OK, so here’s a short rant on whet I don’t like with so called “epic” fantasy: the readers and the editors. It’s prompted by a “listopia” list over at Goodreads. Listopia is a place where massive lists of books are created and members vote on the “best” books, and the list changes accordingly. The list triggering my annoyance is of course called “The Best Epic Fantasy“.
I’ll blatantly steal the 20 first books on the list for this post:
- Harry Potter (#1-7)
- A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)
- The Chronicles of Narnia (#1-7)
- The Hobbit
- The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1)
- The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)
- His Dark Materials
- The Two Towers (The Lord of the Rings, #2)
- The Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings, #3)
- The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle #1)
- Wizard’s First Rule (Sword of Truth, #1)
- A Storm of Swords (A Song of Ice and Fire, #3)
- Eragon (Inheritance, #1)
- A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, #2)
- Assassin’s Apprentice (Farseer Trilogy, #1)
- The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1)
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter, #1)
- American Gods
- Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)
- The Belgariad
So what’s up? A quick look tells us we’ve got Tolkien on 4 spots. Fine, Tolkien is Tolkien, but if we partly discard him we get: 3 children’s books at top 4, Harry Potter as the number one epic fantasy, one science-fiction master piece, 8 standard boring run of the mills fantasy tropes (young man discovers his destiny as king, magician, whatever), no less than 3 George R.R. Martin when there should have been none, only 4 books with any kind of originality, and for fucks sake: the Belgariad? Oh, and I’m ignoring Lewis altogether. Why? Because I really, really don’t like him. This is a rant, remember? My blog, my rules.
(The lists have a problem we should acknowledge: duplications abound. Also, to be “epic” you probably want the entire series, not single books, and hence you’ve got a mismatch of “boxed sets” and single volumes.)
Run-of-the-mill fantasy: You know the drill: young man, unknown destiny, dragons, gods trapped under mountains, intelligent horses and a man with fire instead of eyes. Any questions? And yes, that means Tolkien, Eddings, Hobb, Paolini, Goodkind, Rothfuss and Jordan, right there. And to a certain degree Rowling and as well. Not all of them are bad, mind you, but it is extremely annoying that, for example, Goodkind and Eddings ends up a “the best epic fantasy” list.
Romanticism: Certain people are born to rule, born to magic, or otherwise special. Forget egalitarianism, forget democracy, we’re back to the rule of the elite again. OK, so I’m ripping of David Brin here, but the man’s got a point: where’s the visions and the originality? And do we really want a world you’re either born with an ability or you’re not, and you’re not then tough luck. Who questions Aragorns right to rule?
What editor? Hello Goodkind, Rothfuss, Jordan, Rowling, Paolini, Hobb and Martin! Some of the blame of the state of fantasy must be put at the feet of the editors. When an author becomes famous, apparently all rules are off. There’s a very simple explanation for it as well: the readers does not care, they expect the books to be massive. If I’m not mistaken it’s been shown that when it comes to fantasy, thick books sells more than thin ones. Now tell me what that says about the readers…
What does that leave us with? Well, Tolkien should be on the list, that’s a given, and you could argue that he shouldn’t even be on the list at all. But after that? From the top: Jordan had a brilliant voice the first couple of volumes, and for that he deserves recognition. Then of course the “what editor?” sickness kicked in. It’s a pleasant surprise to find Pullman on the list so high up. Originality? Really? I loved Rothfuss flair, but then the “what editor?” destroyed the second book. Stephen King? Well… Yeah, why not? I haven’t read the entire saga yet so I won’t comment. But what I’ve read is certainly head and shoulders above much of the competition. Then Gaiman, and an applaud from me. And Dune, which is undeniably science fiction (although I agree some so called SF is actually Fantasy in space-clothes), but: still damn good.
That’s the rant for tonight: You understand why I don’t like it now? This is apparently what people want. It is what they think is the best. Children’s books, reused plots and romanticism. It’s depressing as hell. I love Fantasy, but I understand why people look down on it: just read that list one more time and I think you’ll understand as well.