Monday, August 01, 2005


During my (continuing) fiction-related hiatus - I'm barely spending any time at the computer and haven't even been responding to email! It's freeing! - I've been reading a lot of fantasy and it's got me thinking about the genre.

When all the Buffy the Vampire Slayer hype started, I sneered and ignored it. First, the name. Buffy?! Vampires?! Second, the movie starring Luke Perry. My feminist sensibilities suggested that I would probably hate a movie with a pretty young female lead called "Buffy" screaming and being chased by vampires. Third, the little bits I saw of the TV program included some really bad acting and ridiculous special effects.

Years later, when I did end up watching the WB and UPN series regularly due to persuasive peer pressure, I was amazed. Yes, there was bad acting. Yes, there were bad special effects. Yes, there were lovely young women getting kicked, punched, and thrown around by large men. But man, Joss Wedon was doing some interesting stuff. There's a lot more room for creativity and flexibility in a genre that's less rigorously defined, with fewer immutable lines, and this show contained some really ground-breaking stuff that was different from anything else on television.

I've long felt the same way about fantasy fiction. Oh, yes, there is some incredibly bad stuff out there marketed as fantasy. Some people (and some publishers!) will buy anything with swords and dragons, it seems. But there are some treasures in the refuse heap. There are some richly developed worlds, written quite well, revealing amazing amounts of research into cultures, religions, military campaigns, and yes, fashions, around the world.

For many of us, reading is escapism. I love to lose myself in a good story, immersing myself in the world the author creates. That's no more real if the fantasy is of Jane Austen's creation or C.S. Lewis's. I'm no more likely to find myself in 19th Century English society than I am to find myself in Narnia. But both journeys are wonderful escapes from my daily life, and both make me yearn for what will never be, in a most wonderful way. Just because it isn't "realistic" doesn't mean it isn't a good story, and well-written.

I don't know what would be a good introduction to fantasy literature for the skeptical. I started very young with fairy tales, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, Joan Aiken, and so many many more. When I was a teenager I discovered Orson Scott Card. Some of what he does is just wonderful. He likes to write series novels, though, and his creative ideas always end up faltering out, becoming sermons that bog down the plots as each series progresses. I am not comparing modern fantasy to the classics in the English Literature canon. But I do recommend Margaret Weis (Death Gate Cycle) and Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time) as engrossing series reads.

Certainly, reading really good fantasy is a better summer pastime than reading one of those many pink-covered books about lipstick and fighting over men that litter the prime real estate at chain bookstores this time of year.

I think it's good when adults maintain a sense of wonder. I think it's healthy to suspend disbelief. I love that intelligent grown-ups are dressing in robes and drinking butterbeer. I'm glad that most of the highest grossing movies of all time are fantasy movies.

Next time I'll tackle video games. Won't that be exciting?


SpookyRach said...

Wow! I love what you are saying here. I'll be coming back to read your thoughts on video games.

(A little internet gossip: Joss Wedon has evidently been picked to direct a Wonder Woman movie. Could be good.)

Krupskaya said...

I've gotten myself sucked in to the Wheel of Time series. I have to disagree with you; I do not think they're well-written. But I can't. Stop. Reading them.

PPB said...

you go girl

Sarahlynn said...

Thanks, SpookyRach and PPB. :)

Krupskaya, I'm rereading TWOT right now (the new book comes in October! After a full 2 year publishing cycle! With intensive editing! This can only be good.) and am really enjoying it. I had forgotton how good the first 4 books are. Sadly, it begins to fall apart there. Jordan has too many balls in the air and resorts to very flat - and repetitive - characters to keep them all spinning. In particular, I hate what he's done to Nynaeve. But I still think the amount of research he's done is amazing and the world he creates is wholly engrossing.

If you want really poorly written books that are amazingly addictive (IMO good storytelling demanding a *much* better editor) have you tried Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake novels?

kpso53pgeg said...
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FractalGirl said...

Sarahlynn, I haven't had much time for reading, unfortunately, but I have to say it's wonderful to see you around again, even if it's just to know you're okay, and not on a regular basis yet (note that hopeful last word? ;) ).

Songbird said...

Okay, this is two weeks later, and you apparently have no electricity (eek!), but if you like Robert Jordan, I highly recommend George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. The fourth book is due this fall. My husband and son, big Jordan fans, like Martin even more.

Nickie said...

Hey I found a mama who actually appriciates Joss Whedon. Woo!

I'm going to add you to my BlogRoll so I can read your blog more often. You rock! :D