“When the letter came I was out in the fields, binding up my last sheaf of wheat with hands that were shaking so much I could hardly tie the knot.”First line in The Binding by Bridget Collins
Hi, guys. Welcome to this little discussion post about something I’ve noticed when listening to/reading general debates about fantasy (by “general” I mean not a specific sub-genre). That is that there’s a tendency to reduce the genre to something simplistic and thereby forgetting all the many types of fantasy books that exist.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m also guilty of doing this. We all are, because that’s how we discuss concepts as human beings. We simplify and generalize aspects of a topic or a group to make it easier to talk about. That’s how we talk about concepts and discuss them.
Now what I’ve noticed is that fantasy is often reduced to the same things. For example, I’ve often heard a sentence like this: “This fantasy book is like *insert famous contemporary/historical fiction novel* but with dragons!”. Dragons seem to be the most talked about when it comes to fantastical creatures and are often used as examples. I know fantasy creatures might not be the most groundbreaking topic but I’m just trying to prove my point with it. Because you see, by always mentioning the dragons, we exclude the unicorns, the trolls, the goblins and all the other creatures that are specific to certain books. Again, nothing wrong with dragons but we could get an entirely different discussion by talking about unicorns. This is getting a little abstract but it’s really just to say that I sometimes miss diversity in fantasy debates.
Another nuance I really want to discuss is the fact that not all fantasy falls under the category of epic fantasy. I think there’s a tendency to talk about fantasy in the way of how epic it is. Epic battles, epic quests, epic worldbuilding and magic systems. That’s all good. We all love that but a book doesn’t need a crazy and detailed magic system to be considered fantasy. It doesn’t even have to include a single battle (I know, shocking!). However, these topics are some of the most common when discussing fantasy in general. In these discussions, I believe we’re for one excluding the more atmospheric, slow paced, character driven books. They make up a large part of the market but are often forgotten and maybe not thought of as actual fantasy. Some examples of these kinds of books are The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Circe by Madeline Miller and The Binding by Bridget Collins (not going to talk about the fact that these are written by women because that’s a discussion I’m actually afraid of).
By forgetting these nuances, we reduce the fantasy genre to less than what it actually is and forget what it can do. I’m also sure that this has an effect on how non-fantasy readers think about the genre. That fantasy books are all 10-book series with lots of information and too many dragons. That could scare anyone from dipping their toes into the genre, and that’s a shame when there are so many different types of fantasy books.
All of this of course begs the question: is it even possible to discuss fantasy without specifying a certain sub-genre? I’m not sure I have an answer for that but I would love to know what you guys think.
I understand how easy it is to fall into the epic and high fantasy category when talking fantasy books, and maybe it’s because they don’t really blend in elements from other genres (at least not to a very great extent). They might even be considered the “true fantasy books” (in lack of a better term) and therefore more relevant in a fantasy debate. When a fantasy book also has elements from historical fiction, contemporaries or romance novels, everything just gets a little bit more muddied and harder to talk about in generalized terms.
Here at the end I just want to clarify that I’m not hating on anyone or accusing people of talking about fantasy “wrong”. I just think it’s an important discussion to remember all the nuances in the fantasy genre. But hey, chat with me in the comments. Let me know if you’ve noticed some of the same trends or if I’m just listening to/reading the wrong discussions. Happy reading, guys!