorporated elements of which his audience is already familiar. For example, Herbert has chosen a naming convention for his characters that closely imitates those of Islam, such as Muad’Dib and Feyd-Rautha. Even the environment he creates reflects the modern image of the primary home of Islam, that of a desert community. He has created a society of people, the Fremen, who survive strictly because they live as a single entity where every action is done and decision made to benefit the people as a whole. The reflection of Native American society is apparent with this particular concept. Many people realistically learn about this culture of people almost in childhood. Both of these groups of people retained customs and traditions even in the wake of an oppressive environment and rarely considered the individual over the group.

Ursula Le Guin

Although greener than Herbert, Ursula Le Guin also has mastered the theory of relatabilty with her work The Word for World is Forest. She has made societal attitudes easily grasped for her reader, infusing experiences and situations that mirror real events. Even in the beginning of her novel, Le Guin introduces characters to the reader who are enslaved by another race, the villainous human. The vast differences in cultural attitudes she attributes to both the humans and the oppressed Athsheans may very well be exaggerated but they exist and they have done so for many years. In addition to the concept of slavery, Le Guin has given her characters the personalities and attitudes that abound with cultural clichés that exist in the non-fictional world. Take some of her main characters as examples, CPT Davidson, the machismo military man that has been groomed to truly believe in his superiority over others and Selver, the prophetic leader of the people being subjected to true inequality. Real historical events contain, and even occur, due to people just like the characters Le Guin has created. Everyone knows someone who knows someone that is just like them.

Einstein opened both doors and windows with his theories, allowing ample room for other brilliant minds to expand the notion that risks can be taken with a little creativity and backbone. Herbert and Le Guin are merely pebbles in the pond of science fiction success but they do create far different ripples because they took the chance; they grounded sheer imagination within a world that actually exists. Jane Austen may disagree, but it takes more than a dreamy hero (Mr. Darcy!) and intellectual banter to comprise great literature. Science is the basis of life, right? Well, it just may be the basis of literature, too.


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