Wanna hear a joke? Well since you’re here I guess you’re at least willing to humor me.
So a Fantasy author sits down to plan his first big novel. He smiles, pen in hand, and leans back in his chair.
“Man,” he says with an excited grin, “The best thing about fantasy is that I can make it anything I want. Could be based on any culture in any place from any time. Could be a mix of places and times, or something newly invented by me. Yup, there is literally nothing out of bounds here.”
He looks at his page for about ten seconds. As the pen hits the paper he says “Let’s go with Medieval England!
Now, back to the plot!
Fantasy is a fun genre. It allows us to explore countless worlds and go places only imagination can take us. It challenges us to take the first step into the unknown in the same way (insert protagonist here) does. It can be epic in scale, it can be personal. In this world of infinite possibilities the only thing it can’t be is predictable.
And yet it is.
Story time: When pitching my Senior Project to a friend I told her it was a Fantasy Drama. I was elated when she gasped, wide eyed, at the possibilities my story could bring. The she asked me, “Oh! Is the protagonist some hunky knight trying to save a princess from a dragon in a castle?” Whether she was condescending or not I’ll never know, but I do know that her question left a bad taste in my mouth.
More so than the sheer “wrongness” of her summary, what vexed me the most about our interaction was how quick she was to assume my story could be fit into such a cut-and-paste explanation. And yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized her simple query was quite valid.
And while i’m all for people loving what they love, I can’t stand the notion that the things I love are so simply caricatured and defined. Like a bad joke, Fantasy gets stereotyped and often made as a joke for those who enjoy it. I mean, why else would they have to make “Adult Covers” of Harry Potter?
See Subject A ^
And yet, I suppose it’s time to ask ourselves: are we, Fantasy fans, partially responsible for this stereotyping? Do we write and read only books in that familiar Medieval England setting, not deigning to step out into the world of more original works of fiction? I’ll admit I too stick to the conventions of fantasy more than I should, and for that I feel as though I am partially responsible for this mess.
So what is to be done? Well, that begins with originality.
Originality, as it’s appropriately named, can breathe new life into even the most dying of tropes. After Airplane came out, no one took Disaster Movies, but when Independence Day came out the genre suddenly became enjoyable once more. Soon afterward we had a flood of disaster movies like Dante’s Peak and Titanic, both of which were enjoyable additions to the genre.
Innovation can revive interest and understanding but that only comes when one has the guts to try something on their own. George R.R. Martin in particular uses the Medieval England setting for his Song of Ice and Fire series. However, rather than focus on the Dragons and Chivalry tropes that have been done to death he focuses on the politics and problems such a society brings. It’s his willingness to try something entirely of his own invention that made Game of Thrones such a hit, and is why Fantasy is seen in a much more appropriate light now than it was ten years ago.
As Winston Churchill once said “Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse.” The same can be said of any genre, and while conventions exist for a reason, it is a major disservice to both the reader and the writer to stick to them in fear of the unknown.
Be like the protagonist of your story and dare to step into the unmarked territory, and be unafraid for the lessons that brought you to the Journey’s threshold will serve you well.
Sorry for the long post. I’ll be sure to keep my thoughts more concise next time.
Do you all have a favorite genre of your own? Do you ever feel like stories in said genre are stagnate? How would you overcome them? Any experiences in doing so?
If not, then farewell, until next time. Keep on trekking.