Of course there are some memorable parties to be found in Fantasy and SF literature. The two that immediately come to mind are the birthday party that opens LOTR, and the high tea that opens The Hobbit. Is it significant that both of these involve not only the same author, but the same character? I think so. I also think it’s significant that Bilbo doesn’t plan the party in The Hobbit (it’s Gandalf’s do), but he does plan the one in LOTR. Seems like it might take a little age and experience to organize a big affair.
For the most part parties in literature seem to be limited to pre-WWII novels where omniscient narrators can give us interesting overviews, occasionally zooming in to present important detail. Look at Jane Austen: with or without zombies these people spend a lot of time at balls, dances, tea parties, supper parties and the like. Otherwise, how would the characters, particularly the women, meet one another? Even Cinderella meets the prince at a ball.
A party is also a great way to allow your characters to interact in public, and reveal all kinds of details about themselves that you might otherwise have to take chapters to show. Still, unless you are using an omniscient narrator, a party scene can be deadly both to read and to write. Think of the last big party you attended. If the narrative of the story was told from your point of view only, the reader would get a very limited understanding of what happened.
Do parties have any other narrative use? Do they forward the plot? I’d say they do, but only by what we’ve seen already: introducing characters to the reader and allowing characters to meet each other. By the way, however planned they might be, I don’t think we can include ceremonies in our definition of parties. Maybe the reception, for example, but not the wedding itself.
What about parties in movies and TV?
In Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973) Cardinal Richelieu asks the king to hold a ball. His purpose is to force the queen into admitting that her diamond studs are missing. Since the climax of the film effectively takes place during this ball, it’s a pretty useful narrative device, in terms of characters encountering one another, unforeseen obstacles, and delaying tactics which contribute to the suspense.
The Ewoks have a party at the end of Return of the Jedi (1983), and there’s a big rave in The Matrix Reloaded (2003), but both of these are really celebrations, a particular type of party. And as far as I’m concerned, they’re a waste of the viewers time. Oh sure, it’s been suggested that parties can make for great visuals, but if I’m not learning something about the characters or plot, I’m not interested.
And that brings us to “The Red Wedding” in Game of Thrones, a party that, like the affairs in the Tolkien novels/movies, appears in both print and film form. Though, as I suggested above, it might be more accurate to call this scene “the red reception.” In any case, we certainly can’t say we’re not learning something about the characters and the plot. It’s a great visual too, now that I think about it.
You can’t talk about parties in film without looking at The Party (1968), a classic starring Peter Sellers. This might be the only example of a movie that’s actually about a party. In that sense, there’s no story to tell, or plot to advance. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t narrative. The movie is a satire, so doesn’t require plot, and characters are either archetypal, stereotypical, or allegorical – or combinations there-of. There’s a certain group of people in the world who fall down laughing when they hear the phrase “birdie num-num” and that’s how you can tell they’re fans.
Violette Malan is the author of the Dhulyn and Parno series of sword and sorcery adventures (now available in omnibus editions), as well as the Mirror Lands series of primary world fantasies. As VM Escalada, she writes the Faraman Prophecy series. Book One, Halls of Law, is available in both print and audio. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @VioletteMalan.