MUSING: LITERARY SNOBBERY IS BAD, BUT HOW ABOUT FANTASY SNOBBERY?

snob

Like most fantasy fans, I’ve watched Patrick Rothfuss’ response to academic, or literary, snobbery. It highlighted something that we readers have faced at one time or another: literary fiction snobs, who view the “fantasy” genre as “popcorn” fiction fit only for mob consumption. And I would not presume to add to what Mr. Rothfuss said, since he outlined the response to that way of thinking far more eloquently than I ever could, but I would like to touch upon something that seems to have grown up during my decade long hiatus from reading fantasy from the early 2000s to 2012. Something I like to call Fantasy Snobbery.

What do I mean by Fantasy Snobbery, you ask?

Quite simply it is a feeling by current fantasy reader that fantasy before Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, et cetera are Tolkien clones with no merit because they invariably are set in medieval-type settings with elves, dwarves, wizards, dragons, magic weapons and other bullshit fantasy things like that as integral parts of their story. This inclusion of classic fantasy elements being viewed as “boring” or “not creative” or “so already done” that novels which feature these elements are viewed as — you guessed it — “popcorn” fiction fit for only the lower mob consumption. Definitely not something the finely refined fantasy aficionados would ever dare place their reading noses within.

And that way of thinking, dear readers, is a problem for me. Most likely my angst resulting from the fact that I became a fantasy fan reading those “Tolkien clones”, growing up with all those ridiculous fantasy elements, and falling in love with them.

Now, I know it was a different world back in the seventies, eighties, and nineties when I grew up. Simpler time is the way I recall it. Good guys and bad guys. All those epic clashes between right and wrong. And I’ll be the first to admit that some fantasy back then was popcorn fiction, imitating Tolkien and others to the max, but mixed in with the “lowest common denominators” were some great stories that ran the gamut from coming-of-age masterpieces to fantasy-horror hybrids to fantasy-mafia stories to grimdark-esque. And the fact that some fantasy fans relegate these tales to the trash heap because they dared to utilize the traditional fantasy elements of elves, dwarves, wizards, and dragons is itself BULLSHIT!

I mean, have we honestly progressed to the point in this genre that fantasy only consists of those books that create the next cute magic system? (All Sanderson imitators may raise their hands here.)

Or mimic the next historical period? (Yeah, I’m pointing at you flintlock fantasy.)

Or read like a historical fiction novel? (Grimdarks seem to strive to use the least amount of fantasy elements possible.)

Or set the fantasy elements in the real world? (Urban fantasy take your bow.)

Really? That is all fantasy encompasses these days?

If it is then that is a real shame, because the fantastical realm of the fantasy genre should be wide enough to include everything — including the classical fantasy elements of elves, dwarves, wizards, dragons and bullshit, whose usage stretches all the way back to ancient mythology.

So with that in mind, I’d like to encourage everyone to not be a snob. Whether you’re a literary fiction snob or a fantasy snob doesn’t really matter. Nobody likes snobs you know. They tend to meet untimely ends — especially if they piss off one of my favorite wizards or witches, elves or dwarves, dragons or eagles, goblins or orcs in my favorite old school fantasy.

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14 Responses to MUSING: LITERARY SNOBBERY IS BAD, BUT HOW ABOUT FANTASY SNOBBERY?

  1. Rabindranauth says:

    Ah, the good ol’ epic fantasy pit trap. Sanderson started a trend, but his imitators only took the superficial parts of his work and made their own stuff. What I like about Sanderson is that not only does he usually come up with great magic, but when he can get away with it he subverts tropes all over the place. Instead, most of the guys coming after him decide a creative magic system/setting is enough, and they take generic characters and stick em in generic situations to call it a day.

    As to fantasy snobbery, it comes down to assholes being assholes. There are always going to be elitist fools with superiority complexes and hipster sensibilities who like to delude themselves they’re smarter, better than the masses because they’re slightly different. Way I see it, their ignorance is their loss, and they deserve our pity. They’ll never imagine the highstorms battering the Shattered Plains of Roshar. They’ll never savor the terror and despair that permeates New Crobuzon as the slake moths prey on that helpless city. They’ll never have their minds twisted in and out and up and down trying to figure out if India Morgan Phelps’s haunting is real or all in her mind. So pity them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lynnsbooks says:

    Haha, snobbery within the snobbery! Indeed. I agree with the above – unfortunately it does boil down to assholes – and they’re unfortunately in all walks of life and spread across all reading genres. Lets face it, some people think you shouldn’t read ANY fiction at all!! Imagine – in fact, try not to imagine, its too horrible!
    I just think you should read what you damn well please at the end of the day so long as it makes you happy!
    Lynn 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Insert slow clap here. Well-said and rather eloquent despite your concerns that it wouldn’t be. I think we all need to read and write to each his/her own and let others enjoy what they will. I, for one, love elves, and am hesitant to read fantasy without them. It saddens me that people avoid including them because it’s considered a Tolkien re-run of sorts.

    I write fantasy parody so I have to include all of the fantasy tropes. I’d hate to have readers toss my book aside because it includes wizards.

    Thank you for sharing this insight. Spreading the word on Twitter.

    Like

  4. Nicola Alter says:

    Wholeheartedly agree! I love the variety within the fantasy genre and I read fantasy of all different kinds. Of course, it’s fine not to like a particular kind, but implying people who do like that kind are inferior is just arrogance. There are some other genres I don’t read a lot in because they’re not my thing (e.g crime, straight romance) but I’d never presume to judge other people who do like reading them. I think it’s a testament to the great variety of human interest and imagination that people can like and value different books and genres.

    Like

  5. To paraphrase the Bard, ignorance breeds contempt. And elitism. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. PHS says:

    Reblogged this on Archer's Aim and commented:
    Well said! My thoughts exactly! Re-blogging on Archer’s Aim!

    Like

  7. PHS says:

    I’ve had the same thoughts after reading some discussion threads. I’m not for cheap knock-off but there are those that I think either don’t read that much fantasy or they are tired of it. I’ve been thinking about addressing some of these thoughts myself and point out that many of the overused elements are actually organic to the genre based on history and myth.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. hlmorris85 says:

    I think there’s an almost universal human instinct to be able to say, “well, the things *I* like are of course superior to the things *you* like”, and it happens just as much if not more in communities that have been traditionally marginalized or mocked. Even people who don’t intend to be can be snobs because they are caught up in the idea that the validity of the things they enjoy are dependent on outside judgment. It’s kind of poison thinking, and I try consciously to avoid it. I know that there are certain things that I enjoy, that I always will enjoy, but I periodically try to reevaluate the things I *don’t* think I enjoy- reading something in an unfamiliar genre, etc. Even if I don’t like it, the only way to validly criticize something is to have at least a passing familiarity with it, and I have been exposed to some books and styles that I love that I never would have discovered if I stuck to my “superior” taste and comfort.

    Like

  9. cpbialois says:

    Reblogged this on The BiaLog and commented:
    I so agree with this. Something we are so intent on developing something new we forget reading is meant to be fun.

    Like

  10. Reblogged this on West Coast Review and commented:
    Great post – for both writers and readers. Hey, it is fantasy – so own it – no matter what anyone else thinks. Great post.

    Like

  11. To point out: even the concept of “magic” is now a trope.

    These snobs are also hypocrites.

    Great post!

    —Vic S.—
    http://www.grauwelt.com

    Like

  12. nrlymrtl says:

    I grew up reading Tolkien clones and scifi-fantasy mashes and murder mystery sorcerers and yeah, so many literary snobs thought my reading was cute (at best). So I definitely keep that in mind whenever I start to snob a book or a subgenre. At least people are reading. Today I live in a rural area where a significant chunk of the older population doesn’t know how to read (maybe they haven’t been handed an Andre Norton or a Charles de Lint or a Tamora Pierce novel yet). So, read what you like!

    Like

  13. Wendell,
    As always, another extremely well thought out, well written article. This fantasy snobbery is definitely a very prevalent trend in modern fantasy readers. I also grew up on many of the traditional fantasy worlds such as Tolkien, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, etc. I also enjoyed David Eddings, although Eddings doesn’t fit in that mold. There is a lot of contemporary fantasy authors that I do enjoy, but I find myself struggling to transition into some series like Goodkind, Rothfus, and Wheel of Time (though to a lesser degree) as a reader. My main challenge has been for the same reason I struggle to read any sci-fi except for Star Wars (which has movie visual references), is that I have trouble picturing everything, when every race and machine is completely new. I get bored in the descriptions and lose sight of the story.

    This is kind of a strange challenge since I am now a fantasy author myself who has been complimented for my ability to paint a picture in a reader’s mind. That said, we chose to include Elves, Dwarves and other traditional fantasy races so we didn’t have to describe EVERYTHING, just the new races. I am noticing though that having these races has really hurt us resulting in many fantasy readers not giving us a chance.

    Further complicating matters, we are releasing our buildup novels to lead into our grand epic saga, rather than releasing the grand epic saga first and then publishing prequel tales like most authors. We’re going to stay the course, but I am realizing now that this strategy hasn’t put our best stuff on display. If you compare our series to a deck of cards, we have only played our Jacks and Queens, but are yet to reveal our Kings, Aces and Trump cards. Now I’m stuck between trying to decide whether to finish the buildup novels or just work to get the mega epic saga published like other authors. Decisions? Decisions?

    Liked by 1 person

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