I’ve been doing some thinking lately regarding my approach to fantasy as a literary genre, particularly my thoughts on what I believe can be done with fantasy, things I want to try to do with Royal Redemption. Hopefully, those of you who’ve checked out the (very) rough draft so far will have noticed that the story is rather dark. I’m planning to deal with some very serious themes, very adult stuff. Not ‘sexy’ adult, but ‘serious’ adult.
In Royal Redemption, I plan to deal with such issues as rape, prejudice and racism, the temptation to compromise one’s principles for the sake of survival, and so on. I don’t think I’m the first writer to tackle these issues in a fantasy novel, but as I’ve really opened the hood and put some thought into writing this story I’ve ended up dong some thinking about the genre itself, and that has led me to ask the following question:
Are we all doing this wrong?
By that I mean, is fantasy really what we think it is? Is it really a genre of literature?
I’m not so sure, and I’m beginning to think very seriously that it isn’t.
Think of the themes I’m writing about in Royal Redemption. Mainstream or contemporary novels deal with these issues, too. Fantasy lends itself well to stories of high adventure, but If one wanted to write a mystery or a thriller, or a horror novel, a detective drama, or even a romance and set it in a fantasy world, one certainly could. And I’d be willing to bet that if you’re a big fan of fantasy, you’ve probably read books where writers have done exactly that. I’m not claiming to blaze new trails here.
The trail I’m trying to blaze is more in how we think about fantasy. I don’t think it helps us to think of fantasy as a literary genre. I see it as something bigger. I think it’s more of a setting. We don’t call mainstream, or contemporary novels ‘real world’ novels. That would be silly, wouldn’t it? In the same vein, I don’t think we should call novels and series like Lord of the Rings, or The Riftwar Saga, fantasy. They’re adventure stories, really. They’re simply set in a fictional world, that’s all.
I think, shedding the ‘fantasy’ label would do a lot for writers. First, it would put writers like Terry Brooks and Raymond E. Feist on the same shelf as Louis L’amour and Tom Clancy, and I think they both deserve and would appreciate that. Secondly, I think it would help writers like me who might want to follow in Feist’s and Brooks’ footsteps be taken a bit more seriously as writers if the focus is shifted to the kinds of stories we write rather than the setting we choose. I think that draws the writing community together a little better. Writers of fantasy (and science fiction, too) wouldn’t be made to feel like they’re in some box separated from the ‘real’ writers of contemporary or mainstream fiction.
So, that’s it, I think. Fantasy is not a genre to me. It’s a setting. A setting where you can tell any story you can imagine. It’s a literary device then, really. Useful if you have a subject you want to tackle, such as rape, that if set it in the real world might be too intensely personal, or in the case of prejudice and racism, might be so controversial that attention would become glued to the controversy instead of the point you’re trying to make.
And that’s what I think I need to spend some time thinking about as I become increasingly serious about my writing. In the realm of fantasy, high adventure rules and has done since Tolkein, or even Jules Verne perhaps, if you want to really think about it. But maybe, if instead of trying to shoehorn the themes I’m trying to tackle into an adventure story, if instead I take a broader view, maybe I can make Royal Redemption something more than just an adventure story.
Something to think about…