From Westeros to Middle-earth: How Autumn Shows Building Worlds and Bridges

Big-budget sci-fi and fantasy offerings will dominate small screens in the months ahead. While the shows offer some escapism, it’s hard to avoid drawing parallels between their world-building tales and modern day issues.

Whether it’s Elves versus Dwarves in Middle-earth (Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” which premieres September 1) or rival Houses vying for power in Westeros (prequel from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” “House of the Dragon,” premiering Aug. 21), these tales often reflect real-world tribalism.

Why we wrote this

Science fiction and fantasy programs now abound. What new perspectives do they offer on conflict and cooperation?

It is an acknowledgment that an “us versus them” instinct has assailed humanity since, well, forever. Yet these adventures also offer timeless ideals. Archetypal heroes exemplify leadership qualities that can improve polarization and develop unity and cooperation.

Those who study conflict resolution have observed that when individuals from competing camps come together to solve a common problem, it helps create a new shared identity. Bradley Birzer, author of “JRR Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth”, says of the author of “The Lord of the Rings”, “[He’s] really explore two different aspects of humanity. It tries to explore what our individual selves are and what we can do heroically as individuals. But he also tries to adapt that to the other side, and it’s our desire to be part of the community in some way.

In 2022, bigger-budget shows on the small screen are engaging in what’s been called “world-building.”

These sci-fi and fantasy programs are escapist entertainment, but only up to a point. It’s hard to avoid drawing parallels between world-building narratives and today’s issues.

Whether it’s Elves versus Dwarves in Middle-earth (Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” which premieres September 1, rated TV-14), rival Houses vie for power in Westeros (HBO’s “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon,” premiering August 21, rated TV-MA), or the United Federation of Planets’ racist attitude toward Romulans (“Star Trek: Picard” from Paramount+, final season slated for 2023), these stories often reflect real-world tribalism.

Why we wrote this

Science fiction and fantasy programs now abound. What new perspectives do they offer on conflict and cooperation?

It is an acknowledgment that an “us versus them” instinct has assailed humanity since, well, forever. Yet these adventures also offer timeless ideals. Archetypal heroes exemplify leadership qualities that can improve polarization and develop unity and cooperation.

“When you’re telling stories, the mandate is to find something where there’s some tension,” says Daniel Abraham, co-author of “The Expanse” novels that were adapted into a recent Amazon series (for 16-year-olds). and more). “What epic fantasy and science fiction lend themselves to on this kind of scale is that there’s a scale to the stories. They’re well-built to tell stories about the clashes between cultures and the Nations.

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