Monday, February 23, 2009

Has Fantasy been Overworked?


I came across this article by Guy Gavriel Kay, where he asks why write fantasies based on real historical events? Then he goes on to argue that the fantasy genre gives the writer more freedom to explore themes because it is a created world.

I had to smile because this is the core of my Masters Thesis. I believe that fantasy is ideally suited to tackle the big issues because in a created world you remove the loaded nouns like Black or Jew and replace them with invented nouns, freeing the reader to identify with a character, he or she might not have identified with in a contemporary novel.

As a writer I set out to entertain, but I find themes recurring in my books. In 'The Last T'En' trilogy the two lead characters were from different races and they had to overcome their distrust of each other.

In Terry Pratchett's books he entertains us by pointing out the absurdity of our world. He could have written contemporary political satires, but he chose to use the fantasy medium.

I get a real thrill when I discover a writer doing something interesting with the fantasy genre.

3 comments:

Dave Freer said...

The question is: could TP (and I am a major fan) have said what he does in contemporary satire and been published? On the basis of the evidence of whats out there right now in that field: no. So fantasy allowed him to do that. On the other hand... I'm still an empirical scientist at heart. John finds fantasy frees him. I find it channels my fantasy. The historical fantasies for eg, have a breakpoint and an alternate history perspective, with (although not in the books, at least handwavium reasons for magic existing in that universe. I've just finished a what might be called high fantasy... but it may not be: the logic and science have to be there. I really struggle with totally made up world stories because I almost inevitibly get my sense of disbelief activated by a bad grasp of some aspect -economics, biology, or even grasp of geology. Yes I am probably mindlessy picky, and over informed about far too many disparate subjects. But surprisingly many readers are experts in at least one area. Fiction which borrows from history at least liberates the writer from totally screwing up biology for example ;-)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

For me it is the way people interact. If this isn't consistent then I can't believe in them.

In the 90s there was a TV series called Sliders. A group of 4 people slid into different dimensions, which were like ours with with a twist. Sometimes they met versions of themselves. It had potential.

But what annoyed me about the show was that one of the people was black. And no where in any of the episodes that I saw, did this impact on how people reacted to him in the different worlds. Were they colour blind? If racism exists in our world, then surely versions of it would exist in other worlds.

Why no have fun with the absurdity of racism and turn it upside down? Make white people the persecuted race.

But they didn't, they ignored this and I couldn't get into the characters because the interactions were flawed.

Same with 'Gran Torino', the latest Clint Eastwood film. My husband loved it. I enjoyed the character he played. But I thought the reactions of his Korean next door neighbours were implausible.

Where were their prejudices? Here he was, ignorant and rude to them and they continually showed grace and tolerance towards him.

End of rant. :->

Dave Freer said...

(wry smile)We will have become a society without bias when we have black and gay heroes... and villans. It is not politically correct to depict say a woman as being stupid and chauvinist, or gay characters discriminating against straight ones, or a Korean being intolerant - although there are occasions in real life when these things happen. To my mind any such absolutes are self-defeating: they remove the plausibility from the story, thereby meaning its value in removing discrimination becomes close to zero. If you're going to insert bias in favor of tolerance, you have to be a lot more subtle. I've always believed in showing the shared humanity as a better option, with any positive bias subtle and therefore more believable. oops. Here endeth the rant from a dedicated egalitarian :-)