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The Many Faces Of Fantasy

Consider the number of subgenres in fantasy. Depending on who you talk to, there are anywhere from five to ten to fifteen (more depending on how specific you would like to be). There are the more popular subgenres like high fantasy and urban fantasy; but there are also a slew of smaller disciplines like Arthurian fantasy, wuxia, and mythpunk.

The variety of genres exists because there’s demand – and there’s demand because we, as fantasy fans, are an eclectic bunch. As such, fantasy generally means something a little different to each of us.

In Arabian Nights, fantasy helped Scheherazade avoid execution; in The Princess Bride, fantasy soothed a sick grandson; in Pan’s Labyrinth, fantasy provided an escape from the Ofelia’s brutal reality; and in Big Fish, fantasy helped a father and son understand each other.

That’s the beauty of fantasy–it can be whatever we want. That’s what draws us in. We’re searching for something strange and new and wonderful. Something we’ve never seen before and, probably, never will.

Obviously, the meanings above are dramatized views of fantasy, but I hope it illustrates a point. Granted, most of us (I hope) won’t need to use fantasy to avoid execution, but we can certainly use it as an escape or, at least, as a change of pace.

This escape can take different forms. We all have our quirks–those one or two things that make even our fantasy friends (totally not the same as imaginary friends) scratch their heads.

Maybe you spend Saturday afternoon LARPing or hosting endless sessions of D&D; maybe you secretly still play text-based video games; maybe you have an exotic collection of medieval weaponry or towering stacks of untranslated Manga you can’t read; maybe you just really love to play Lord of the Rings Monopoly. There’s always something.

Such is life! Or should I say: Sui guil?

That’s the Elvish translation. I think. And while I’ll gladly award myself +5 geek points for the effort, studying Tolkien’s invented languages was never really my thing. Nevertheless, plenty of fans out there love it. And that’s great! Diversity makes us awesome.

(P.S. ~ if there are any members of E.L.F. here, please feel free to correct my translation!)

And this brings us to the next topic: stigma.

Literary Discrimination Is Real, People

Paul touched on this last week in his article The Stigma of Reading Fantasy, but I’d like to extrapolate some more.

As a rule, when you have something that’s different from the norm, there are always going to be dissenters. When that something you’re talking about is as diverse as the world of fantasy it only serves to multiply these feelings.

Science fiction and fantasy both have come a long way in the last hundred years. In the early 1900s, neither existed as a genre and the works of L. Frank Baum and H.G. Wells were displayed alongside Upton Sinclair and Joseph Conrad. The mid-1900s saw the release of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, yet some authors–like Kurt Vonnegut–still staunchly resisted being labeled science fiction/fantasy. In the late 1900s, Star Wars had become a phenomenon, Schwarzenegger was playing Conan, and Terry Brooks was working through his iconic high fantasy about the world of Shannara.

Despite fantasy’s invasion of mainstream media, it still isn’t widely accepted. Fantasy requires imagination. And while I won’t accuse people who don’t appreciate fantasy of lacking imagination, I will say that if someone doesn’t ‘get’ fantasy, then chances are they aren’t going to enjoy it. And guess what? That’s okay! I don’t think we need to convert the world–because that’s impossible. People like what they like. But I do think non-fantasy fans could learn something from us.

Despite our myriad differences, I find fantasy fans generally more accepting. And how could we not? We spend so much time stretching our minds to outrageous levels that I think we develop a natural acceptance of other fans weird quirks. Sure, some people might not get why those weren’t the droids they were looking for or why exactly the cake is a lie, but they certainly won’t mind when you know–even if it does leave them shaking their heads.

The Future Of Fantasy

We’ve seen a big surge lately, so it’s actually a very exciting time to be a fan. Fantasy has ingrained itself in popular culture more firmly than ever.

George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones is coming to HBO in April; Felicia Day (arguably one of the biggest advocates of fantasy fans) took time off from The Guild to put together the upcoming Dragon Age web series; Bethesda is finally releasing the next Elder Scrolls in November; and Sanderson is bringing Robert Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time to a close.

So rejoice, fans of fantasy. You’re part of something great. And when your son grows up and wants to know why you named him Rand, you can proudly sit him down and explain that no, he was not named after the map guy, but after the Dragon Reborn.

I’ll leave you alone in the dark now, but don’t stay too long or you’re likely to be eaten by a grue.

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10 Comments

  1. Avatar Oli says:

    I like a good story as much as the next reader, but for me the real attraction of fantasy is the creation of an immersive, internally consistent world, with all the richness and depth that a good one has. I want to go somewhere. (Should I really be reading travel writing? I don’t know…)

    Incidentally, MC Frontalot does a good song about being eaten by a grue.

    • Avatar David says:

      I love a story with strong world-building, so I’ll definitely agree with you on that! Also, thanks for the song recommendation – I’ll have to check that out 🙂

  2. Avatar Rysn says:

    A good read, Epic Fantasy all the way.

    I found the best response to have when somebody asks you “oh your a writer, what type of stuff do you write.”

    “Do you know the lord of the rings.” I ask aware of the reply.

    “Oh yeah,” they will say.

    “Well I’m basically just ripping that off.”

    If they give me a funny look then I can hazard a guess that they probably don’t read any of the fore mentioned genres above.

  3. Avatar Chase says:

    Great article! I’m really glad I “stumbled upon” this website 🙂 I do love being a fantasy fan, however, it is often somewhat awkward when someone asks you what kind of books you enjoy reading. When you say fantasy they always assume that means vampire novels or some cheesy harry potter like book.

  4. Avatar David says:

    Haha I totally agree with you! I know some people don’t run into the issue, but I definitely have – especially in my “professional” career 🙂

  5. Good to know there are true fantasy fans out there unafraid of admitting to the fact.. but a little concerned about the Grues…

  6. Avatar Adam Davis says:

    What an awesome article. Props to your writing skills.

    I enjoyed reading this because I can relate. Being a closet World of Warcraft player, I am one of among 12 million people that enjoy the fantasy worlds that the game developers create. The equipment you wear shimmers and glows with magic, the staff you wield has orbs that swirl around it, and the dungeons you enter are full of lore that relates to the Warcraft novels. Fantasy is awesome because it really is a “a change of pace” from the business attire, congested highway, boring meetings, that I call RL .

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