I read a lot of fantasy, and a lot of it is poop. That’s usually because it’s full of literary crimes.
The Know-It-All Elf and The Invincible Female Warrior–what would certain writers do for characters, if they didn’t have these worn-out cliches to fall back on?
Then there’s crazy dialogue. There’s only one thing worse than long passages of speech written in what the author images to be dialect. That’s long passages of speech in which the author wanders in and out of dialect.
The mystery of it all! We wouldn’t know these cliches for cliches if they weren’t crammed into books that actually got published–thousands of ’em.
This blog post, back then, resulted in a wonderful article by John Dykstra in Reformed Perspective Magazine–which I’ve been able to locate, and which I’ll re-post for you tomorrow.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know how I hate fantasy cliches–the Invincible Female Warrior, the Thief With a Heart of Gold, Know-It-All Elves, etc., etc.
Fantasy can be made into a useful tool for Christ’s Kingdom–I’m totally convinced of it. But first it has to be straightened out.
Do you shy away from Russian novels because you can’t even guess how to pronounce the characters’ names? Some people have that same problem with fantasy.
I don’t know that characters in fantasy novels have names that are any harder to believe in than the names of college presidents. Clostridia Whittington Farnsworthy–names like that. Don’t tell me “Aragorn” or “Corsus” is worse than that.
I am forced to admit that great steaming chunks of fantasy fiction are totally worthless. I don’t care so much about the names. It’s the stead downpour of cliches that puts me off.
But a fantasy that really works–Ah! Priceless!
Oh, come on now! What was the publisher thinking?
I love good fantasy; but there’s enough truly rotten fantasy published every year to line the whole world’s bird cages several times over.
Not that it’s anywhere near the only thing that bad fantasy gets wrong, but it is perhaps the most annoying thing: its treatment of women. If a female character in a stupid fantasy is not The Invincible Female Warrior, you can be sure she’s in for a hard time.
Ordinary family life taught me that this vision was preposterous. The Bible teaches me that it’s wrong.
I gave up on this one when the Sumerian hero’s immortal half-human mother started calling him ‘Gilgy’…
I’ve seldom been so disappointed in any fiction series as I was in Brian Godawa’s novels of life before the Great Flood. And I’ve seldom gotten so much pushback from a book review.
This guy wrote great movie reviews, and fascinating appendices; but his retelling of Genesis turned it into a cliche-packed summer movie script. “Disappointing” is hardly the word for it. “Bowel-wrenchingly awful” is barely adequate for descriptive purposes.
At least it wasn’t as hard as reviewing a book written by a friend.
People wonder why I got so mad at the library director when she assumed my books were self-published. Well, gee–“self-published” means no quality control. As in the following example.
It’s bad enough, you populate your fantasy with stock characters whose every action and reaction is totally predictable. Bad enough you name your lead characters after popular pain reliever products. But to do both at once is to create something monumentally bad.
I find it hard to get my books reviewed because so many potential reviewers and interviewers say, “But that’s just fantasy.” Like it’s all verbal cliches and stupid unbelievable characters named Feen-a-Mint or Tylenol.
Sometimes every step’s a struggle.
Remember those “Spirit Animals” fantasies, from Scholastic Books? If you don’t, I do. I had to review them. Reading them was like a root canal gone wrong.
Fantasy is a powerful tool for communicating the intangible, especially to children. As a fantasy writer myself, using fantasy to serve an evil purpose is something that makes me quite truly angry. But it should always make you mad to see something good twisted into bad.
We see a lot of that, these days.
As Roberto Duran once said, “No mas! No mas!”
Why is it that a literary genre that should be the most imaginative of them all is loaded down with dull, lame, unoriginal, boring, stupid cliches? I hate it when fantasy does that!
Sometimes I’m afraid it’s just me, and everybody else is just crazy about buxom tavern wenches, invincible female warriors, know-it-all elves, all-powerful wizards, and bad guys who always win. Otherwise there wouldn’t be so much of it in fantasy. (Yeah, Game of Thrones, I’m talking about you.)
I will not reveal the name of this fantasy novel, because the author is really quite a nice guy; but it remains the gold standard for how to annihilate fantasy. It does this in just a single line of dialogue. The dwarf turns to the elf and says, “We must learn to value other lifestyles.”
It leaves me speechless.
“Thomas Locke” is Bunn’s pseudonymn.
So you’ve got an already-successful Christian author with a large fan base, writing in a popular genre with a wide readership, and a major publisher to produce and market the book–golden opportunity, right? An opportunity to win ground in the culture for Christ’s Kingdom.
Wrong. Instead, all these resources came together to make, well, a bunch of nothing.
T. Davis Bunn had all this going for him when he set out to write his first fantasy novel, Emissary, three years ago. So he decided to write a “completely mainstream, totally secular” fantasy novel–that is, he cobbled together a thorough collection of fantasy cliches: and the big huge Christian publisher, Zondervan, published it.
Waste, waste, waste.
I’ve just received my copy of Visions of Light and Shadow by our esteemed colleague, Allison Reid (we know her here as “Weavingword”), Book No. 3 of her Wind Rider Chronicles. I’m looking forward to reading it as soon as I catch up on some other assignments. I know it’ll be good–in fact, a good book to read in bed.
One of the things I love about her books is that Allison has female protagonists who don’t conform to fantasy cliches, but instead are kind of normal people, albeit interesting ones, who happen to be caught up in extraordinary events. This helps me to believe in the story as I’m reading it.
The fantasy genre–these books are fantasy novels–is smothered in cliches. For an art form that leans so heavily on the imagination, these toweringly unimaginative touches constitute literary crimes. The genre is notably poverty-stricken in its cast of female characters.
I can’t decide which female fantasy cliche I detest the most–The Invincible Female Warrior or The Buxom Tavern Wench. Their presence in so many fantasy novels is almost mandatory. From the moment each is introduced, you know exactly, down the most minute detail, what she is going to say or do in any situation–because you’ve already seen it hundreds of times before. They tend to form tag-teams with the male cliches, like The Thief With A Heart Of Gold or The Brawling Lusty Barbarian Warrior Who Can Drink Any Norse God Under The Freakin’ Table. These are not the only trite and overdone characters in fantasy, not by a long shot–The Know-It-All Fantastically Handsome Elf springs to mind–but it’s a rare story which doesn’t stifle the reader’s imagination with these.
Anyway, Allison’s books are all available in paperback now; and if you enjoy fantasy but hate cliches, try ’em, you’ll like ’em.