What Goes Into the Fantasy Fiction Pot?

August 10, 2011 § 4 Comments

Lately I have been reading reviews for a range of fantasy books and I have noticed a puzzling trend. Some reviewers are criticising books –  that I enjoyed for being a little unusual – on the grounds that they aren’t real fantasy. Or they are only superficially fantasy courtesy of a few details tacked on over the top of a book that is definitely not fantasy.

Reviews like this puzzle me because while all of the books in question feature some elements that might be termed uncommon in fantasy, they also feature plenty of other elements that are pretty normal. There is always some form of magic. In each case the magic in question is central to the storyline. There are strange happenings and mysterious wizard-types and sinister dark magic aplenty. All of that sounds pretty fantasy-ish to me.

They differ in that they are, for example, set not in a pseudo-medieval world but in worlds based on much later periods of history. They feature technology of some kind (frequently steampunk inspired). There isn’t an artifact of power. Elements like these don’t seem to me to be so integral to the identity of a fantasy novel that their omission will entirely blast the book out of the genre. But then, what are the vital elements of a good fantasy book?

I might suggest that magic is the most basic requirement, but there are books that are considered fantasy and yet involve very little waving of magic wands. The “quest” storyline is very popular in fantasy, but it’s certainly possible to write one without it. And so on. On the other hand, writers can and do mix typical fantasy tropes with features more regularly found in mystery, science fiction, romance, thrillers and horror very successfully – without, I think, wandering too far away from the roots of fantasy fiction. It’s increasingly common to mix genre tropes these days, and that is a good thing in my mind as it leads to stories with much more depth and variety.

However, it seems it’s possible to carry it to the point that some readers will question a book’s right to exist alongside The Lord of the Rings as a fellow work of fantasy fiction. What, then, should go into the fantasy fiction pot, and what (if anything) should stay well clear of it? Do you welcome or resent the merging of genres?


Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

§ 4 Responses to What Goes Into the Fantasy Fiction Pot?

  • DarcKnyt says:

    I like mixing genres. I think there’s room for a mix of everything in anything. Where would paranormal romance be without genre mixing? Or vampire love stories? or sparkly vampires who marry mortals and werewolves who pursue them as snacks? or geeks with glasses who go to schools for wizards?

    Genre mixing is critical to the vitality and survival of all literature. I think we can make room for all of it. We’d never have things like The Time Traveler’s Wife or The Lovely Bones without it, and those things were certainly popular. I don’t know why some people want to limit things to singular categories, but genre mixing is a good thing, IMO.

    But then, you’re the first person who’s ever asked, so I assume no one cared what I think.

    I’m glad to see you blog again; I’ve missed you. 🙂

    • Charlotte says:

      Hi Darc. I have to echo your question; I don’t know why some people want to divide everything up into clearly-defined and necessarily narrow boxes either. It appears to be purely a matter of marketing practicality, and how depressing to think that literature in general is commonly ruled by such a motive.

      And thanks 🙂 It’s been possible to settle back into my normal routine of writing and blogging, so hopefully that’s the end of the blog hiatus..es (hiates? Hiati?) for now.

  • dacampblair says:

    I absolutely agree. I think an integral part of any art form–be it painting, music, or, in this case, literature, I think it’s counterproductive to criticize something just because it doesn’t resemble the art doesn’t resemble the things that you’ve seen before. Tolkien revolutionized the fantasy genre by doing things in ways that no one had ever seen before. Since Tolkien, it should be apparent that people have blended fantasy with all kinds of things to create fantastic art. Whether it’s steampunk (my favorite is Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron), science fiction (Doctor Who), animal literature (Brian Jacques, Redwall), dystopian literature (Andrea Roth, Divergent), Coming of Age (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter), or Humor (Terry Pratchett, Discworld), innovation almost always takes the form of using the old and transforming to make what’s new. Anything can go into the fantasy pot, really–it doesn’t really matter what, as long as the writing is quality and the writer is talented.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading What Goes Into the Fantasy Fiction Pot? at Words About Words.


%d bloggers like this: