Can Fantasy Be Reformed?

Today is Good Friday, a holy day. Although I have already been exposed to more disgusting and infuriating news stories than I can easily count, I will report on none of them today. All they prove is how desperately the human race needs salvation, how utterly incapable we are of providing it ourselves, and the magnitude of what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross.

And so, I think, a few words about the art of writing fantasy…

It should be easy to write fantasy. Just put the imagination into gear and let ‘er rip. Only it doesn’t often seem to work out that way, does it? Somehow, some of the most unimaginative and unoriginal writing you’ll find anywhere is found in fantasy.

In the interest of forcing fantasy writers to be more creative, and interesting, I propose the following changes to the genre.

1. Expel these stock fantasy characters: the wizard, the lusty tavern wench, the resourceful thief with a heart of gold, his hulking barbarian sidekick, the invincible female warrior, the helpless damsel in distress, dragons, dwarfs, and elves. Begone! Take a long sabbatical. You have been so overused, that you are now no more exotic than the bank teller, the checkout clerks, the boss who is a pain in the neck, or the guy who’s supposed to come and fix your cable and somehow never gets there. When the uncommon becomes common, it’s time to look elsewhere.

2. No more super-powers. So much of fantasy is tailored to the Young Adult market; but teens are the last readers in the world who need to be titillated with images of cool kids who are like the superheroes in comic books. Please try to make your novel look less like a video game or a comic book or a Dungeons and Dragons game.

3. That goes for “magic,” too. I mean, really, is it too much to ask that characters in a novel get things done by using their brains, rather than just reciting a magical spell or flying around or reading minds,whatever?

Well, if we’re going to get rid of all these routine elements of fantasy fiction–what’s left?

Achtung! Nothing about fantasy should be routine!

Let’s see if we can actually surprise our readers, shall we?

4 comments on “Can Fantasy Be Reformed?

  1. That is so true! It’s like once the truly great authors do something right, then there are people trying to cash in on their success. Only, they don’t get that the reason they are successful is because they could actually write, not just rehash tired themes. That’s why the ‘bestsellers’ aren’t always the classics.
    In the book I’m writing right now, there’s no magic at all. There is some magic in the world that it’s set in, but it’s not excessive and you don’t have people going around getting out of problems by waving their wands.

  2. Very interesting ideas. I agree with number one, but not necessarily numbers two and three. I think that people with superpowers is definitely overdone, but there’s always someone out there who can put a new spin on things, so while most of that kind are worthless, I’d be careful before discounting everything. (Okay, confession time: one of the reasons I like super-kids is that scene that goes on at the beginning of almost every series: the kid gets revenge on the bully. For some weird reason I love to read those things.)
    And I agree with number three in the fact that people should have to use their brains to get out of situations but, to loosely quote a fictional character, “You’d think that magic would make everything easier, but actually it’s just as hard. There’s always a reason why this particular spell or charm won’t work in that particular situation.” I think that authors who use magic should have it cause as many problems as it solves.
    I’m probably biased, though: I don’t have the best taste in some books, and I read a great deal of fantasy. I’ve been reading a series where kids have superpowers of a sort, and the author(s) keep contradicting themselves and forgetting what they’ve written. But I still love the books and am waiting eagerly for the next installment. What can I say? I’m just a bit crazy that way.

  3. I’m the editor of a small Reformed magazine, Reformed Perspective ( the readership of which would include many who think Fantasy to be a genre that Christians shouldn’t read. And they have some reasons to take that stand, though not to the blanket extent they take it – a lot of Fantasy is pagan nonsense. And a lot of Christian Fantasy is… just bad.

    I am hoping, however, to show them the real deal. But my problem is, I think I have a pretty good sniffer for the good:

    – your series
    – Andrew Peterson
    – Matthew Christian Harding (even though the writing has some real rough spots)
    – Lewis and Tolkein of course

    …and the bad:

    – Chuck Black and many more I can’t remember

    But then there are a whole bunch I don’t really know what to think, like N.D. Wilson’s various series, Stephen Lawhead (some of it seems silly, like the Relic-seeking Celtic Crusades series, and some of it seems brilliant), John White’s homage to Lewis (not genius, but perhaps adequate?).

    So this is a long way of asking, might you be willing to write on this for our magazine. We can’t offer much, but I am hoping you might be able to string some of your blog posts (or perhaps I could do it, and ask for your approval of the final result) on this to help our readers be able to tell the good from the bad, the praiseworthy from the merely safe.


    Jon Dykstra

    p.s. my apologies for contacting you this way – I couldn’t think of another.

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