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Why fantasy gets derided - an answer.


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Initial post: 6 Apr 2012 10:08:52 BDT
This is going to get some strong reactions, so I'll start by saying - let's try and keep this a rational discussion and free of insults to participants, whatever views they espouse.

Fantasy should be the most admired genre of all. yet, it isn't. Why? Fantasy writers can create their own worlds, fill them with anyone or anything they like. The universe is open for us to play with our imaginations, and create sparkling jewels for readers to enjoy and admire. But instead, derided and put down, the genre is pushed to one side. Why?

I've concluded that the culprits are the big sellers, Game of Thrones and the dreadful sequels. W O T which seems intent on lasting until the end of time itself.

I've just finished, with a cry of relief, Game of Thrones. I found it AWFUL. No wonder fantasy is derided by other genres. Weak, stereotyped characters. A meandering yet predictable plot which conradicts itself in places. It's misogynist, a teenage rampage where the girls are only useful for cooking and... and where 14 year old boys are as strong as grown men. And this is portrayed as the best we can do.

Then, Eragon. Even on these pages the mutterings about plagiarism and predictability are rife. So, it was written by a 15 year old. Why weren't his parents more insistent he was doing his exams, rather than foisting this stuff on the world?

What do you think?

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Apr 2012 22:47:25 BDT
Rowena says:
I'm surprised you felt that way about the characters in Game of Thrones, as I think they're some of the strongest I've read in any genre. I'm not sure from your post whether you've only read Game of Thrones or the other books in the series as well, but there are plenty of strong female characters throughout the books who are not just serving girls or, ahem, 'seamstresses'. Catelyn, Arya, Daenerys, Ygritte, Brienne to name a few?

I can't comment on Eragon as I have yet to read the books. I admit I'm not expecting much from them, but as I try not to criticise anything until I've tried it I will give them a go at some point.

Unfortunately there are plenty of people who *do* criticise things without trying them, and coming back to your main point, this seems to me why the fantasy genre is so maligned.

I get the impression that a lot of people think fantasy should just be for children, and that there's something strange about adults who haven't 'grown out' of wanting to read about things that don't exist. As much as I love Harry Potter, the popularity of these books with adults may have made non-fantasy readers think all fantasy books are equally childish?

I also think people who don't read fantasy may think that it is easier to write than, for example, a crime thriller, as any plot problems can be solved by a convenient spell/magic artifact/act of god etc. I admit there are some authors that are guilty of this, but generally I think this means fantasy writers have to work harder to make their books believable.

I really don't think Game of Thrones & Wheel of Time have led to fantasy being derided, sadly it has been looked upon as geeky for decades. Whenever I read in the press someone making a sneering comment about fantasy or sci-fi, the person commenting generally seems to have little understanding of the genre/s (indeed, quite often thinking the two are interchangeable) and has no interest in learning more.

I also think that a lot of people probably tried Lord of the Rings as a gateway to fantasy, and this put them off for life *ducks*.

I think attitudes are starting to change, and books like Game of Thrones are helping this. People are watching the TV series and realising that fantasy can have depth, intricate plotting and 3-dimensional characters, which can only be a good thing. There are plenty of great authors about now who don't stick to the tired boy-on-a-quest plot, and thankfully cover art is becoming a lot less embarrassing nowadays... although with so many people having Kindles, no-one on the train can see what you're reading now, so perhaps the embarrassment factor will have less of an impact in the future?

Sorry, rather a long rambling post there (which is another thing, the sheer size of fantasy books/series can put people off - sorry, i'll shut up now!)

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Apr 2012 23:33:49 BDT
Will,

While I don't think the blame for fantasy's image can be laid at GRR Martin's door, it's nice to see that someone else has the same opinion of Game of Thrones as myself, and for the same reasons. Terrible books, they really are. Normally when I say things like this, it leads to an attack by Martin-fans.

Part of the problem is that fantasy is seen as playing make-believe, which is seen as childish, therefore...
And an author couldn't possibly be saying anything meaningful if they've just been making up elves and dwarves and spells, oh no!

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Apr 2012 23:41:33 BDT
Rowena,

I'm not sure how much fantasy films and tv series lead people to reading fantasy books. I've noticed that people will willingly watch fantasy but still look down on fantasy writing.
Comic books have the same sort of problem. Films based upon comics are a big thing at the moment, but, in my experience, few people will read the comics even of a film they've enjoyed. Who watches the 'Watchmen'? Apparently a lot more people than are prepared to read it.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Apr 2012 23:58:33 BDT
Rowena says:
Sam, you probably have a point there. If I see a film and love it, then I'll want to read the book it was based on, but obviously not everyone wants to do this.

I guess when one particular book/series becomes popular in the mainstream it is a double-edged sword (a magic sword, obviously ;) ). Yes, it may get more people into fantasy, but then it may also lead to a glut of poorly-written copy-cat works being published, and the newbies thinking that all fantasy must be like this...

Oh, and I'm not going to bash you for attacking Martin. I do genuinely think that his characters are very well realised and the plot of the first 3 books had me completely hooked, not knowing what was going to happen next. I was rather disappointed with book 4, and am currently about 3/4 through book 5 and still quite disappointed, so I'm hoping for a good end to this book, and that the final 2 will pick up again!

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Apr 2012 00:17:05 BDT
Rowena,

I'm glad there are some reasonable Martin-fans out there. It's disappointing, and I know others who've experienced it, that some of his readers feel the need to attack anyone who criticise the books.
I'm glad that you enjoy them. There's nothing better than a book series that gets your imagination going.

Fantasy series that become mainstream are a bit of an odd one. I think the many people thought that the Harry Potter books (another series I don't get on with. I do like some fantasy, honest. :-) ) would bring more people to the genre, but it seems to have been a blip. They stayed for the Potter books and then left again.
It's very difficult to break down an established perception.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Apr 2012 01:01:14 BDT
Rowena says:
"It's very difficult to break down an established perception."

To be honest, I don't see that changing any time soon. Even my husband, who loves Terry Pratchett, won't read any of my 'geek' books - perhaps Pratchett's acceptable as 'not really fantasy' because he's funny?

I actually don't mind too much if some people look down their noses at fantasy, it means I get to feel smug and superior about being non-mainstream ;)

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Apr 2012 06:59:52 BDT
J.Yasimoto says:
"I've just finished, with a cry of relief, Game of Thrones. I found it AWFUL. No wonder fantasy is derided by other genres. Weak, stereotyped characters."

I've read all sorts of fantasy for many years and I have to say I found GRRM's characters anything but weak and certainly not stereotypical.

"A meandering yet predictable plot which conradicts itself in places."

Again, in all my years of reading fantasy, it's the one and only series where I have been genuinely shocked at the plot twists. Haven't noticed any inconsistancy at all.

"It's misogynist"

It is not, the characters are, as you would expect them to be in a medieval society. The times weren't exactly politically correct."

"a teenage rampage where the girls are only useful for cooking"

Again, in medieval times, like it or not, girls weren't much use. But strangely, as another poster has pointed out, there are some very strong female characters.

"and where 14 year old boys are as strong as grown men."

Knights were trained from a very young age to ride, wield weapons, etc. They weren't stuck in their bedrooms playing the XBox for 6 hours a day. Doesn't beggar belief that a 14 year old boy could be as strong as a man.

"Then, Eragon. Even on these pages the mutterings about plagiarism and predictability are rife. So, it was written by a 15 year old. Why weren't his parents more insistent he was doing his exams, rather than foisting this stuff on the world?"

Here I agree with you. Eragon, poor writing, poor plot, no new ideas. This is the reason fantasy has a bad name. This is why some people won't read fantasy thinking it's all about wizards, dragons and spells. All aimed at a YA market.

As for Wheel of Time, I really enjoyed it. I will admit, however, it's a bit of an indulgence. Far too long for its own good.

Posted on 7 Apr 2012 09:53:38 BDT
R. J. Davey says:
getting back to wills first question..........

i believe the reason for fantasy and sci-fi's lack of fictional support is nothing to do with already published novels..it has been my experince over the last 25 years of reading and being involved in all aspects of "geekdom" that if someone new to the genres picks up any fantasy/sci-fi novel they either quit after 20 pages or borrow your entire bookshelve and convert ..

i have read many bad works of fiction...i have even stopped reading some after first chapter ..but yet i still look for other books to read of same type...lets be honest you dont pick up game of thrones or wheel of time by chance ..you already have a intrest in the genre either threw gaming...tv or other books or even word of mouth..and 1 bad book (im not saying they are or arent) doesnt make you start reading joan collins / andy mcnab

the real problem is one of perception and psychology ...fantasy in general is seen as childish and people , even intrested ones still respond to peer presure to conform in school / work and social groups ..it is those who are scared and worried what people will think who will never dare to pick up the book cover they like the look of while there mates are near and there mates that you should concern yourself with...not the authors who try to write what we all read.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Apr 2012 10:18:27 BDT
>>Knights were trained from a very young age to ride, wield weapons, etc. They weren't stuck in their bedrooms playing the XBox for 6 hours a day. Doesn't beggar belief that a 14 year old boy could be as strong as a man.<<

You are absolutely correct.

During the Wars of the Roses, Edmund, Earl of Rutland (the younger brother of the future Edward IV) was fighting in battle from the age of 14, and was killed at the age of 17 after the Battle of Wakefield in 1460. No-one seemed to mind that he was only a teenager. It is probably upon him that the character of Rob was based.

But Medieval history is littered with boys who fought in battle at a young age, and seemed to do as well as their older counterparts. Edward the Black Prince was only sixteen when he commanded the right wing of the English army at Crecy (1346).

Posted on 7 Apr 2012 11:35:35 BDT
Garscadden says:
Bonus points for a definition of infantry...

"Etymology: < French infanterie, < Italian infanteria (Spanish infanteria , Portuguese infanteria ) foot-soldiery, < infante a youth, foot-soldier < Latin infāntem infant..."

Ref
infantry, n.
Second edition, 1989; online version March 2012. http://www.oed.com/ accessed 07 April 2012. Earlier version first published in New English Dictionary, 1900.

Posted on 8 Apr 2012 19:55:21 BDT
minus10 says:
I imagine many (not all) lovers of any genre view other genres as lesser vehicles. Be honest, is Romance not similarly derided? Sci-fi, often lumped in with fantasy, is in the same boat.

Genre itself, of what ever type, is held in low regard by more literary fans.

And in defence of genre, there are many examples of the extremes; the highest quality and total dross.

I had a tutor once tell me the differnce between writing genre and literary fiction was that to write genre the writing had to be good enough, whereas to be respected in literary fiction the writing had to be the best.

To address fantasy directly, I think many deride it as they see it as immature i.e. the fantasy fan is a person who has never grown up. It's kids stuff. I don't agree, but I've come across this attitude enough.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Apr 2012 11:45:41 BDT
I would agree with that, minus10. "Kids' stuff" for people who've "never grown up".

Utter tosh, of course, but that does appear to be one of the prevailing views.

But you are also right that genre itself is held in low regard - which is just rank snobbery. I read a lot of historical fiction, and once had a long ... er ... discussion with a family member who said that she (yes, OK, it was my mother) thought it was "a shame" that I didn't read more "proper" books. Well, I won't bore everyone with the content of the ensuing discussion, but that sort of snobbery really gets my goat! LOL!

Posted on 9 Apr 2012 21:35:03 BDT
WEll, now I've had my mild bashing for not liking GRRM..

But I really didn't like the book. And i really did find the characters less than believable. I am fully prepared toi concede that i might be wrong over the strength of the youth, but I viewed my son ( presently in the Navy) who has played rugby since he was 11. Even now at 23, playing for the Royal Navy, he has just been complaining that his strength is not up to some of the older guys in the pack.

But having said that, I still feel that a lot of the basic 'Sword and sourcery' stuff pervades the public perception. Sir terry pratchett has managed to 'cross over' to mainstream, and good luck to him say I.

Lots ovf the current crop of covers don't help. Whilst we seem to have moved away from the over developed girls with a couple of postage stamps, so many of the current crop of covers are dull. Mistborn's were great when they came out. But now everyone is on the bandwagon/photoshop...

Posted on 10 Apr 2012 10:13:06 BDT
Whilst I'm not blaming a disinterest from the mainstream entirely on this, I think the names in fantasy do have a large part to play in turning off the general public. It seems that as soon as a fantasy world is created, everything in it has to stray from conformity. This was brought to my attention when my wife tried to read some fantasy simply because I was into it. The result after the first few pages was that, although she found the concepts within them easy enough to accept, the unfamiliar names and the wide abundance of them completely put her off continuing.

And then we get to the concepts themselves. Though my wife was quite comfortable with the concepts in this particular novel, I know for a fact that she would have been put off by those in many other such works. The reason for this is their unfamiliarity. It helps to at least have some reference to real life on which a reader can cling to, at least in order to make the tale compelling to the mainstream.

It's a difficult balance to stay true to what you want to write yet also making it successful, whilst ensuring that you don't feel like you're pandering to the uninitiated by dumbing down your work. Pratchett was cited by Will as one such author and it is the familiarity of his characters and concepts with the real world, whilst still being in an entirely fantasy setting, that allows it to be so appealing to the masses.

Posted on 10 Apr 2012 10:41:17 BDT
MintQ8 says:
Interesting - I personally can't get into Pratchett - but will try again (I have only tried one book about 14 years ago - but there's so much else I would prefer to read!)

Back to the original question. I'm never sure. I have some friends who adore fantasy and others who deride me for reading it. I can't remember what first brought me to fantasy - I think Sci-Fi - and I ended up preferring fantasy. Although now, I'm probably more marginalised - an adult who reads Paranormal Romance (but there's sooooo much rubb, Iish in this genre!!) although I prefer the grittier stuff then the YA/mills and boon stuff.

Fantasy, I think, is perceived as 'fairy tales' - children's stories. I also think the idea of the 'series' put so many people off. In the days before Amazon (and now kindle - love my kindle), I found it impossible to find book 1 - and I refuse to read a series, unless I can start at book 1.

Posted on 10 Apr 2012 18:58:14 BDT
Garscadden says:
I find the interesting thing about Pratchett is that, from a fantasy perspective, I just don't find his books very good. He seems to build on such good fantasy ideas, but not really develop them very well. The vampire / werewolf one being what really brought that into focus for me - it was set up for a fantastic story, but never really worked.

From a comedy perspective - his books are, in my opinion, great. For 'non-fantasy' elements I greatly enjoy his books (the assassins were wonderful, his strategist / football coach was excellent, the politics) - just the old school fantasy seems to not work.

So my view is if I want fantasy in that type of setting I stick to Lankhmar, if I want comedy I stick to Ankh-Morpork.

As such - maybe Pratchett brings fantasy to the masses because it just isn't very good fantasy?

(Sorry, kind of off topic there, but i tried to bring it back on topic with that last line, so not all bad.)

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Apr 2012 19:52:55 BDT
I think Pratchett crosses over well because he takes the fantastic elements and grounds them in a setting easily recognised and accepted by readers of other genres.

Perhaps it is easier to accept magicians when they are largely figures of fun, rather than menaces at large?

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Apr 2012 22:50:22 BDT
Jim Webster says:
I've often wondered if Pratchett writes fantasy at all really. I like his books but it strikes me that Disk World exists purely to allow him a chance to parody much of our culture.

Posted on 10 Apr 2012 22:57:55 BDT
Which you might well argue, Jim, is one of the points of fantasy. A great tradition, going all the way back to the fifties and beyond...

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Apr 2012 07:20:06 BDT
Jim Webster says:
Perhaps then fantasy gets derided when it gets pretentious? When it forgets it's roots?

Posted on 11 Apr 2012 08:17:53 BDT
And I di find a lot of it pretentious. W O T - 13 books in a series? Perleeease. Geek/nerd time in most people's eyes.

Posted on 11 Apr 2012 08:27:12 BDT
Jim Webster says:
Lord of the Rings (which I like) does have a lot to answer for, because it seems to have given a lot of people a licence to write books longer than they can cope with.
I must admit that one of the comments made to me that cheered me most was when someone read my book and commented "well no one can say it is tolkinesque".
Whilst I've got a sequel written to it, there isn't going to be a trilogy either!

Now to apologise to all those who have written really good long books and trilogies that hang together and work, but far too many don't.

Posted on 11 Apr 2012 10:17:02 BDT
I don't have a problem with the idea of a series. It's the trilogy thing I'm uncomfortable about, because so many writers just stop at a given point, with all the plot strands for the book unresolved, just so that they can write 3 books... Except for LOTR, why would I want to have to get 3 books to have a complete story? And even then, I can get a single volume LOTR these days.

Posted on 11 Apr 2012 11:04:59 BDT
Jim Webster says:
My first copy of LOTR was a single volume, I've still got it and have re-read it several times.
But yes, I like the idea of several books using the same background, with some of the characters in common, but if the story lasts for 200,000 words, then it's one story and one book.
There are reasons for splitting it into three, the first is the physical size of the book (which Kindle and e-readers have disposed of), the second is that ideally the first volume is earning you and your publisher money whilst the second volume is at the printers and the third volume is being written.
But I felt Douglas Adams had the right attitude to trilogies
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Discussion in:  fantasy discussion forum
Participants:  32
Total posts:  321
Initial post:  6 Apr 2012
Latest post:  21 Jun 2012

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