I’m going to put my neck out there and say it. I’m not a fan of fantasy novels, but I don’t hate the genre. But I could have a few things to say about how it’s run.
I don’t hate fantasy novels either. I’m not about to go on a tirade against an entire genre that I happen to like here and there. I could do the same for Sci Fi too. I like Dick and Heinlein but I cannot stand Orson Scott Card. In fact, most of what I have to say below can be said about science fiction too. All I’m going to so is the modest step in saying I’m not a fan and I don’t think it’s a taste thing.
To start with, I liked fantasy growing up. I read all the materials surrounding Lord of the Rings. Loved it. I grew up way early on with CS Lewis and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I kept reading. And it led me later to American Gods (for the record, I like this book a lot). I also read Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time series (not in toto though). And I know why I liked them. They offered a world with many characters and places to go and adventures to go on. It was an escape. Growing up very unhealthy, an escape was rather nice. Good fantasy does this. And everywhere I look, this seems to be the primary thing that people reading fantasy want from it.
I’m not going to say what people should or should not read or why they should read X. That would be, I don’t know what, all I can think of are curses and a few nouns. Reading for enjoyment is just that, whatever makes you happy and enjoy what you’re reading.
But I’m not a fan. Several reasons. One, I think fantasy is a tired genre theme/setting/character wise. Two, I think the writing is often sub-par compared to what else is happening in the world of literature. Three, I think that it is often a tired genre philosophy wise.
I learned these things while living out in California with my brother and his wife and she is a huge fan of fantasy. I was plied with novel after novel that she said have good standing in the community and frankly, I couldn’t really get into it like I used to. I would read fifty pages, skip to the end, and go “oh, yep, didn’t see that coming”.
All the settings build off of various fantasy worlds. Vampires were in for a while, great adventures were in for a while, mediaeval literature, magic, demons, etc…. Now there’s Hunger Games and that’s dystopian something or other, maybe that’s actually science fiction. There’s a lot that can be done within these worlds, though they get beaten to death, but then the characterization starts. It’s almost always an average person gets selected for a great quest that is out of their abilities and they forge relationships with others to help them and these people help the main character realize their potential. This is LOTR in a nutshell. It happens a lot. Quests are important even though they don’t really happen in real life. More importantly, obvious quests. The novel is telegraphed from the beginning. Then there are young man or woman coming of age stories where they face life and death and are in fact special in the end. And I could list more as I go on. Characterization happens because of grand events creating excessive amounts of drama to fuel character growth.
Compare this to The Road. No knowledge of what is happening. Just that civilization seems to have broken down, maybe globally, maybe in just part of the country, maybe a state. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a man and his boy surviving and you get to see the bond as it stands rather than it growing from a weak bond. It’s a smash cut into a world and you get to watch it unfurl. It’s a brilliant take on the tired post-apocalyptic fiction genre by doing away with everything except for the survival elements. Grand character arcs don’t need drama, they need simple steps forward and reactions like normal humans. Orcs bearing down is exciting, and running for one’s life, but then the relationships developed there are rather contrived as they’re just thrown together in a life and death situation (the most extreme situation) and they bond over and over again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Writing also, in my mind, tends to be subpar compared to what else can be read. I like American Gods, and I think Gaiman is wonderful (especially the Sandman works), but there’s no way on earth that I’m going to defend him as a great writer. He’s good, damn good, but then I read DeLillo or McCarthy and I go “oh, yep”. They’re better, much better. I read Nabokov and am floored by what he can write in just two weeks. I read Pynchon or Wallace and I can’t read for weeks afterwards because nothing engages me like they do. The world of literature has far and above exceeded what I’ve read in the world of fantasy. But even going back to the well known and well praised work. LOTR is in need of a severe edit sometimes. It goes on about rolling hills far too much when we’ve all seen it and can imagine what a heath looks like and his descriptions border on being overwrought. CS Lewis writes simplistically, not simply. Gaiman’s prose never takes flight, it just does its job. It’s often utilitarian.
I will say this, I think there are exceptions to this. Lovecraft is particularly good at hitting gothic literature on the nose with his works, as was his intention. Borges is brilliant at writing, and with a good translation you’ll never believe what he does in The Aleph.
Then there’s philosophy. It’s routinely good versus evil. And an epic struggle between the two. American Gods doesn’t do this, it’s one of the reasons I like it. But fantasy often takes the form of a few lone individuals fighting for good against a machine of evil. We live in a post modern world of writing. This doesn’t have to be done anymore to be good or acceptable or even read. It’s well known and we sometimes hunger for stories outside of good and evil. I don’t think we need another story about a young man from humble upbringings be destined to rise up and save middle earth or some other world and free people from tyranny and evil.
And that’s one last thing I don’t like about the community. Fantasy beats a dead horse till it’s just a bloody pulp with some bones. I get that fantasy is pretty much commercial literature, but my god is it blood thirsty for whatever fad is out there.
Take it or leave it. I’m not a fan of Fantasy.