I grew up reading Fantasy. In fact, I learned to read novels in large part by reading Fantasy.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Elric of Melniboné, The Sword of Shannara, among others.
I loved magic, maps, and made-up history. I loved the epic scope. I loved the supernatural mystery. Adventure, romance, heroism, battle, and feats of daring. Unlikely heroes and unexpected allies. It was all so enchanting to my young self.
C.S. Lewis was my first introduction to the genre. In fifth grade the first chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was included in our classroom reader. Until then I had never read that sort of story. I think the only novel I’d read up until that time was Where the Red Fern Grows (which, as a 9-year-old, was also the first book that made me cry.)
So I checked out the entire book from the library and read it through. I remember completing it in the waiting room of my allergist in Reno.
Next, my mother had bought for herself the Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula LeGuin. Those are compact but dense little novels, well-crafted, with earthy characters and deep magics.
It took me a little longer to read the great grandaddy of modern Fantasy, The Lord of the Rings. But by then I was knee-deep into Dungeons and Dragons and creating my own worlds along with sharing happily in the worlds of others.
As much as I’ve enjoyed most genres of literature over the years, from hack commercial tripe to truly Great Literature, I always considered Fantasy my favorite. It still is today one of the first sections I peruse when I visit the bookstore.
Over the weekend I felt like I wanted to find some new Fantasy fiction to read. I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction the last few years, for work or for personal interest, and thought maybe it was time to discover a new escape.
The most recent fantasy series I’d bought and read, at least in part, were Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones,) Memory, Sorry, and Thorn by Tad Williams, the Second Sons by Jennifer Fallon, and The Prince of Nothing by R. Scott Bakker. I didn’t make it through all of those, but did read most.
So while out running errands yesterday, I had to stop at Barnes & Noble to pick up some Christmas cards accidentally left out of our shopping bag during our last trip. “Had to…” Yeah, I don’t really need to be coerced to go into B&N. Anyway, my desire to find some new Fantasy was still on my mind. There are dozens of series that have looked intriguing and a number of them that are fairly new and unfamiliar to me.
By the time I left the store, I was… bored. I picked up over a dozen different books and read the backs. Was it me? Or were they all starting to sound exactly the same.
Clearly, they’re not exactly the same. And I’m probably missing out on some really great stories. Maybe, at least.
But after several variations of “Unlikely hero faces threat to him/herself and the kingdom and must journey to Mount/Valley/Land/Tower/Castle/Fortuneteller of Doom to find the key to saving him/herself and the Kingdom” I just couldn’t even pretend to be interested.
It’s like we’ve been building on the foundation built by Lord of the Rings (and by relation, his inspiration from Northern European lore and so-on) and have found ourselves trapped in the form.
Every book is book 1/2/3/4 of the Such-and-Such trilogy/cycle/epic/histories/sequence/wotever.
And there is always a map. A map that looks like the other thousand maps out there.
What is going on? Where are the real originals? What have I missed?
You know what I thought was very original? The Time Master Trilogy and the Indigo series, both by the late Louise Cooper. Published decades ago. They were both about individuals who weilded great power and who paid a stepp price for the poor decisions they made.
Fantasy can’t just be over, can it? I mean, I can appreciate that many don’t care for it and never have. This isn’t for you.
This is for those of us who fed on it for ages. What am I missing? What books did I glance past? What did I not see through the poor back cover copy that masked a truly enchanting escape?
Maybe in the comments here some of my friends will tell me what I’m missing and help me fall in love again.