You’re going to hate this. And me for writing it.
Why do I read fantasy in the first place?
Because you suck!
That’s only part of the reason.
Very early on in life, I realised I enjoyed escaping to other worlds; spending time in places where the laws of science don’t have to apply, where anything can happen, where heroes fight and sacrifice for things greater than themselves, where good triumphs over evil.
The best way to do that was to escape into fantasy; fantasy novels, and sci-fi movies and TV shows. (I’d also read sci-fi and watch fantasy, but as a rule I enjoy fantasy more, and there was a dearth of good screen fantasy at the time. The effect was, I mostly read fantasy and watched sci-fi.)
What do I like / dislike? What do I look for / dislook for?
I get my kicks from science fiction.
I learned early on that I love going out of this world into a world of spectacle and wonder. I loved spending time with good characters (in both senses of ‘good’), who I can relate to and like.
Right, I’m calling the men in the white truck. You can’t go to those places, you can’t do those things. Hello?
This talk is semi-metaphorical; I’m not saying I actually physically leave this world and go into another. I’m talking dreams. If you can’t understand that, stop reading now. This essay isn’t for you.
I want stories that are fun.
I love good-natured stories, worlds where I actually want to imagine myself in the heroes’ places – or better yet, befriending them, fighting for justice alongside them.
I want to see heroes fight against the odds and defeat the villains. I want to see heroes and villains, and I want to be able to know the difference.
I love spending time in a better world than this one. One where I’m not bound by the rules of science, where dragons fly, unicorns run, and elves hold sway.
What I dislike is bleak, morose stories. Stories that depress me or bury me with too much cynicism. Stories about nasty people doing nasty things to other nasty people. A bunch of yelling and screaming. No background music (that one mostly applies to movies). Too much realism – why mire me down in an utterly real world when I can be free to fly? That’s the beauty of fiction; it should free you from worldly constraints, not tie you up in them.
Science and politics are fine as background, and can even make the story better. As background.
If they’re in the foreground, if they’re all that the story is about, I’m not interested. If I want politics, I’ll read a newspaper. If I want science, I’ll read a textbook.
I don’t like it when their ‘rules’ take over, and become the whole focus. Yawn.
No, it’s more interesting if you obey the scientific laws. Like, if there’s a spaceship travelling between stars and you allow for the fact that it will take hundreds of years to go between them…
No. That can make for an interesting story, but not to me. Well, rarely to me; there are no hard-and-fast rules here. In fact, what I demand is a total absence of absolute facts!
However, insisting that every story in the world follow current scientific thinking to the letter is dry, literalist, and boring.
Well, I’m not trying to be a noveli—
Then, came the war:
Maybe I’m alone in this--
You’re alone in this.
*cough* Maybe I’m alone in this, (I kinda doubt it), but I’ve always felt like I’m on the front lines of a cold war: between literary fiction and imaginative fiction.
(I know that term ‘imaginative fiction’ unfairly implies that literary fiction is unimaginative; but their term implies that ours is unliterary. So I don’t care. This is revenge, not justice.)
‘War’? Really? Pretentious, much?
It’s metaphorical. I’m talking about writing; specifically, fantasy writing. Writers give the truth scope.
I’m sorry if you can’t understand metaphor, and take everything literally, but if you really can’t, you probably shouldn’t be reading fantasy. Or this essay.
Anyway, it was obvious early on that I was in an us-vs.-them situation; imaginative fiction readers vs. literary fiction readers. They keep telling us that their fiction has merit, and ours does not.
Imaginative fiction can’t talk about real world issues, and lit fiction can! Hah!
On the contrary: imaginative fiction is free to do anything literary fiction can do; but the reverse is not true. And imaginative fiction is more likely to make real-world discussions palatable by adding a layer of symbolism.
Meanwhile, the drama-lovers seem to keep telling me that morose and depressing stories are good; sometimes it seems like they think stories have to be morose and depressing to be good. They may not say that, but so many of the stories they say are ‘great’ are morose and depressing that it ends up feeling that way.
I don’t want bleak and depressing in my fiction. I have real life for that. In fact, that’s what I read fiction to escape.
The lit-fic types talk down about fantasy, calling it silly or light, or unrealistic.
Maybe; but silly and light are not synonyms for bad. Dark and bleak are not synonyms for realistic. Humourless and unemotional are not synonyms for realistic. Realistic is not a synonym for good. Good is not a synonym for semprini.
I would rather read something silly and light and fun than morose, bleak, and depressing.
Why don’t you watch something like Sucker Punch, then?
Ah, now we get into style vs. substance. To really explore that would be a topic for a different post, but for now I’ll just say this: I don’t like things that are all substance and no style, but I don’t like things that are all flash and no substance, either. I need a good balance between the two.
However, the latter will probably entertain me; the former almost never does.
You just don’t like stuff that appeals to the intellect.
I’m quite secure in my intelligence, thank you. Implying it’s lacking because of my tastes won’t ‘force’ me to your side.
But you’re right – I prefer works that appeal to the emotion over those that appeal to the intellect.
This will be a period long remembered. It has seen the death of the hero, it will soon see the end of fantasy.
It’s an Emperor’s New Clothes-style snobbishness, and that puts me in a bunker mentality. Sometimes, people don’t admit they read fantasy at all.
Because the lit-fic types have some kind of social respect and we have a stigma, like we’re listening to the Emperor’s tailors, fantasy readers ghetto ourselves. We hide away with embarrassment about what we enjoy. Sometimes that means putting it behind ‘respectable’ covers so we can read it on the bus – Terry Pratchett’s books and, worse, the Harry Potter books have ‘respectable’ adult covers. Make no mistake, those covers look great; but the snobbishness behind them is so offensive to me that I’ve taken to wrapping all my books in a comic-book cover as I read them. (Also, it protects the books.)
The whole thing has given me a bunker mentality. I’ve ended up carving my own little bunker to get away from the voices saying ‘you’re dumb if you read fantasy;’ ‘culture has to be serious to be good’; ‘it must be mean-spirited and cynical, otherwise no good.’ and all the other little things I’m talking about.
I’ve hidden away in a fantasy, ‘genre-fiction’ ghetto (as if any fiction can not have a genre). And you know what?
I’ve found a bunch of other people hiding in the bunker with me. At first, that was a really good situation. Then… Then, it turned dark.
You see, I hid in the bunker to get away from the voices saying ‘serious=realistic = good.’ (etc). Oh, I had to surface from the bunker from time-to-time to forage for food, and I’d often run into the ‘everything must be serious’ zombies stalking out there in their apocalyptic, unimaginative wasteland. I’d hear their conversations, but manage to keep my distance and not get bit.
I don't want to be a lit-fic zombie.
Speaking of zombies, you might've noticed the new trend with zombie fiction - where it's less zombification, and more a virulent form of rabies. Y'see, science has now got such a strangle-hold on us that, not only do they treat people like morons if they don't blindly follow everything scientists say (this month) in real life--
Hey! Nobody expects you to blindly follow science!
That's okay. I'll just put that down as your first… fabrication.
It's a lie, and you know it. Try, ever, disagreeing with some esoteric scientific theory and see how you're treated. Tell 90% of the population you believe in Creationism over Evolutionism, watch the reaction, then tell me again nobody expects you to blindly follow science.
You moron! Are you saying you're a Creationist?
See what I mean?
Look at how dragons look in so many movies lately; two legs, two wings. No fore-limbs; four-limbed creatures, clearly designed to suck up to scientism. Even the Harry Potter movies fall into this one. Harry Potter!
What about --
I didn't say every dragon in every movie. I didn't even say all the Harry Potter dragons.
I said it happens.
It seems like you can't even publish a comic book without it first going into a peer-reviewed journal.
So much for fantasy. So much for fun!
Lately, I’ve figured out, I’m still hearing the zombie voices of lit-fic types and drama queens; of scientismists and Professors. All the time.
Only now – those voices are inside the bunker with me. Somebody got zombie bit, and the infection is spreading.
Then, and only then, has it been a real problem for me.
You see, I don’t care what lit snobs like. I really don’t; but when my fellow fantasy-fans are saying the same stuff?
I’ve heard, at a spec-fic convention, somebody saying ‘When I look for good science in science fiction and fantasy’… and then complaining about the scientific accuracy of Magician. He can’t even say ‘A wizard did it’ for a book about a wizard?
Even the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild advertises ‘no elves!’, as if that’s a good thing. Among fantasy (and sci-fi and horror) writers.
I mean, if a speculative fiction group can’t accept fantasy tropes, who can?
And so I write this to mourn the death of fantasy.
If fantasy readers no longer accept fantasy, my fantasy truly is dead.
This is nothing but a bunch of gross generalisations. That means it’s completely invalid.
*sigh* Yes, I suppose I do need a few specific examples. So here are some:
The new series, obvs.
This is science fiction. There is more than enough of the sci fi in it to leave no room for doubt.
However, in tone, it’s a gritty, militaristic drama. It’s got this claustrophobic, submarine feel underlying it.
What about the episodes on Kobold? They’re not like that!
There are exceptions, of course, but they don’t change the overall tone of the entire series.
He’s always been anti-romantic and literalist; a lot of his humour derives from that. Nowadays, though, he’s getting further from fantasy as he goes along.
Oh, he’s still definitely fantasy, nobody could dispute that. But it feels more and more like a crime drama than a fantasy novel.
(and, although this is a comics blog, don’t get me started on comics in general now; ‘serious’ ‘realistic’ catfish or orange colouring; the powerless characters more powerful than the powered, the taking-everything-to-literalist/serious-e
‘Realistic / scientific’? There’s, what, one character with actual superpowers in this superhero comic? Check.
Cynical? The characters go out beating up bad guys (more than solving crimes or saving the world) out of some sadistic / sexual perversity. Check.
Dark and gritty? Oh, so very check.
The whole thing comes across as a parody of what people who don’t read superhero comics think superhero comics are like, much more than as an actual critique of the genre medium.
An entire 148min movie (according to IMDb) all about dreams, set entirely in the dream world, and there are two scenes – no more – that aren’t entirely bogged down in real-world physics.
This from the same director who brought us a “Joker” who was just an ordinary guy with make-up. (And scars, allegedly.)
But it has such a complex plot! And such a strong twist! You know what? You only want something predictable. You can’t appreciate the clever writing or scripting behind all this stuff.
Maybe I do only want the predictable.
Cool twist? A complex plot? Look again at my above lists of what I like and look for, and dislike and dislook for. Cool twist and complex plot aren’t on either list. Sure, those things will help if I’d enjoy the work anyway; but they won’t make me enjoy something I’d have hated without them. I’ll love a cool twist on a movie I’d generally like. But it’s not something I look for.
Predictability? Maybe. I want the heroes to win; I want the good characters to survive – or at the very least have meaningful deaths. Yet again, I don’t read fantasy to get a bunch of depressing real-world garbage. I read it to escape that.
Why is that so hard for fantasy writers to understand?
Yet, I keep seeing so many of them acting snobbish about how their works are better than those commercial things. Y’know what? That makes me not want to read your work.
Just so you know.
The worst example of all, though, is A Game of Thrones:
I’d rather read fantasy than George R.R. Martin. If pushed, I’d rather read Twilight. At least Stephanie Meyer knows what fantasy is. Not horror, but fantasy.
If you put A Game of Thrones in a chamber with Lord of the Rings, the fantasy and anti-fantasy would create a reaction that could power the Enterprise for a month. (You’ll need to regulate the reaction with Dark Crystals.)
Minor spoilers: There’s a couple of pages of ‘elves’ (which could as easily be a human invader from another nation), 500 pages of family feuding and nasty people doing nasty things, then a dragon hatches.
Fantasy readers accept this as total fantasy. High fantasy.
They keep saying
But it has such a complex plot!
What did I just say?
If you have to sacrifice all sense of fantasy for a complex plot, I don’t want to know.
The book (I’ve only read the first, and before you try to get me to read any more, put an elephant in a Safeway bag) is historical fiction with unfamiliar country names. Not fantasy.
See, you can’t appreciate good writing when you run into it!
Sure I can. I acknowledge that it’s well-written. I can admire the craft behind it – as I do for all the specific things I’ve just listed. (Which is by no means meant to be a complete list; just a few examples.) There’s not a thing on the above list I wouldn’t say was done well.
But I will also note that in all of them, the idea of fantasy has taken a back seat. They aren’t about the things I want to read / watch about. They just have those things in them.
Even the rebooted James Bonds are affected by this. They were never literal fantasy or sci-fi, but they had OTT elements that skirted the edge. Those are gone now.
And fantasy fans embrace all of the above, and accept it as fantasy, when it minimalises fantasy. When it’s embarrassed by its own genre’s tropes.
Okay, you hate all stuff that don’t fit your narrow little definition. Now who’s snobbish, Snobby McSnobberson?
No. I don’t even hate everything I just listed. In fact, I put my favourite author on that list.
Nor am I saying that fantasy is better than non-fantasy.
I’m saying I’m interested in fantasy, and not in dry, dull, dreary doldrums. I didn’t start that sentence by planning to alliterate.
Well, you did, and you can’t take it back now.
Technically, I can. I can still edit it out.
To get up, get back, get right on track:
What I am saying, though, is that I am a fantasy reader, and as such, I want some fantasy mixed in with my fantasy, thank you.
If you’re not doing fantasy, don’t call it that.
Don’t try to sell anything to me as fantasy or sci-fi if it only contains trace elements of those genres.
And, fantasy readers and writers: Don’t be embarrassed by your genre. You read / write fantasy. Do it.
Embrace the inner freak!
Learn to love fantasy for what it is again!
Don’t let a bunch of outsider snobs dictate to you what you like!
Really cool slogan!
I doubt I’ve made a single person think about this stuff, so I’ll sign off by saying enjoy your ““““fantasy””” fiction. I’ll be over here, in the kids’ section, where they still know how to write fantasy.