Themes in Fiction #19 – Change Vs Tradition

Picture by Pjan Vandaele

Picture by Pjan Vandaele

“Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course.” ~ Lemony Snicket


Change isn’t easy for anyone. We like being in a routine, we like knowing what we’re doing, and we like the comfort of tradition and ‘rules.’ But tradition isn’t always the right thing. Terrible things have been allowed to occur for the sake of keeping things the same. And clinging on to tradition is a great way of preventing evolution and progression. But to dismiss tradition entirely is to lose cultural inheritance and the richness that can bring. Finding a happy medium between the two is often the source of a good story.


how-to-train-your-dragon-poster-1How to Train Your Dragon (books by Cressida Cowell)

I’m talking more films here than books, as the first film takes a lot of elements from the book, apart from the whole ‘we hate the dragons’ thing, which, if I remember correctly, isn’t really in the books.

Apart from being a fantastic film, this is a great example of the tradition vs change theme. The vikings are set in their ways, even though it results in a lot of hardships for them – ongoing war with the dragons, leading to a loss of life and limb. It takes the viewpoint of a child to effect change, as is often the way with this sort of story. Hiccup has the ability to look beyond the fear and the history of hatred that is traditional amongst the Vikings and through his change in attitude, everyone in the village is changed. For the better. Once the dragons are accepted, not only is life better because they aren’t fighting anymore – they also have awesome dragon companions to make things much more interesting.

daughter of smoke and boneDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Angels and Chimera have been trying to kill each other for generations in the magical world Taylor creates in her fabulous Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. Trapped in an endless cycle of revenge, the two factions have both committed atrocities and both gone to great lengths to preserve their species. There is no right and wrong, and most of the armies on both sides are too entrenched in the traditions of war to see that.

One Angel and one Chimera dream of changing that, of wiping both slates clean and starting afresh in a world where peace is possible. And they suffer greatly for having this vision of change. I’ve not read the last book yet, so I don’t know the final outcome, but the end of the second book left things in a very interesting place, where the vision of that world had the potential to come about. But I imagine a few spanners are yet to be thrown into the works before any sort of happy ending will be achieved!

Change for the Worse?

In change vs tradition stories, change is usually always the right option. People stuck with their traditions suffer, while those who have the vision for change are usually our heroes. It makes sense. A story isn’t interesting without a dynamic character at the fore, and someone who is pushing for radical change will certainly be dynamic. But change isn’t always for the better in every way. For example, in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, tradition is the way of life that we all know. It has to be cast off in the name of survival. This turns the characters into suspicious, cruel and violent individuals. But Rick, the leader of the group, is absolutely right to say that it’s what they have to do. Their traditions of morality and other human principles are what is going to get them killed. It’s a new world out there, and only those who are prepared to make changes for the worse are going to survive.


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