Posted in Discussions

Wyrd and Wonder: Embracing the Nuances of the Fantasy Genre

“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!

Posted in Discussions

My Experiences Being a Fantasy Reader in a World Looking Down Upon the Genre

“The day was grey and bitter cold, and the dogs would not take the scent.”

First line in A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin

Hi, guys. I know the headline might be a tad dramatic but I really just wanted to talk about some of the experiences I’ve had as a fantasy reader and try to reflect on them. You see, I’ve been reading fantasy books since the age of 10 when I picked up Harry Potter. As a child I never wanted to read any other genre. The things we read in school that weren’t fantasy confirmed that belief.

However, when I was about 14, I could tell that that wasn’t okay anymore. You see, fantasy is for children and when you grow older you’re meant to develop an interest in “real life” books. I noticed this change when visiting the school library and my teachers would try to pull me towards the non-fantasy shelves. “Aren’t you ready to try something other than fantasy?” they would ask. I would get similar comments from family members: “You’re still reading fantasy? Still Harry Potter?” said in that condescending way. So naturally I started to feel embaressed about it. I stopped talking about reading as one of my passions because that would always prompt the question of what I liked to read. I still only read fantasy but I just didn’t talk about it to avoid being seen as “the weird one” or “the nerd”.

That was pretty much my life until a few years ago when I discovered BookTube and the online book community in general. Suddenly I’m watching SO. MANY. PEOPLE talking about their love for fantasy books. It was also new for me to see women talking about fantasy, and that made a huge difference in my life. It felt empowering in the way that I was no longer alone in my obsession. It gave me the confidence I needed to just embrace my love of reading and not be afraid to talk about it. I no longer felt weird.

Does this mean that everything is just perfect now and people are accepting the fantasy genre? Not exactly but there has been a shift with the huge success of the Game of Thrones show. We were finally the cool people! Game of Thrones really managed to showcase all the merits of fantasy and how it isn’t just escapism, and that opened many people’s eyes to the possibilities within the genre. Just look at how many fantasy books are being adapted into movies and shows at the moment (it’s a lot!).

This is all very good and definitely a huge step in the right direction, but to go back to my own experiences, I still see so many people dismissing the genre. As I now talk more openly about my love of reading, I often get the weird look from people who don’t understand how an adult can talk so passionately about magic. I don’t let it bother me anymore but it’s still there.

Finally, I also just want to highlight some of the problems of being a fantasy reader in Denmark. Now, I read my books in English because that’s what I’m most comfortable with but the fact is that I don’t have a choice. Or rather, other Danes don’t have a choice because very, very few fantasy books get translated into Danish. Only the most popular books get a translation and of those it’s mainly YA books. As an example: the only adult Brandon Sanderson book that has been translated is The Way of Kings. Not Mistborn. Not Warbreaker. The entire Wheel of Time series hasn’t been translated either. Those are some of the best and most fundamental books within the genre that aren’t available to non-English speaking Danes.

I just want to clarify that Danes are able to speak English quite well, but I’ve still met many who find it intimidating to read an entire book in English. Fantasy isn’t exactly the easiest genre anyway. So the lack of translations have an impact on how many people are reading the genre. On top of that, not very many Danish fantasy books are published. And those that are, are so far away from any Bestseller list that they could never dream of hitting them. So there you have your vicious circle. Of course publishers aren’t going to spent money translating books in a genre that doesn’t sell very well. The surge in popularity fantasy books otherwise have experienced hasn’t reached Denmark. We only read murder mysteries here.

I can’t help but get the feeling that our society treats the fantasy genre as less than others, and the result is the shame I felt as a child for reading it anyway. I’m sure a lot of other people has felt the same way and I really want that to change. Fantasy is an amazing genre that can explore so many relevant issues and have just as much literary merit as any other genre.

So what is the solution? It’s difficult to change societal opinions on your own but that is not an excuse to do nothing. I will set the goal for myself to read at least 5 fantasy books by Danish authors by the end of the year. It will require some research on my part because I can’t mention a single adult fantasy book by a Danish author right now. I will also have to overcome my dislike of reading in Danish but I want to view this as an opportunity to find so many more amazing books. And then I want to talk about them! Maybe that will make just a little difference.

Now, I can of course only talk about the situation in Denmark but I would love to know if you’ve experienced something similar in your own country, especially if you’re from a non-English speaking one. Is fantasy a popular genre where you live? Have you experienced your own kind of stigmatization for reading fantasy? Do you think there’s an incresing acceptance of the genre? Chat with me in the comments.