In Defense of Fantasy

Out of all genre fiction, poor fantasy is hated on the most.  (I think the reason literary fiction hates on genre in general is because it is not fun and it knows it is not fun and is jealous of the fact that genre is.  So it hides its envy under its “sophistication” and “social commentary” and what have you.)  This is truly unfortunate because fantasy is perhaps the most varied and rich of all genres out there.

When people think of fantasy they picture Tolkien rip-offs (what is known as the Sword and Sorcery subgenre) being read by overweight, hygenically-challenged individuals lurking in their parents’ basement.  Or, if someone manages to get past that old stereotype created in the 80s, then they tend to be of the opinion that fantasy is only for children, that as adults they are too mature and worldly to indulge in flights of fantasy.  That it is beneath them.

Even when I talk to fans of science fiction – a genre that is intimately tied to fantasy – I get a lot of weird stares when I ask them what fantasy books they’ve picked up recently.  As if spaceships and aliens were any more relevent than dragons and werewolves.  A kraken is just as scientifically possible as extraterrestrials lurking on Mars (and, in my opinion, infinitely more fun.  Now, if there were kraken lurking on Mars, well…).

Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you that if you are not reading fantasy you are missing out.  So you don’t care for elves and dwarfs?  So what?  The brilliant thing about the fantasy coming out these days is that anything is possible, that the sky – and beyond – is the limit for what this genre encompasses.  There are so many subgenres out there, spanning from only the merest hints of something supernatural in a modern or near-future world to secondary worlds populated with creatures so strange Tolkien wouldn’t know what to do with them.  There’s steampunk, alternate history, alternate universes, urban, contemporary, paranormal – the list goes on and on.  Every mythology, every legend, every cultural memory humanity has ever had can be found woven into stories in unique and fascinating ways.

And not only that, fantasy mixes seamlessly with other genres.  Science fiction?  Nobody really knows where to separate the two anyway.  Romance?  Absolutely.  Mystery?  You betcha.  Thriller?  Without a doubt.  People have even managed to get some fantasy into Westerns.  A little hint of magic and mystery can do a lot.

If you think you’re too old for fantasy, think again.  Fantasy’s grown up.  There’s a depth to the genre, to the characters, to the plot.  Sure, once it was a teenager, concerned with saving the maiden and swinging its sword around without a thought of where it would hit, but that was years ago.  It went out into the world, found itself, and grew into its own.

So I dare you to give fantasy a chance.  If you like historical fiction, try alternate history (His Majesty’s Dragon, Naomi Novik).  If you like science fiction, try steampunk (Leviathan, Scott Westerfeld).  If you like mysteries, you might take a look at Jasper Fforde’s The Big Over Easy.  I guarantee you can find something out there that you will like without the stereotypical elves or vampires.

Though those are there too, if that’s what you like.  We’re a very inclusive genre.

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