While my HEMA friends are debating whether there should be woman only tournaments, the Fantasy world is doing a little naval gazing… or should I say contemplating Karg the Nebulous’s Pit of Infinite Reflection?
“OMG! Failed Fantasy?”
What’s kicked it off is Tom Simon reposting his essay, Campbell’s Cream of Soup. In a nutshell, he accepts that premodern setting, swords and wizards are markers for the genre, but thinks a “real” Fantasy novel needs originality and proper world building as well:
We cannot now hope to exclude the cookie-cutter Fantasyland books from the category called ‘fantasy’. But I will make so bold as to call them failed fantasy, in rather the same sense that the Argonautica could be called a failed epic, or The Phantom Menace a failed Star Wars prequel. (source, my bold)
Failed Fantasy? Quick, get a UN mandate!
A failure many would envy…
There is this snag, and the essay itself points to it:
The Belgariad and its interminable rehashes make a fine example.
One finds quite a lot of this in gaming tie-ins. Ed Greenwood’s ‘Forgotten Realms’,… is an enormous feat of world-building, far larger in scope and detail than Tolkien’s, and ought to be a masterpiece of its kind. But it falls short, because it is not based on any coherent vision of what a world could be like, but on the rules of Dungeons & Dragons.
So, Belgariad and Forgotten Realms are “Failed Fantasy”?
They didn’t exactly fail at being purchased, digested, enjoyed, shared, reveled in, did they?
You could say the same about Eregon , another series people are snotty about.
Sitting here in my poky walk-in wardrobe turned study, I have no objection to failing like that. Imagine…; “OMG I’ve written a Failed Fantasy! I think I’ll go up to our lakeside cabin and sulk in front of our massive plasma screen TV. Except first I have to answer this fan mail and take a call from a film producer….”
So, what’s going on?
Could it possible be that what really matters is what IT types call the “user experience”? The… ya’know… story?
From where I’m sitting, the boring old tropes of Fantasy are actually a powerful toolkit for telling a satisfying story.
- Build a premodern political system, and suddenly personalities matter.
- Add magic, and knowledge matters (not in a gosh, if we fund some scientists we might eventually get warp drive, but rather in a “OMG there are zombies on the palace lawn summon the Imperial Magus” way).
- Give the hero a sword and the training to use it, and they matter.
So if you’re bored of Fantasy…
Really it’s no different from Westerns.
Nobody complained, “Can’t they do a Western, but without guns and shootists, and a different economic set up – I’m so bored of cattle barons and railroad tycoons?”
At the same time – judging from the old Pulps – nobody felt they could read only Westerns, and that that genre should satisfy all their literary needs.
So, if you are bored of Fantasy, go read a different genre. The swords and wizards will be waiting for you when you get back.