Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Remember, Fantasy Can Be Anything You Want

What do you think of when you hear the word fantasy? Is it hobbits and elves? Dwarves and magic rings? Knights in shining armor fighting dragons? Wizards with long beards and big staffs alongside orcs drooling black ichor as they roar and rush into battle?

Tell me this, though... do you think of grim monster hunters with muskets? Battle-ax wielding barbarians hammering at the steel skin of lost alien guardians? An abandoned noble raised by the jungle venturing into a forgotten land to overthrow its saurian overlords?

I ask, because all of that stuff is fantasy, too.

For those looking for required reading.

There's So Much More Out There

I've railed against this before, and I think it bears repeating. Tolkien's contributions to the genre, and setting the mold for what people tend to think of as high fantasy (the sort of thing with huge timelines, epic, sweeping backstories, ancient wizards, secret princes, and that sort of thing), is all well and good... but it is not all there is out there.

Tell you about a thing that happened to me a while back. I was at a convention, and found an old, plastic-bagged copy of previously unpublished Conan short stories by Robert E. Howard that was printed several decades ago. In the introduction for the collection there was a line talking how the writer hoped to see interesting work from a new up-and-comer to the genre... that up-and-comer was J.R.R. Tolkien.

Hey, everyone! Make room for the new kid!
I bring this up because for me, fantasy was more about the Weird Tales days. Where you'd have dashing swordsmen and frenzied barbarians side-by-side with lost alien civilizations, shape-shifting lizard men, Puritan witch hunters, and all sorts of other nonsense. They were all strange stories that at the time defied genre labels, as many of them mish-mashed elements of what we now think of as traditional fantasy, horror, science fiction, and others into a single story. But the thing is, no one was interested in putting a label on what was and wasn't fantasy. It was allowed to be as strange, as weird, and as unusual as the writers could conceive of, and to go in all sorts of different directions.

My thoughts, to you out there reading this... embrace that.

Want to puts guns into your fantasy setting? Do it, I would love to see more dragon hunters using high-caliber weapons. You want aliens? Cool, Lovecraft wasn't the first to do it, and he sure as hell won't be the last. You want civilizations that bear no resemblance to the traditional half-dozen square miles of pseudo-English countryside that get dug out of the Middle Ages? Go nuts! You want magic that merges with alchemy and technology? Make it happen!

And if someone tries to tell you that's "not really fantasy" then you should ask them what they would call it instead. Because gatekeepers are going to keep doing their thing, but it can be amusing to watch them sputter as they try to tell you that a story about a fictional reality with all the hallmarks is somehow not allowed to wear the same label as a story about elves and dwarves.

Don't feel you have to limit yourself thematically, contextually, or even aesthetically when it comes to the fantasies you choose to write.. because we could all use a breath of fresh air.

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing installment. Hopefully some folks found it interesting, and it sparked some new ideas. For some unique takes on fantasy, consider stopping by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out, or heading over to Vocal to look at some more of my work. If you'd like to stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you'd like to help support my work consider leaving me a little tip by Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a regular patron. In either case, there's free stuff and my thanks just waiting for you.

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