Sunday, July 29, 2007

Elves and Dwarves and Orcs, Oh My

Mention a "fantasy" genre to anyone and you'll inevitably conjure up a few stereotypical images. Among them: warriors, wizards, knights, clerics, half-naked barbarians, thieves, sorcerers, half-naked women, pointy-eared elves, dwarves, orcs, dragons, enchanted swords, shields, armor, magic, queens, kings, gods, temples, undead, runes, staves, wands, and ye olde Englysh-speak.

That list, in retrospect, does not cover just "a few" stereotypical concepts. In fact, that's a full-blown set of immediate assumptions right there. This is probably what comes to most people's minds when they consider the fantasy genre, and I think that it's a very unhealthy development. Fantasy fiction -- at least, in theory -- is supposed to let us explore new universes and alternative worlds. When a genre constantly gets you multiple versions of the same basic concept, however, then you have to admit that there's something wrong.

Personally, I blame Dungeons & Dragons for this development. Don't get me wrong about the game -- I think that it promotes storytelling skills and makes for good creative exercise. But now that the original generation of D&D players has grown up and started putting together their own fantasy universes, everything seems to be a constant rehash of the same old things.

This is probably why most fantasy fiction doesn't seem to impress me nowadays. This is probably also why your D&D character profile doesn't impress me, either.

I like to see some innovation in the fantasy fiction I read -- something beyond the usual staples, mind you; Something that tells me that the author put more than the usual effort into building his or her universe. The fantasy genre doesn't necessarily have to be pigeonholed into worlds full of the same racial populations and physical forces. The genre is supposed to stretch our imagination to begin with, not encourage us to use the same things over and over again.

I'm aware that it's not easy to think outside the box. But the problem is that we've penned ourselves inside the box for quite some time now. Most of us have been writing fantasy like this for so long that it's difficult for us to conceptualize the genre in any other way.

Whatever the case, I want to stop thinking of fantasy as the domain of elves, knights, wizards and whatnot. There's got to be other universes to explore here. There's got to be more to the fantasy genre beyond what everybody and their mother is writing nowadays.

2 comments:

Jeff - Reiji said...

I believe the "warriors, wizards, knights, clerics, half-naked barbarians, thieves, sorcerers, half-naked women, pointy-eared elves, dwarves, orcs, dragons, enchanted swords, shields, armor, magic, queens, kings, gods, temples, undead, runes, staves, wands, and ye olde Englysh-speak" stuff will remain in the fantasy genre whether we like it or not. It's just the way it is. It's the same thing when we mention sci-fi for example, we get to think of scientists, geek stuff, robots, etc., right?

IMHO, thinking out of the box can also mean mixing typical ideas with the not-so typical ones. For example, in a fantasy genre, what if the so-called "damsel in distress" was a lesbian or the knight in shining armor is in love with a dark squire? Weird, but not-so-typical. =)

Sean said...

Reiji: I'd say the same about sci-fi, except that the latter genre seems to be pulling itself away from the usual stereotypes. The most obvious mainstays of sci-fi are robots and technology; I think we're seeing more sci-fi works that involve neither.

I'll agree with you on the mixture of typical and not-so-typical ideas, though. There's nothing more fun than playing around with standard literary conventions, much less damsel-in-distress scenarios. :)