If there’s something I’ve learned from reading fantasy and sci-fi books throughout my life, it’s that feudalism is cool. The concept of the noble house is quite popular in these genres, though the plots of some of these books place more significance on the system than others. One story may speak of the complex relationships and conflict between several houses, while another might just use them as a backdrop for the feudalistic atmosphere. Others just use them to signify the dichotomy of the good guys (a good house that prescribes to honest morals) and the bad guys (a bad house that loves deceit, greed and treachery).
The Hawk of House Atreides
Feudal societies are fun in books because they create fictional communities for readers to easily identify with, because they have a visual and descriptive personality. Take House Atreides of Frank Herbert’s Dune saga for example. The crest of the hawk is immediately recognizable, and thus you’re likely to immediately associate the colors and insignia of Atreides in your mind when their name is spoken in the books. Atreides is the “protagonist” house of Dune, while the clear “antagonist” house is that of their archrival, Harkonnen. It’s easily seen, at least in the first Dune novel (I haven’t read the others), that the Atreides’ are the good guys and Harkonnens the bad guys, since Duke Leto of Atreides is an honest man and Baron Vladimir of Harkonnen is a conspicuous dickhead. The black and white nature of the houses in no way harms the narrative however, because the story is a lot more than just the rivalry between these two houses.
The Direwolf Insignia of House Stark
House Stark, and the other noble houses of Westeros in the A Song of Ice and Fire series is a little different. Though the Starks, similar to the Atreides, are a very prominent house in their series of novels, it’s harder to describe them as a “protagonist” house because, even though they’re a house of honorable people, they hail from a narrative that acknowledges the conflicts and relationships between noble houses as grey entities, neither good nor bad. The Starks’ “rival” house is house Lannister, though it’s hard to think of them as rivals because though their relationship is prominent in A Game of Thrones, the narrative makes clear that they are but two large houses of many, and that they both have the ambitions of those other houses like the Tyrells and Greyjoys to worry about in addition to each other. A large number of other houses also exist in the universe of Dune, but the Atreides and Harkonnens are largely the only ones we have to think about. The story of these novels, unlike Dune, sustains itself on the activities of its noble houses.
The Snake of Slytherin
The student houses of Hogwarts in Harry Potter aren’t really noble, but they indicate a sort of feudal society, or at least an homage of feudal society. Like the dichotomy of House Atreides and House Harkonnen, the rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin is, on the surface, black and white. And, similar to A Song of Ice and Fire, we learn that each house has its share of nice guys and meanies. However, the houses in Harry Potter are more of a backdrop to the larger conflict between Harry and Lord Voldemort. The houses provide that identifiable visual community identity all the same though, because they help us feel part of a group yet individual at the same time.
atreides image credit: http://www.wikipedia.com
stark image credit: http://www.gameofthrones.wikia.com
slytherin image credit: http://www.wikihow.com