1.19.2007

Uh oh, the Sunday Scribblings this week is "fantasy" and she wants us to discuss the genre. For a girl who lives for fantasy, is a total geek, and is doing an MA in Comparative Literature in Children's Portal Fantasy, and who is, on top of all this, extremely long-winded, this could be a long post.

Or I could just copy paste something from a debate on Kirtles' blog about the validity of the genre. I won't even say what Kirtles said to prompt this debate, except that the word "silly" was used and I jumped on my high horse to become the white knight of the genre and a good discussion was had. We were discussing sci-fi and fantasy, but I tend to vear more towards the fantasy. I have a few theories on why this genre is so popular, and this is one of them.

What I think is actually at the route of both the problem and the beauty in this genre is comfort. I have this theory that geeks like myself (ie: obsessive/compulsives) want comfort, they are obsessed by things that provide comfort and for some reason, much of what sci-fi/fantasy puts out provides that. Part of how they provide this is in the escapism of course, the very existence of an otherworld, in which a variety of things impossible in our world can come true. They provide a place where we can believe things can be different - which is essential to believing we can make a difference in our world - they create possibility and hope, which is comforting. Somebody, Donald Palumbo I believe (I don't pull out my thesis books for blogging), said that fantasy is the genre used to express ideas which might be possible in our world, whether that be eradication of homophobia, that the isolated kid will eventually get his cake, or simply the idea that wonder might seep back into our world. Escapism into otherworlds, and the possibility of something different is also just pure, unadulterated fun - sure women can have three breasts, why not? Gaining comfort and amusement from this opening up of possibilities is the beautiful part of this type of fiction.

The bad part of where the comfort comes from are the formulaic plots. Human beings sometimes gain comfort by doing things that they know the outcome of. They can gain comfort in routine and knowing where they are going. It’s the same thing with lovers of the romance novel - the reader knows where the plot is going and how it’s going to get there before they even finish reading the first page. Some, though certainly not all fantasy authors, can fall into this category. The quest fantasy and the spaceship sci-fi often provide exactly this sort of thing. And I’m not saying it’s wrong to want this sort of comfort sometimes, to pick something up and know what you’re getting, but it’s kinda depressing to want it all the time. But it’s what some people want, or it’s what some authors mistakenly believe people want, so they just use the fantasy/sci-fi formula and create a series (series’ rather than stand-alones are very important for the obsessive/compulsive).

Anywho, it's just one of my ideas about the popularity of the genre that has so entranced me for so many years. The other theory of why I like it is that it has a lot of small people conquering over big people, which always makes the shorty in me happy :)

And from the man who uses the genre to open doors, windows, volcanoes of possibility:

17 Comments:

Blogger JourneyThroughLIfe said...

Really enjoyed reading this!
JTL
xxx

5:46 PM  
Blogger Speedy Chick said...

Comfort is a great word to describe the feeling most people get from reading fantasy. These novel have actually gotten me through tough times.

6:20 PM  
Blogger desert rat said...

Nicely put. Although I personally prefer the kind of fantasy/scifi that breaks the mold and is able to surprise me.

Thanks for posting that video, btw, hadn't seen it before. Speaking of someone who has a way with words (if I may descend into total geekdom for a moment): Joss Rules! The closing bit was just perfect: "Why do you write these strong female characters?" "Because you're still asking me that question."

10:47 PM  
Blogger Inconsequential said...

I like the cross overs best, sci-fi mixed with fantasy, because then if the sword wont dispatch the dragon a bloody great plasma cannon will :)

:)

As a mild OC type, I really like continuation in stories, or at least a constant setting/time line...

nice post.

1:13 AM  
Blogger Liza's Eyeview said...

The other theory of why I like it is that it has a lot of small people conquering over big people, which always makes the shorty in me happy :)

ME TOO :)

8:48 AM  
Blogger DJPare said...

Wow, this was right up your alley. Nice post!

11:37 AM  
Blogger tania said...

ooh new people, i love new people commenting on my blog.

just so you know, desert rat, i own a t-shirt that has "joss whedon is my master now" written in Star Wars font. let this blog be a geek sanctuary -descend as low into geekery as you want.

thanks for all the lovely comments! i am off to slay dragons in the future...

3:17 PM  
Blogger tania said...

i also love it when old friends comment on my blog, just to clarify :)

3:18 PM  
Blogger GoGo said...

i love that you love people commenting on the blog.

nice read.

2:13 AM  
Blogger twilightspider said...

Nicely said and thanks for the video post - it's the first time I've seen that as well.

10:48 AM  
Blogger blackdaisies said...

: ) this was great ...

eep ~ i have that same tee shirt

love love love the vid ...

10:50 AM  
Anonymous aos said...

Just a couple of things.

Listening to Mr. Whedon, I agreed entirely with the having to keep writing as long as people keep asking the question and then it made me think about Hollywood's 40s screwball comedies. Not only did these feature smart strong women but they were surrounded by men who liked that, and not only that, the films were wildy popular, like Buffy, indicating partly a need being met and an agreement with the natural inclinations of many that this was the way things ought to be. Check out His Girl Friday for an example.

And regarding the comforts of genre etc. Yes yes but as to fantasy standing out as a genre where the smaller (or shorter) beat the larger, I think an argument could be made that almost all genres use that particular trope. The individual against the mass, the rebels against the army, the lone ranger, etc..there is not much of a story if the strong beat the weak (there are a few but the other easily outnumber them).

12:36 PM  
Blogger tania said...

you are very right to point out those early female leads - interesting that we seem to have de-evolved that way.

and yes lord aos, it's true that many stories have the individual conquering over something larger than they are, but in fantasy, it is often the actually, physically short. The child, the hobbit, the halfling, the fairy, the sprite, the small animal (mouse, rabbit, spider etc).

1:38 PM  
Anonymous KG said...

This was a very insightful post! I really agree with what you've said:
"Gaining comfort and amusement from this opening up of possibilities is the beautiful part of this type of fiction."

This explains a lot about the success of Star Trek series all these years. And I find great comfort in watching re-runs of them.

9:02 PM  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

I love all that which takes me by surprise be it reality or fantasies.

Good post!

1:29 AM  
Blogger Crafty Green Poet said...

You've summed up here exactly why I admire sci fi and fantasy from a distance (what a great way of addressing issues, by putting them in a fantasy world and seeing what could be possible) and exactly why i rarely actually read either genre (the predominance of formulaic plots). Excellent post.

12:42 PM  
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