While we eagerly await the next installment of Game of Thrones, it's worth asking — why do there have to be thrones in the first place? Over at Pyr Books' Pyr-A-Zine, there's a great interview with James Enge, author of the new book A Guile of Dragons, who addresses the burning question: Why do so many epic fantasy novels take place in monarchies and places with hereditary rulers? Where are all the representative democracies?
Here's Enge's answer:
There's a complaint about imaginary-world fantasy which is partly valid and partly nonsense. The complaint runs something like this: Always with the kings, and the dukes, and the princesses. Where's the pluralistic democracy? Do you fantasy people HATE FREEDOM?
Personally, I love political freedom so much that someday I'm going to buy some for myself. But the issue of why there are so many non-democracies in fantasy is complicated. Most people who have ever lived did not experience the joys and sorrows of living in a democratic state. Are their stories not worth telling? Then there's the question of what the monarchies in these stories actually represent. Frequently they seem to be fantasies (in both the literary and psychological sense) of the Freudian "family romance", the journey a person takes from dependency to autonomous adulthood. A democracy may not be a proper symbol for that emotional material, because personal autonomy is not subject to someone else's check or veto. So it's not like being the leader of a free state; it is actually more like being a monarch, with other autonomous people being like the independent monarchs of neighboring realms.
But fantasies would no doubt be better if they had a richer political ecology. We wouldn't get so many chosen ones who were prophesied in the beforetime to do all that stuff that chosen ones always do.