17 Apr 2011

So now what?

So what will I talk about?

How about Fantasy as literature

I will assume it was my mother that told me bible stories of Samson, and David. And while some of you must be wiping the bile like spittle from your mouths when you read ‘bible’, my mother was, and is a pious woman who also filled my head full of magic and monsters from around the world. Also for a young boy some of those stories are exciting. “He Killed them with a dead animals jaw bone? WICKED!” “ So John the Baptist’s job was dunking people? And then some girl who liked him had his head cut off for not snogging her? Typical girls, but WICKED!”

These experiences of story telling were breif, and they were combined with fairy stories and other books which held my interest for longer. But through them, and my indulgent family I discovered a love of story telling. Then I discovered the Myths and legends of Ancient Greece, which led to a life times love of world mythology. The stories of Hercules, Theseus, and Perseus enthralled me as a boy. Through the wonder of books I travelled with the Argonauts, and fought the Medusa over and over with these mighty heroes.

From here it was an easy transition to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, and Tolkien’s Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series. I fought with Taran, Peter, and Aragorn, and struggled with Frodo on his mighty quest. There were several others, but these classics stick resolutely in my mind.

In my teens I eagerly devoured any book I could. As I grew older my tastes leaned to Science fiction, but I also discovered Robert E. Howards Conan as he sought adventure in lost and forgotten kingdoms. I can’t remember all the stories I have read, good or bad but I generally enjoyed them.

Then in the uninformative years of my late teens and early twenties a girl friend of mine introduced me to David Eddings The Belgariad. Now I understand that you may be a fan of Mr. Eddings and his works, especially the Belgariad, but I am not. I read the first book promptly, and then started the second. I think it I was about half way through when I had a sudden realization. Not only was I no longer enjoying it, but I had fairly much worked out the plot of the entire series. Given the praise my then partner heaped upon the series, I persevered. I read the rest of the series only to find to my disappointment that I had been right all along.

This led to a rather long series of disappointing reads which put me off reading fantasy stories for years. When I returned to New Zealand from London I discovered George R. R. Martin. I don’t know why or how I missed him, but I did. His writing was intelligent and engaging and reawakened my love of fantasy stories.

The biggest problem with Fantasy is that a lot of it is formulaic, and the characters bland stereotypes; The boy destined to be king, a peaceful kingdom threatened by a dark wizard, a grim faced barbarian warrior searching for a crown, you get the idea.What I don’t understand is why so many writers copy the great stories or insist on such trite plot devices. So many science fiction writers have taken the opportunity to create wonderful stories, and perhaps make a commentary on contemporary society or culture. Science fiction has often been used as a vehicle for social commentary so why can't Fantasy?

You could argue that fantasy by the very nature of its genre could not be used as such a medium for expression due to its distance from contemporary culture. How can the tale of wizards and warriors and Elves, swords and sorcery, reflect America’s problems with Wall Street, or political revolution in Africa?

But why couldn’t it? Why can’t fictional fantasy societies or conflicts be an allusion for current issues? Weren’t there reflections of World War Two in the Lord of the Rings? I personally believe that it is an under utilized genre, with as much potential as any. You may have read such stories, which further my point. Undoubtedly if you are a fan of fantasy you have certainly read some dross. My hope is that there will be a renaissance of fantasy literature. Perhaps the recent HBO production of The Game of Thrones and the Hobbit will help.


  1. Is there any real difference between fantasy and science fiction anyway? As someone (Isaac Asimov?) once said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic...

    I always found Magician by Ramond E Feist a great novel...

  2. *snert* Mr Eddings *snert*