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Fantasy stories with non-violent conflict

Hi everyone, I'm thinking about writing a fantasy story that doesn't use violent conflict - 'us versus them'. Particularly I'm interested in stories about social and personal transformation, social reform, looking within one's self/society rather than 'there's someone/thing bad that must be stopped, and once they're stopped then its all OK now' and the necessary big bad antagonist. What about collective action, raising everyone up etc.

Does anyone know of any good fantasy or SF novels that don't involve violent conflict as their main story? Stories that are engaging and keep you going. I know Dragonriders of Pern use the man vs nature conflict. Any others??

I have seen many such stories for historical/real life dramatisations - eg Lincoln, Kundun, Into the Wild, Invictus - probably because in real life there isn't that much violent conflict. But it seems that the writers really have to work hard to make them engaging as they can't rely on the action - so they use engaging dialogue, beautiful sets/costumes, wonderful landscapes and music. I'm just wondering where this has been done well in a fantasy setting.


Myth Weaver
I think to have a fantasy story where there is no violence whatsoever is rare. Fantasy is sometimes dominated by the Big Struggle and the Big Bad... grand vistas and grand solutions...
But I think Terry Pratchett does have a few stories where the killing of the bad guy isn't the Hero's route to success. There are often fights along the way and the threat of violence but they are not the point of the story. For me TP is great at the small bad [people thinking they are doing the right thing/just getting along, and that is actually bad for everyone else].
I'd also mention HPL, where often getting out alive to tell the tale is the victory...
I'd love someone to write a fantasy courtroom drama...
I'd love someone to write a fantasy courtroom drama...
Like Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead? ;)
Though there's plenty of conflict and fighting in that, and his legal "action" hearkens back to the roots of trial-by-combat, really.

It's a tricky one. I want to suggest Left Hand of Darkness (though not really fantasy, it's sort of not really sci-fi either) but I can't remember enough about the details to remember if there was violence in the culture clash.


I can think of quite a few, depending on whether you mean stories that really don't have any violence at all or just stories that don't revolve around violent conflict as their main focus.

I think fantasy does tend to involve violence more often than not because fantasy is, generally, supposed to be a high stakes genre and so the conflicts generally tend to come down to life or death conflicts of one kind or another. All the conflict types can easily come to violence. Any time you have two opposing forces, if all other methods of reconciliation have been exhausted and neither side is willing to give way, then it is natural that the sides resort to force and violence. And when you have a "bad" side, they tend to resort to violence first because, let's face it, it's more efficient. There is a degree of realism in all this. Humans are all too often violent by choice.

I myself have often expressed dismay at how many writers of fantasy stories do seem to skip straight to the violence though. I've read enough book descriptions that start off with nations in a state of war to make me sick. Wouldn't it be more interesting to write a story about all the tensions and problems that lead up to the war and the effort to avert the war? Well, I think so, but it seems there are quite a few people out there who disagree.
Thanks guys. Actually when I was writing the second post I had TP in the back of my mind, I have to confess I've read very little of his work despite its rave reviews.

I agree that fantasy is often high stakes (part of its 'epic-ness') and so breaks out into violence. I also wonder if its also rooted in deep seated associations with middle/dark ages history and the violent struggle for land and waves of invasions.

This topic has come up for me because the novel I am writing has a typical big bad style conflict, but its part of a trilogy and by the end the big bad is sidelined and its more about society needing to unite and evolve in order to survive - I guess ultimately its a man vs nature conflict. Looking at the Dragonriders of Pern a lot of the conflict was convincing people that the threat was real and then dealing with the mess when the threat came to pass. In the case of the film Lincoln it was having to understand and then exploit the manifold needs/interests/weaknesses of all the parties whose vote was needed, and do whatever it took to get it done.

The treatment of violence reminds me of the question of sexism and racism etc in fantasy - where is the balance between (1) historical basis in which we root our appreciation of the genre (2) our current social basis which has moved on since then, and where is it going - I guess SF is much more open to this and finally (3) what people find entertaining versus 'nice' but dead boring/saccharine. Violence is exciting. I guess ultimately its up to the writer in what they are moved to write.

Thanks again for the suggestions, any more than come to mind please let me know.
The thinking about fantasy without violence is making me think of Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy... indeed, a lot of his book, actually, involve a warrior character trying to get away from violence, being sick of it, wanting to give it up... and not being allowed to do so. It's a very powerful journey to read.


toujours gai, archie
Theodore Sturgeon.
Ray Bradbury.
Thomas Burnett Swann.
There are others, but that would require thinking, which is not in my contract. Point is: yes.