Tuesday, February 22, 2011

News Flash: Fantasy Fiction Still Sucks

Leo Grin decided that he could stand only so much crappy writing in the fantasy genre and wrote an essay about his disappointments. Here's his breaking point:
But it was only recently, after decades of ever-increasing reading disappointment, that I grudgingly began to admit the truth: I don’t particularly care for fantasy per se. What I actually cherish is something far more rare: the elevated prose poetry, mythopoeic subcreation, and thematic richness that only the best fantasy achieves, and that echoes in important particulars the myths and fables of old.

This realization eliminates, at a stroke, virtually everything written under the banner of fantasy today.
Congratulations, Leo. You've outgrown a literary genre. Pretty soon you'll be reading Dostoyevsky and loving it.

The next question that Leo Grin takes up is why he outgrew the genre. In his analysis, his taste didn't get bigger; the genre got smaller:
The other side thinks that their stuff is, at long last, turning the genre into something more original, thoughtful, and ultimately palatable to intelligent, mature audiences. They and their fans are welcome to that opinion. For my part — and I think Tolkien and Howard would have heartily agreed — I think they’ve done little more than become cheap purveyors of civilizational graffiti.

Soiling the building blocks and well-known tropes of our treasured modern myths is no different than other artists taking a crucifix and dipping it in urine, covering it in ants, or smearing it with feces. In the end, it’s just another small, pathetic chapter in the decades-long slide of Western civilization into suicidal self-loathing. It’s a well-worn road: bored middle-class creatives (almost all of them college-educated liberals) living lives devoid of any greater purpose inevitably reach out for anything deemed sacred by the conservatives populating any artistic field. They co-opt the language, the plots, the characters, the cliches, the marketing, and proceed to deconstruct it all like a mad doctor performing an autopsy. Then, using cynicism, profanity, scatology, dark humor, and nihilism, they put it back together into a Frankenstein’s monster designed to shock, outrage, offend, and dishearten.
All I can say is this: the third way between order and chaos is renaissance. The only way to move the genre forward is for people to explore and take risks and birth monsters. They might also birth the next masterpiece along the way. The problem is that we don't in advance what directions the genre needs to go in to produce that next literary titan. What we do know is that blanket condemnations of the literary opposition are not going to take the genre where it needs to go.

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