Fantasy

No, not the kind where you and your spouse dress up as Princess Leia and Boba Fett and make bad sex jokes about someone’s Sarlacc Pit. And not the kind where something from actual history is changed just to see what would happen (What if Hitler had invented a time machine and gone back in time to give himself the best Christmas ever?!). And not the kind where high school girls are banging sparkly vampires or making out during a zombie invasion. ‘Cuz, you know, that shit is hot.

What’s Your Fantasy?

When I say Fantasy, I mean Fantasy with a capital F. The kind most booksellers lump with Science Fiction and usually label together as “Science Fiction / Fantasy”. Like it’s really just one category of fiction and not two. Like we need a separate section for a special kind of geek that is a bit more unsavory than the rest of the fantasy readers. Never mind that I’ve rarely found readers that are equally fans of both genres. We usually tend to be a huge fan of one and just dabble in the other, like a drunk college girl at an all-girl sorority sleepover.

Fantasy is a label that gets applied with a pretty broad brush. Conceivably, any piece of fiction could be labeled as “fantasy”. I mean, it’s all fantasy. But to readers like me, that word means something specific. When you say you read Fantasy, you make yourself a marked man. Or woman to a lesser degree.

The boys outnumber the girls in this group by a factor of twenty to one. At least if my D&D table was a fair sampling. And we only had ten people. Which means we barely had half a girl. It was usually that one creepy guy who always played a female character and then hit on the rest of the male characters. It only got creepier when one of the other guys flirted back. And someone always flirted back. *shudder*

What I think of when I hear Fantasy is what most have lumped off into the nice, comfortable sub-genre called “Epic Fantasy”. The word epic is just their way of shoving us off. The story doesn’t have to be epic at all, though many are. Define it how you like, but it usually includes some form of wizards, dragons, elves, orcs, goblins, magic, etc…

My Harry Potter Fantasy

“You mean like Harry Potter?!”

Meh, sort of. Because Harry was a kid, they shoveled him off into the even more onerous (at least by adult standards) category of… Young Adult. Or, God forbid, Middle Grade. I’m sure you’ve heard someone saying how they were embarrassed to be reading (and enjoying) a Harry Potter book because it was a book for kids. Like they’d be totally ashamed and embarrassed if someone caught them reading it. This is pretty much how all epic fantasy fans are expected to feel about the books they read.

There are a lot of Fantasy fans who hate the Harry Potter books. I’m not sure why, but I think it has to do with the line between “hard” and “soft” fantasy (seriously, there are “hard” and “soft” fantasy fans, and they don’t mean arse play) and the fact that the books skew younger. It could also be because they sold really well. They were so popular, in fact, that the New York Times had to create a whole new list just for “children’s” books so that Harry Potter wouldn’t dominate the top spots of the regular list. Geeks shy away from all things popular. Popular things have a tendency to beat up unpopular things.

Popularity’s not necessarily a bad thing though. When other things become popular, they reach a wider, weirder audience and create a fan base the normal people pay more attention to. Like the short kid who eats his boogers, Harry Potter and Twilight fans drew fire away from the rest of us. Hate on Hogwarts if you must, but those “idiots” in robes and eyeliner lightning bolt scars standing in line made all the rest of us look tame by comparison. And thank God for ’em. Lord knows the Trekkies were due a break.

Me? I loved the Harry Potter books. Both as books I enjoyed reading as well as books that I have personally seen inspire young kids to read. And, specifically, read a genre that I love. It warms my geeky little heart to see ten-year-old kids reading Harry Potter and Percy Jackson. They might be like me and move on to Lloyd Alexander or Ursula K. Leguin or Anne McCaffrey (God rest her dragon-riding soul) and discover a lifetime love of Fantasy. Or they might read them when they’re younger and then grow up and decide that stuff’s just for kids and then punch me in the arm a lot until I run and tell Mom.

Unfortunately, popularity also breeds copycats like… well, cats. Suddenly you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing a book about someone from our world destined to save some other world. I wouldn’t get too bunched about it though. They’ve been doing that story for centuries. Stephen R. Donaldson did the same with The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Only with slightly more rape.

One Movie (in three parts) To Rule Them All

“The Lord of the Rings” (the movies, not the books) did a lot for our credibility among the masses. I don’t think it added any new readers to the genre or anything, but at least it made us all look less stupid to average folk. We could all point excitedly and say, “See! That stuff’s not just for kids! We’re not as lame as you think! Ow, my arm!”

But those movies were exceedingly popular. Which means they brought out the riffraff. You know who I mean. The ones who showed up dressed in cloaks, glued-on ears and hairy feet. Come on, guys. We’re trying to dig ourselves out here! And the ones doing the dressing up aren’t even necessarily fans of the books! This bunch of Theoden-come-latelies are making us all look bad, and they only know the movies! The real fans are the ones standing in line bitching about how Arwen has too much screen time and, “Where the hell was Tom Bombadil?! This is bullshit.”

Winter is Coming!  And death.  Lots and lots of death.

“A Game of Thrones” (again, not the books) is really boosting the genre now too.  George R. R. Martin’s truly epic A Song of Ice and Fire (you didn’t think HBO’s title was the actual name of the series did you?) has brought some people around to my world.  Hell, my mom is even reading them after watching season 1!  Again, I still don’t think it’s going to bring any new readers to the genre (except maybe my mom, but she only likes them for the sex).  But it is really cute to see old ladies asking for the books at the library.  I’m thinking, “You have NO idea what you’re getting yourself into there.”  It’s like the time my Nana wanted to rent “Pulp Fiction” from the Blockbuster Museum because, “I heard this was really good.”

All the Kids Are Beating Up the Kids Who Are Doing It!

Fantasy is what I read. It’s not ALL I read, but I’m definitely a genre reader, and it’s definitely my genre. Even with the help of the Harry Potters and the Percy Jacksons of the world, it’ll never be popular. I’m ok with that. I have my own kids, and I’ll force what I like down their throats like any good parent.

Even if, by some miracle, it does become popular (The Hobbit, Christmas 2012, bitches!), there’s always Steampunk. Though that’s been getting more play these days. It looks ripe for mass market. Those guys are gonna be pissed at all the money they spent on costumes once they have to despise it for going mainstream.

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5 Responses to Fantasy

  1. One of the reasons Harry Potter was popular was because all of the books are safe for kids. As a father, I find myself reading scifi/epic fantasy books all the time and wishing I could share them with the kids, but I just can’t in good conscience (and *damn* all the teachers who recommended / ordered my 10 yro to read Hunger Games!!).

    Fortunately, several authors have open sourced their books and I’ve been able to legally create at least PG-13 versions of the books. I’ve made it sort of a hobby, and it’s a place where indie artists can really stand out, you know?

    • I might argue that not ALL of the Harry Potter books were suitable. She got a bit darker as the series went on, but I think she once said that the books were meant to grow up with the fans. The series of 7 was released over many years, and the original readers grew right alongside Harry and the gang, so the books grew up in tone along the way. I have nieces that are allowed to watch the first 4 movies but not the others just yet.

      I absolutely think that being written for kids first was a huge key to their success. Young Adult can be a hard sell for a lot of writers, but if it breaks out (like Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, etc…), it can be enjoyed by adults as well. Sometimes more than the kids even. The girls screaming at the Twilight premier weren’t exactly the tweens and teens the books were written for. 🙂

      My mom was actually the one who turned me on to Harry Potter. I had avoided it up until Goblet of Fire because I assumed they were just kids’ fantasy. Never mind that I have reread The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Prydain countless times in my life, and still enjoy them every time. I think if a book can climb far enough out of the YA hole to catch the notice of adult readers, you’ve got a huge hit. It’s rarer, I think, for a book to cross over in the other direction. Parents are the ones who spend the money, but the kids are usually who they spend it ON, so the kids are actually controlling the buying power in a way. Probably why they’re marketed to so heavily.

      I try to keep my books well within a readable range for younger kids without actually marketing them as YA, but I kind of like the idea of editing books down for younger kids. Not for all books, but for some. Almost makes you wonder why an author couldn’t do the same. Kind of like bands that release a single or an album as both a clean and explicit version.

  2. Richard Finn says:

    I wrote a nice long reply and it got lost in the attempt to login. Grrrr…

    To be fair, you know I follow steampunk (though not the more “just glue gears on it” kind), but even I don’t know if it’s fantasy or science fiction. Some consider it one or other, or both – mostly depending on the the author or the work itself. Most of what comes out today is closer to fantasy, but steampunk’s roots are actually science fiction. Likewise, Star Wars is generally not considered science fiction by many, but fantasy – there’s magic, sword battles, a hero’s quest, and even a princess. It has space ships, but nothing in the story hinges on a known or projected scientific fact. Therefore, it’s considered fantasy by scifi geeks. The stocking clerk at the local Barnes & Noble Museum might know how to differentiate, but more casual readers wouldn’t. The publishers certainly don’t, particularly when they can game genres for marketing purposes (even on Amazon, G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire & Ice shows up as the #1 science fiction series even though it would’t pass even the loosest definition of the genre).

    And, where the heck would you put all the Pern books? They started out with dragons and people in a medieval-like setting. Then, you realize these people were the descendants of space colony settlers and the dragons were genetically modified lizards. There’s a lot of science in the prequel books.

    And, let’s be honest, you might not read a lot of science fiction – but you are more likely to read something like Larry Niven or Peter Hamilton than Jodi Picoult or John Updike. Science fiction and fantasy might not share the same readers exactly, but there’s more overlap than any other two genres.

    Of course, genres really are just a short-cut to divide books between those we don’t want to read (right now) and those we might want to read (and buy). One of the great things about the self-publishing revolution is not being tied to the prescribed genres. Anne McCaffrey might not have been able to genre bend had she not already had a lot of success. Today, people bend genre more than Justin Bieber bends gender.

    You’re right, though, about Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling. It will be interesting to see what kind of reception her new “adult” book receives. The Lord of the Rings was considered trash by the intelligentsia of the time and his colleagues, save for the members of his writing club – the Inklings (including C. S. Lewis). Tolkien’s fiction has only been given scholarly treatment in recent decades (if you studied Beowulf in high school since the 1970’s, you studied it according to Tolkien’s view as expressed in his essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”). Likewise, Shakespeare’s work was considered trash by the intelligentsia of his time. The intellectual descendants of these critics now believe that this man from Stratford upon Avon couldn’t have possibly been smart enough to write these plays, though the evidence is clear that he did (though he also appears to have collaborated on some works with uncredited authors). Maybe in a hundred years or two grade school kids will have to read a Harry Potter book or two in English class.

    BTW: Great blog. Nice and clean WordPress design. My only bit of advice would be to keep it consistent with your books. You can expect the same audience who liked your books to want to read your blog and you don’t want to turn them off future books once they get here.

    • Well, somehow you managed to write another long one, so yay for perseverance! 0-]

      I don’t know where I would put Steampunk. Probably in Fantasy. I’m not a huge Sci-Fi fan, but I’ve read a lot of it over the years. Even Sci-Fi fans can’t agree on what is Sci-Fi and what is not. Of course, The Simpsons has you covered.

      Sci-Fi fans tend to want more of the science. If there’s lasers and space travel but no explanation of how it all works, it’s not Sci-Fi. According to the hard fans. The Science Fantasy monicker, while detestable to some, seems pretty appropriate for a lot of books now. People love Fantasy in space with a little bit of science, and I think that’s a perfect name for it.

      Alas, Amazon really narrows down the categories here, so you only have the ones they set to choose from. And since they are the big dogs, most people shopping are going to have to choose from one of the categories they have set for authors. They don’t even HAVE a Steampunk genre, so you just have to search for the word and hope the author put it in their title or description somewhere. At least you can “tag” books with certain genres.

      Part of me wonders if the “pooh pooh it first, revere it later” attitude toward some literature hasn’t come about as a result of the “dumbing down” of the populous. As you say, Shakespeare was considered trash at the time, and now we torture high school kids with it. They think it’s the hardest thing to read EVER, and they have no idea what is being said. To see a work of Shakespeare performed on stage is an act of culture, not one for the poor masses as it was in his day. Dickens was crap for the poor masses in his day, now his books are what cultured folk read.

      As to the blog, it’s more me. I try really hard not to curse in my books or make things TOO violent since I want them available to as open an audience as possible. I want geeky kids like me to be able to read them when they’re 10. While I don’t expect violence in my blog (though I do have comments turned on, and this IS the internet), expect cursing. It’s how I feel, and sometimes the word just fits, dammit. See what I did there?

      I expect anyone who comes here to be someone who already reads blogs and understands that the my personal voice is different from my author voice. The kids reading my books (all 2 of them of now) are probably not going to read blogs. Kids don’t read blogs. Old man geeks like you, me and Ted do. 0-] That being said, the blog is about fantasy, and my books are fantasy. So there is SOME crossover.

      I’ll probably just end up writing myself in a hole. I have an upcoming post with strong opinions about infodumps, but then I’ve gone and written a couple in book 2. I just couldn’t help it! Curses!

      PS: That was a cheap shot on Bieber. No one slanders The Bieb on MY blog!

  3. Man. Only four comments and almost as many pages to scroll. We’s some windbags up in here.

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