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Serial Obsessions

“Less is more.”

The old adage runs true in many situations, but when it comes to fantasy fiction I find myself firmly in the “more is more camp.” There is nothing worse than reading a smart, engaging fantasy novel and realizing that once I’ve finished it, the story ends. I’m not against the stand-alone tome. Far from it, actually. But I prefer my fantasy fiction in heaping helpings.

Why?

Bibliothèque by Francois SchuitenThe simple answer is that when I enjoy a book—the writing, the characters, and the world—I want to spend as much time in that world as possible. This isn’t limited fantasy fiction. I vastly prefer television to movies (but I still love movies). I like reading my monthly comics in single issues as opposed to in “graphic novel” form (but I still love graphic novels). Serialization simply appeals to some fundamental part of me. But underlying the simple answer is a deeper—and perhaps more disturbing—justification for my love of the serial saga.

Obsession.

While Fantasy-Faction is an excellent repository of knowledge concerning the fantasy genre as a whole, think of the websites, message boards, SubReddits and the like devoted to one series. A Song of Ice and Fire. The Wheel of Time. Discworld. Harry Potter. Middle Earth. And those are just the “big names.” Each of these series has spawned countless fan sites, academic treatises, conventions and the like. Would this have happened if J. K. Rowling or Mr. Pratchett had written a single, standalone novel? Perhaps, but I would submit that it is highly unlikely. Genre fans are, by nature, obsessives.

House Langward of the Crownlands ShieldDo I need to know the heraldic symbols of House Langward of the Crownlands to enjoy A Song of Ice and Fire? Absolutely not. But five books into Martin’s series, the clamor for more information, more story, more everything has reached the point where such information is readily available. Maybe House Langward was mentioned once. I don’t really remember. But some fan has obsessed over the series enough to find the information and post it online. And I’ve obsessed over the series enough to repeatedly browse an entire website devoted to heraldry of Westeros. Obsession.

Autumn's Shade by theflickereesJordan’s recently concluded Wheel of Time weighs in at a solid 14 novels spanning over 20 years. The sheer number of books in the series—let alone the hordes of characters, locales, themes, etc. brought to life in the books—is intimidating to many the avid reader. Reading a 14 book series is a huge investment of time and intellectual currency. Yet most fantasy fans wouldn’t blink an eye at reading a work of such great heft. Many that haven’t admit that they’d like to one day. Those that have read it re-read it over and over again. Why? Obsession. There’s a world there to dive into, and layer upon layer of story to discover. You can inhabit a novel. You can live in a series.

I struggle with my obsession. There are countless books I could (and should have) read, but haven’t thus far because I’ve been re-reading the Wheel of Time or Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance books. Earlier this year I began Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series and tore through the first eight books with a dedication and focus I wish I could bring to bear in other parts of my life. For me, familiarity breeds not contempt but comfort. Losing myself in a series of books is the ultimate comfort.

But at what expense?

book of romance by breathing2004Fiction, regardless of genre, is always written with some underlying escapist intent. Obsession, though, can be the dark mirror of escapism. And fantasy and sci-fi fans (myself included) regularly skirt the line between healthy and unhealthy obsession. The difference, for me anyway, lies in the contrast between inclusion and exclusion. An inclusive obsession involves a shared love of a world. Cosplay. Message board posts. Podcasts. Writing for a website. To me, these are all healthy outgrowths of an obsessive love for an author’s work. They are inclusive but fiercely individual expressions of one’s devotion to a world shared and loved by the masses. There’s an escape, but there’s a return as well.

Obsession breeds exclusion in near-equal measure, though. Refusing to read certain authors or series. Castigating others for their choices, interpretations or opinions on a particular series or point of contention contained therein. Internet trolling. All of these acts are ones of exclusion, and are not far removed from huddling in a dank corner mumbling “my precious…” while stroking a dog-eared copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide. Such behavior is focused on an attitude rooted in “this is mine” as opposed to “this is ours.”

As fantasy fans, we’re lucky to have so many deep—and lengthy—works from which to choose. And as an intelligent, engaged lot, tech-savvy lot we have more opportunity than most to share our obsessions with those of a like mind. My love of fantasy is, I think, a healthy obsession. But an obsession nonetheless.

Title image by Francois Schuiten.

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7 Comments

  1. Avatar Xen says:

    To be honest I never found escapism to be a bad thing. Very rarely and for a few individuals it can become an obsession, but these cases are often associated with video games.

  2. Avatar Halhan says:

    A ring to rule them all
    A wheel that turns and turns
    A song of ice and fire
    A land and the first law
    An empire called Malazan
    How great it is,
    this serial obsession of mine

  3. Avatar Gray says:

    I can totally relate to this, The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire have dominated my childhood and i felt a lot of my friends and classmates never got my obsession for super long series but nowadays after meeting the online fan-base, reader communities and forums I feel like I’ve found a much desired brotherhood.

    “You can inhabit a novel. You can live in a series.”
    ^Words I live by (y)

    • Avatar Zack Matzo (@perch15) says:

      Thanks for making me feel ANCIENT! 😉 David Eddings and Dragonlance dominated my childhood. I was a big kid by the time TWoT and ASOIAF started rolling out. But I completely get where you’re coming from. It would have been cool to have started this journey in the internet age. I didn’t, and I never really had the opportunity to discuss a lot of this stuff until my 20s and beyond.

  4. Avatar Andrew says:

    Fan comes from the word fanatic. So etymologically fans are described as such by their fanaticism and thus that obsession you talk about.
    There seems to be a connection with the concept of the “geek”. That the obsession for a hobby/book/whatever becomes a part of the identity. A geek really gets into their choose geekdom and gets into the details, examines the subject. They take a piece of the subject into their own life.

    I wonder if fantasy is often in these big obsession-freindly series because geeks like fantasy or if geeks are drawn to fantasy due to the series aspect. Or perhaps there is no link.

    • Avatar Zack Matzo (@perch15) says:

      I think you raise a very interesting point. Clearly, at some juncture in the past, something compelled me to pick up a fantasy novel. Which led to a series, which led to more series, etc. But prior to that, I read comics, was very much into Star Wars, etc. It is a chicken/egg argument.

      That being said, there are plenty of massive series that I have no interest in because I have no interest in the genre–crime fiction/thrillers come to mind. Volume doesn’t trump content.

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