Genrefuck: Reconstruction

The term “Reconstruction” is a bit tricky to define at times. Whereas a deconstruction is when a trope or genre is brought into the harsh light of reality, a reconstruction is not about bringing it back into the comforting darkness of fiction.

A truly successful deconstruction will, if it becomes well enough known, forever change readers’ perception of a genre. It may become hard to watch a straight example of said genre without thinking about all the questions asked and points raised in the deconstruction. A reconstruction can be seen as a reconciliation between the ‘what if’ nature of fiction and the ‘no, not actually’ nature of reality.

Let me clarify. A common archetype in works of adventure and fantasy is the knight in shining armor. Most of what we imagine when we think about this type of character come from the legends of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table: a knight is honorable, honest, courageous, and loyal. He embodies valor, would lay down his life to uphold his oath, and fights evil wherever he can find it on the back of his steed.

A deconstructive look at this archetype would ask a few probing ‘what if’ questions and apply human weakness to the character: the knight himself may be just, but the lord he is sworn to may be just as bad as his enemies. Perhaps the knight, raised in privilege, has come to expect things he does not deserve. He may take his oath too literally and eschew reason in favor of the vague concept of honor. Perhaps he’s just a slimy bastard who uses his knighthood to get away with all manner of foul deeds. Really, all you need to do is read A Song of Ice and Fire. Every conceivable deconstruction of the knight in shining armor can be found in those books.

When a trope or a genre is reconstructed, the goal is multi-faceted. First, it needs to be understood what readers enjoy about the element in question in the first place. Now, typically, this is an easy process. Comedy makes you laugh, tragedy makes you cry, suspense makes you sweat and horror makes you scream. Next, you have to examine why. Where does this reaction come from? What about the knight in shining armor makes you feel so awed and inspired? There’s no wrong answer to this question, but it’s important to find one. For some, the visual aspect alone is enjoyable enough; the whole armored look is iconic and has been replicated more times than can be counted. For others, it’s a sense of escapism that comes from watching this bold medieval warrior ride off to face dangers unknown, the lady’s favor tied around the hilt of his sword. Others still find something to admire in an individual with the strength of character to devote his entire being to a code of honor.

Next, you must find the problem with the trope laid out by the deconstruction and find a way to fix it without just ignoring it. At the same time, you have to remind the audience what it is they enjoy about this trope. For instance, the knight who serves a corrupt lord may have to make a choice between his oath and his conscience when given an order to raze a village of innocent peasants. In the end, he may choose to abandon his oath if it means going against what’s right, even going as far as defending the village from his former lord’s more morally flexible knights. He decides that it is far better to serve an ideal than a man.

This is what a reconstruction is; a working out of all the problems with a trope or genre while still keeping the original spirit alive. It, like deconstruction, is how we create a more perfect version of reality through fiction.

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