1. Mist Walker
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    Mist Walker Member

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    The stigma against fantasy

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Mist Walker, Nov 3, 2010.

    The other day I was talking to a friend about the fantasy I'm writing and was a bit taken aback when he assumed that I'd be including "a big evil sorcerer" among other things. Now, as far as I'm aware there's not that much fantasy that goes with that style at all rigidly (the only series I can think of straight away that has an outright evil antagonist who's a sorcerer is Kingmaker Kingbreaker and that's nowhere near the stereotype). Now, I know that that sort of fantasy is out there, but I was a bit put out that that's what he thought it would be like without asking any questions.

    Now, this isn't so much my problem, it just made me think about the fact that as most people who read much fantasy will know, is that in general people won't give fantasy much of a chance and I can't follow why. The example above seems quite closely linked in that it doesn't look like they expect particularly original plots or ideas from fantasy. I've got a friend in Australia who'll devour literary fiction but won't come anywhere near fantasy (until I made a deal of me reading a book she suggested and vice versa) and my GCSE English teachers didn't think much of the genre either.

    Anyway, what does everyone think about it? Or have you got any friends, family etc. who could explain themselves?
     
  2. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would go for the argument that much of the top selling fantasy has really been aimed at the young adult market. Aimed at 13-19 year olds, mainly boys and have had a complexity and themes thereafter. Simple stories of growing up, taking responsibly, getting the girl, being awesome and saving the world.

    But to compare all fantasy to that line of fantasy would essentially be the same thing as comparing all crime stories to Nancy Drew books. Or the whole literary genre with the high school setting genre. Or the whole romance genre to the romantic short stories you used to find in girls magazines.
     
  3. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    ^That is a good question. Maybe perhaps people don't like it is because the genre is so over-used? Or that magic is always the key at heart in many of the books?

    I think it's sad that some people automatically think of "fantasy" as involving magic, wizards, etc. because not all fantasy genre stories are! It’s an unfortunate stereotypical mistake that regretfully can’t be avoided. Nevertheless, they shouldn't be synonymized with magic.

    I just recently had a discussion with my co-writer about this. We both know that some fantasy genred books contain magic in them while others do not. Like Indian in the Cupboard and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for example. To me, those books belong in the fantasy genre - yet they don't directly involve magic. Sure I can say the cupboard Omri was given was magical or really the key was, but magic wasn't discussed at all through the course of the story.

    To me, fantasy is where anything can happen by any known or unknown reason. The cupboard in the Indian in the Cupboard was just an ordinary cabinet. But with the key it became something magical, and though we didn't know why it brought inanimate things to life, we still accepted the fact that it did. And the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It had a sense of magic about it -- but it wasn't directly magical.

    Maybe fantasy has become "magical" because that is the only word we can use to describe the wardrobe or cupboard. Or maybe it's because some readers just decide to dub them as "magical."
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think part of it is that the definition of fantasy seems to have become so narrow. Which is weird, because you'd think that, in fiction anyway, that fantasy would have the broadest definition imaginable.

    But look at what gets sold as fantasy. It seems that the store shelves are full of fantasy, and by that I mean series of novels with titles like "The Chronicles of Prelnibran" or something, and each series involves some sword-wielding hero and magic and elves and dwarves and mystic gems or stones or rings and destiny and whatnot. Or vampires and werewolves and high school girls. Or kids in a wizard school (but it's not a Harry Potter ripoff ...).

    If it's not inspired by Lord of the Rings (firsthand or secondhand), then it's inspired by Harry Potter, or it's inspired by Twilight. In other words, it's derivative of popular recent work by other writers. That doesn't necessarily mean it's bad, but the cynic in me keeps telling me that it's all just attempts to cash in on what's popular by selling more of the same to an eager but undiscriminating audience.

    And so many people here on this forum are working on their own vampire or elf or magic or whatever stories, always in the form of a projected series of novels, and it all seems like more piling-on, if you know what I mean.

    Fantasy is no longer fantastic. Fantasy has become dull through endless repetition of the same ideas.
     
  5. Taylee91
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    Taylee91 Carpe Diem Contributor

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    Ditto. Especially with the shrinkage of imaginations today.

    Yes -- exactly! That goes back to what Mist Walker said: "...The example above seems quite closely linked in that it doesn't look like they expect particularly original plots or ideas from fantasy..."

    Yes. I completely agree. It's unfair to writers out there who have considerable original ideas for stories too because they get put in the back seat.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The problem is that there are only a handful of original and well-written fantasy books out there. A lot of them use magic, wizards, elves, etc. So it's only natural that your friend immediately thought of a sorcerer. I used to read a lot of fantasy when I was younger, but after a while I became bored with the genre because everything became repetitive and drawn out. I still read fantasy now, but I'm much more selective and prefer standalone books to long series.
     
  7. S-wo
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    S-wo Active Member

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    I don't see how you can say there was no magic with the first Narnia book when a magical creature "a witch" is in the title.

    As for fantasy looked down upon, people assume it's for boring people and nerds.
     
  8. Some Call Me Tim
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    Some Call Me Tim Member

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    Why would anyone want to read anything else, is what I ask. I also think that maybe the answers you receive here will be biased, in that we are all fairly like-minded in that we like creative writing. So, the community here will be a little more open-minded about a specific genre than the world at large.

    Fantasy, by definition, means not real. By extension, it can mean whimsical or silly. The term "fantasy" implies an idle waste of time until something "real" comes along. A diversion, an escape, but not a serious subject. So, people judge the book by its cover, quite literally.

    It is unavoidable that people will form preconceived notions about the genre and therefore seek out facts that justify their belief. "Look at Lord of The Rings. Look at Harry Potter," your friend could say, proving that in fact main stream Fantasy is full of evil sorcerers. I actually tend to agree with your friend. Looking at my shelf of Fantasy fiction, I see quite a few book series that have an evil wizard of some sort as the main antagonist. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the majority of them have an evil sorcerer, but if you expand the criteria to some sort of uber-evil devil-like entity, then there is a significant number of them that make the list. But, I am a boy who grew up on Fantasy. Perhaps I have been brain-washed by Fantasy marketing to prefer that type of Fantasy.

    Fantasy has been reinvented several times over in its long history. Fantasy originally was just folk-tales and religions. The world up to the industrial revolution was just full of magic and mystical creatures. Then Tolkien and Lewis came out with their revolutionary stories. Pulp Fantasy reared its head and churned out the formulaic Fantasy hero/villain plot by the thousands. The seventies were a both a good and a bad time for the genre. People wanted to be the next Tolkien, and so quest driven Fantasy took the center stage. Widely popular series like Dragonlance came into being as a result of D&D (which has its own stereotype, besmirching the name of Fantasy).

    Yes there are some truly unique Fantasy stories out there. Yes there are sub-genres of romance and the like. But, the most popular Fantasy stories tend to have an archetypical evil sorcerer of some sort. This is because a main stream story needs an antagonist. The antagonist’s literary job is usually to evoke a “safe” fear within the viewer/reader. One fear that is easily identifiable is some sort of unreasoning evil person with a vast amount of power. A psychopath with unlimited power. A terrorist with a nuclear arsenal. Then, of course, that fear needs to be replaced by a sense of hope and safety, hence the hero saving the day at the nick of time.

    It is common because it works. Things wouldn’t be cliché if they didn’t work. Unfortunately it is just human nature to group similar things with labels and definitions. As with any human thing, however, these labels and definitions are rarely universal.

    Did I even make a point in all of that? I am not sure if what I just typed had any sort of continuity or meaning.


    ***Edit***

    Ooh, look. People posted as I typed and now I know I made no sense.
     
  9. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    From what I gather, despicably snobbish types dismiss the genre because in a word, it is regarded as the last refuge of the feeble and untalented author. Broadly, their argument is this:

    The great author, the persipacious observer, finds - and reveals - the extraordinary in the ordinary. His prose and insight renders the drab world about us, magical. And, since his created world is constricted by physical laws and his characters are limited - physically and intellectually - by their humaness he must work the harder and smarter to provide excitement and wonderment. On the other hand, fantasy is a short-cut to cheap and shallow thrills.

    That is the general thrust, I think. Quite outrageous.
     
  10. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Broadly speaking, the reason a lot of people are dismissive of not only fantasy but genre fiction in general is that, with a few exceptions, it is seen as "merely" entertaining. A fun story, an imaginative world, but nothing more. The best fantasy writers prove this wrong: they pay attention to language, do interesting things with style, use fantasy as a means to an end to address real human issues, and you'll find that these few writers actually get a considerable amount of respect from critics, academics, etc. But the majority of fantasy released these days (and probably historically too) are like watered-down versions of these great books. They take the superficial and ultimately insignificant elements (the magic, the elves, whatever) and produce a story that is a essentially a two-dimensional reproduction of what has already come before. The same can be said of crime novels, sci-fi, romance, and indeed some literary fiction (though here publishers are much more selective about who and what they publish, since readers and critics will be very, very vocal in their criticism of poorly written books).

    But yeah, essentially a lot of genre fiction is seen as frivolous, which is fine if you're only interested in being entertained. But as a result, it's largely ignored by a lot of other readers.
     
  11. Gypsy88
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    Gypsy88 Member

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    I agree arron89. Fantasy is an easy target. Think about it. Growing up there are fairies, elves, witches, evil magic, good heroes with swords and buxom maidens. What's not to love? But just like Santa Claus eventually the general populace believes it must be set aside for more "mature" concerns.

    In good Fantasy the complications, emotions, and disasters we live every day are handled by those same characters whether or not they have pointy ears. I find too that while there is magic and the great unknown powers of good and evil, the true heart of the story is solved simply using the methods we all employ daily: Perseverance, luck, and hope.
     
  12. Some Call Me Tim
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    Some Call Me Tim Member

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    Fantasy has the same advantage as Sci-Fi (which is why they are often grouped together in book stores and libraries). In fact they are both classified as sub-genres of "Speculative Fiction". By adding fantastical elements, you can isolate and magnify the common, human elements. You can exagerate a current human (social, theological, governmental, etc.) situation and make a moral argument. By not identifying specific people or groups from the real world, you force the reader to think about who/what in the real world might be similar, if not quite so exagerated or fantastical.

    It is very hard to criticize (positively or negatively) a single group or social aspect without offending people. Fantasy and sci-fi allow for a certain distance from the real world that lets people think about a moral issue in the abstract.

    Science Fiction is the more acceptable (although still considered somewhat juvenile and cliche) because it is still considered the "real world". Although there are all sorts of sci-fi books that are closer to fantasy than reality (Star Wars, etc), it is considered somewhat more mature as a genre than Fantasy. But both try to take a step back and look at the good and the bad of reality and make us (the readers) think.

    So, I say to tell your friend to think of Fantasy as "Speculative Fiction". Tell him it's for mature people only. People willing to think and review and challenge their world.

    But, people will always have preferences. I, for one, will not touch a "romance" novel with a ten foot pole. Despite the fact that many, many Fantasy and Sci-fi books have strong romance themes (romance being other major human emotion that is most easily identified with and therefore marketable). I believe Romance stories to be mushy, melodramatic fluff reserved for girls.

    But it is really not hard to see why "evil sorcerers" might be part of a person's definition of Fantasy. Take a look at this definition I found on Cliffnotes.
    http://www.cliffsnotes.com/Section/What-is-fantasy-fiction-.id-305403,articleId-58843.html. It says right in there "
    Many times, the plot also involves mythical creatures or talking animals (that might wear clothes and live in houses), and witches or sorcerers."

    It is hard to define the genre in a few words without using the term wizard or sorcerer.
     
  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I could not agree more. And therein lies the art to genre. Not allowing the trappings to be more important than the content. That is what separates the dreck from the diamonds. Sad bit is that often the only part that those outside of a genre's following ever see is the dreck and from that conclusions are drawn. A bit like the impression many people have about the gay community, drawn solely from what they see in "gay pride parades." A gay pride parade, as the sole source of information concerning the gay community, would have one believing that we are all leather daddies, drag queens, and baton twirling twinks. ;)
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    There is a lot of frivolous writing across all genres, but it does seem like speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and horror) are disproportionately tagged with that label.

    It's particularly interesting when you consider how many of the great works of literature and poetry are "speculative fiction." Beowulf, The Iliad and Aeneid, The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, a good portion of Shakespeare's plays, Frankenstein, and so on.
     
  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Again, agreed. But when you look at the works you have mentioned, those works of speculative fiction are true to the intent of the genre. They are intended as platforms, venues, in which to discuss concepts of the human condition in frank focus. The deconstruction of the human condition can often be an unsettling process for the reader and speculative fiction allows the reader a remove, a buffer so to speak, so that the concept can be discussed without being so unnerving as to turn the reader away from the work.

    To use a more modern example (one of my favorites) Octavia Butler examines the concept of what kind of animal humans are evolutionarily speaking and does so within a framework of science fiction in her works Dawn, Imago, and Adulthood Rights. In these works she is able to take the concept that humans are primarily pack animals, not unlike dogs or wolves in our innate social structure, that have found themselves dealing with a brain that is sufficiently intelligent to often be at odds with that more base and more ingrained nature. Attempt to frame that kind of thing in a work that is outside the realm of spec-fic and you now nearly guaranty offending the reader and never having the opportunity to discuss what is plain to see, but stubbornly painful to admit.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree Wreybies. And Octavia Butler is a great example - she was a fabulous writer.

    It is true that a lot more modern speculative fiction is purely escapism, and doesn't really use the genre as a vehicle to explore the human condition. There are some great exceptions out there. Butler, as you mentioned. I'd add in Angela Carter, Mervyn Peake, Ursuala K. LeGuin, Gene Wolfe, Philip K Dick (at times), Heinlein, maybe even some Lovecraft (to the extent he explores humans primitive relationships with fear and unknown).

    But yes, in large part I think you are correct.
     
  17. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I don't have anything against fantasy as a genre -- there's lots of great fantasy I"ve read.

    Most of the fantasy books, though, I'm not into, because they just rip off of LOTR and can't relate the characters to the readers. Not to say that all fantasy is like that, because I know lots of it isn't; but, at the same time, lots of it is.
     
  18. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Really? It's not possible for a writer to consider such matters, in a more humdrum context, without losing his readership? Certainly, it might be said, that fantasy provides very obvious opportunities for allegory and so on; yet this might be the very point of those dismissive sorts: with fantasy everything comes easy and consequently the lessons it teaches are glib. Art requires struggle and courage while fantasy demands neither.
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Yup, yup, yup. Yup to all of that. ;)

    One of the reasons I used to (though finally gave up on) answering here in the forum questions to the tune of, "If my spaceships are green, will that work?" or, "I'm not sure that my time travel is believable because the technology doesn't really exist," or "If I make my wizard evil does that make me racist against wizards."

    [​IMG]

    My answer invariably is/was, "It matters not, young padawan. The question to ask is, 'What am I trying to say to the reader? What is my message?'"

    All of the authors you mention, especially Le Guin with whom I am most familiar, asked these questions about the human condition. In her novel, The Dispossessed, she takes frank and unapologetic aim at dynamics of government and economics and leaves no side looking very pretty. In her novel The Left Hand of Darkness, she asks intimate questions about gender, gender rolls, and relationships.

    If I take apart the unimportant bits of The Left Hand of Darkness, like the fact that the planet where the story takes place is likely too inhospitable to be viable for long term human habitation the way she wrote it and make that something I focus on, then I have missed - utterly missed - the importance of the work.


    I am not saying that these concepts cannot be framed outside of the realm of spec-fic. I am saying that spec-fic, to be true to its origin and intent, should concern itself with these concepts. That spec-fic allows an opportunity for those who are perhaps not privy to esoteric environs of academia to also contemplate these matters. The common man is also the majority. Such discussions should not be held only within atmospheres too rarified for most to breathe. You have read me in reverse.
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree with this. Certainly there is a lot of fantasy that lacks this. In fact, there is a lot of non-fantasy that lacks it as well. No genre of literature requires it. But all genres are open to it as well. I don't think you can say that a certain genre inherently lacks these qualities - it depends on the author and the story being told.
     
  21. art
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    That's a very fair point and would satisfy a resonable person. Yet, as you're no doubt aware, it is further ammunition for those zealous stigmatisers.

    Don't shoot the messenger, Steerpike!
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not :D Just stating my disagreement with the general sentiment. I think you can accomplish (or fail to accomplish) the same level of art, insight, and commentary on the human condition in any genre.
     
  23. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Unfortunately, yes, I must agree with this as well. Spec-fic has a bad habit of losing its way and I know this means that detractors think of it as a lost way, but... watcha'gonna'do?

    I'm a bit of a socialist when it comes to literary "snobbery." I don't hold to the idea that literary is superior to genre or widdershins likewise.
     
  24. afrodite7
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    afrodite7 Senior Member

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    -reading escapism as is all entertainment,(if you wanna get technical,all fiction is fantasy because its not real....). fantasy itself admits to being fantasy and that's the problem.nobody wants to admit.besides a lot of it is truly boring.i love the genre but i would like to red something fresh and new.
     
  25. Beckahrah
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    My husband used to speak poorly of fiction. He said 'I don't read fiction' the way some people say 'I don't watch television.' That whole nose-in-the-air kind of mentality. Then he sat down and read my favorite fantasy novel. He doesn't say that anymore. Fantasy is one of the broadest genres, I think, because it can encompass anything from almost-real-world situations to other dimensions and everything in between. I think one of the problems is that people think it's either Twilight, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings. Two are for kids and one is so convoluted I won't even read it. Yet Stephen King has written several fantasy novels.

    Don't get me wrong; there's some BAD fantasy out there. A good way to find the good stuff is to check out a good anthology like 'Legends' or the 'Writers of the Future' books.
     

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