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.