Though Traveling is an interesting and thought-provoking meme started by Nathan @ Fantasy Review Barn: each week Nathan chooses a topic from The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones and challenges everyone to come up with a list of books featuring that trope. After reading so many fascinating posts, I’ve finally decided to pitch in and join the fun.
This week’s theme revolves around law enforcement.
Seems odd to think that in fantasy cities in which entire economies revolve around crime there is room for the men in blue (or crimson, or whatever). But the law does the best it can, even when faced with magic, mystical creatures, or rogue deities.
The first example that comes to mind is the Thought Police from Orwell’s 1984: they monitor the citizens for potentially disruptive behavior that could affect the strictly enforced discipline that stands at the basis of the totalitarian government of Oceania. Since they are known for widespread surveillance obtained both through technological means and misinformation, the Thought Police is rumored to be able to catch a guilty citizen even as he thinks unacceptable thoughts. Scary!
I’m not sure if Special Circumstances, the strong arm of Iain M. Bank’s Culture, can be considered a real law enforcement agency, since there is no government as such in the utopian, post-scarcity anarchy of the Culture, but still they act as if they believe it. In their understated and underhanded way they manipulate and channel forces that could prove destabilizing to the Culture itself or to its goals, and handle every “dirty job” the situation requires.. Sometimes with mixed or even catastrophic results. If I ever needed an example for the old dilemma about who watches the watchers, Special Circumstances would be at the top of my list…
I’ve recently become aware of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, a mix of steampunk and urban fantasy peopled by the most diverse and outlandish creatures, from werewolves to vampires to ghosts. How are they kept in line? By B.U.R. – the Bureau of Unnatural Registry – that works at the behest of Queen Victoria and keeps a close tally of the preternaturals in the British Kingdom and keeps them in check when necessary. Manned by members of the non-human races, B.U.R. has no qualms about employing harsh means to enforce the co-existence covenant between the preternaturals and the human population.
Could the Nightwatch from GRR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire be considered law enforcement? I think so: they are not involved with day to day management of cities and settlements, but rather police the northernmost border of the realm at the Wall, beyond which lie both huge numbers of Wildlings, always ready to invade and plunder, and the Others – terrifying wraiths who once were human. It’s ironic that most of the Nightwatch’s men are former criminals, sentenced to the Wall as an alternative to the death penalty, but someone might say that to catch a thief you need to employ another one….