December 19, 2014

Fantasy is fantasy

Connor Gormley, Black Gate:

My point is that fantasy, and all the genres like it, give writers a medium through which they can explore every facet of the human imagination, test the very limits of what we, as human beings, can envision and relate to, what’s within our power to articulate. Fantasy challenges writers to make social commentary and philosophical statements within the most fantastic and diverse circumstances possible. Fantasy has the potential to take its readers to places they could never conceive of, on adventures that transcend comprehension; with this tool, fantasy could become the most beautiful, poetic, and diverse form of escapism we have.

It could be, if we didn’t focus so much on the elves, the dwarves and the dragons, but we do, because we’re idiots.

Fantasy is a genre that has become bogged down with clichés and tropes, archetypes and expectations. Apparently, in order for a novel to qualify as fantasy, there has to be sword fights, magic has to be present, dragons have to turn up at some point, and it absolutely must be set in a pseudo-medieval, sort of European landscape.

Fantasy literature is a weird beast. It definitely carries the weight of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, doubtless not his intentions. The readers want what they’re accustomed to, just as in any other genre, or form of entertainment. Meanwhile, there’s the people who want to be different, who want to stand out and whine about how everything that’s shaped fantasy is basically shit. I find that silly, it’s like saying 70s rock is shit, and needs to be replaced. There’s room for a lot more than we have today, a lot more than fantasy worlds inspired by medieval Europe, but that doesn’t mean that everything pertaining to that style should be obliterated. Nor does it mean that you can scratch out Tolkien’s importance in the genre, no matter how much you want to.

Fantasy literature is constrained only by what you accept to read, and, I guess, in part by what’s published. With self-publishing, you can rest assured there’s quite a lot non-mainstream out there, so if you really want to change things for fantasy readers, do it with your wallet. And if you’ve read some outstanding fantasy, traditional or not, tell me on Twitter. I’d love to spread the word, if it’s good.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.