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Fantasy

Fantasy is often thoughtless.

When I first typed that line, I wrote stupid, then deleted it, because no, that wasn't really what I meant. Fantasy as a genre isn't stupid, for stupidity suggests that you are often wrong, or ill thought out, and while fantasy is like that at times, it's often done without malicious intent. It is just thoughtless and that's an entirely different idea, though often as damning.

My reason for thinking about fantasy is because, at the moment, I am writing one. I have written a number of things, and I have in my head a certain set of morals, or perhaps ideals, that I think my work should be about. Other people will (or, will not) claim that my work is defined by one thing or another, but every author has an idea in their head that their work should adhere to this, or that, or reflect this part, or that part, of his or herself. Depending on the author, it'll be a big influence, a small one, or not even be there, due to the nature of the work. But me, I have my idea of what is in my work, and quite often that goes along the lines of race, equality, and other social justice/moral issues that I find interesting. To a greater or lesser degree, my work often reflects this, but when I sat down to begin writing a fantasy novel, I found myself continually circling how I would place these things into the work.

To say that the fantasy genre is one thing, and one thing only, is a mistake. To claim, for example, that female characters are often poorly represented, defined and exist in small, cloistered worlds that are the equivalent of being bare foot and pregnant in the kitchen, is to ignore the more feminist works that exist, and are a response to this element. Yet, it is true, that quite often, females have small worlds in fantasy novels, and it is often justified through 'realism', a strange concept when one considers that quite often in a fantasy novel, a dragon appears out of nowhere, a god chats to a character, and no one has extensive dental problems. Realism is one of those funny concepts. It allows castles to be well ventilated and have bathrooms (or, as often the fantasy novel is like to say, 'privy'), but girls still need to learn to sew and marry men that just want to use them as meat sacks to grow their heirs. I have no idea why. It strikes me oddly, since it seems that in a fantasy novel you could present strong female characters, reverse traditional roles, or just scrap them, and be on your way.

You'll get the occasional argument that it doesn't really matter that females are portrayed this way, or homosexuality doesn't exist, or that the fantasy universes of the universe seem to be predominantly white, and I suppose, really, if you're a white, straight male, it doesn't really. I mean, I'm one of them--and there's no skin off my nose if everyone who isn't my kinda person is found to be a bit lacking. I mean, I get to ride horses, swing swords, love, live, and so on and so forth.

Nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, y'know, not really. And, lets be frank here: ideas are like grass roots movements. If you sew them into literature, into film, into music, into art in general, then they tend to just slip into every day use and the next thing you know, your learning Tolkien's Elvish language at some two bit University from a homosexual Asian woman who has two white boys who do her lawns.

It's not just here, in gender and sexuality and hygiene that fantasy is often thoughtless, as well, but politically and economically. Perhaps, in the latter, one can forgive authors that--they are, by and large, not very good with money. Mark Twain famously lost thousands backing inventions and publishing books. And, truthfully, to even begin to see yourself as an author, means you have no interest in cash. But still, politics and trade, and in the realm of politics, it's surprising how little actual democracy takes place in fantasy novels. Democracy and chosen ones don't really go together, it's true, but off the top of my head I can't think of a democratic fantasy novel where people go to elections, though there will no doubt be one, or fifty. But quite often the novels are, politically speaking, written from a kind of soft head social equality where your betters are born into the position of power, and learn Important Lessons About Humility, Usually Because They Once Grew Up On A Farm. Or, something like that. Still, there's a huge simplicity to the politics in a lot of the work, with a kind of lazy writing, of characters being 'chosen' and not really wanting power, or realising that with power comes great responsibility, that exists, and it takes a certain switch in your head to be turned off to kind of ignore that. Or, at least, that's my experience of a portion of the fantasy genre.

I've never given huge thoughts about fantasy as a genre until I started writing this book, but well, then I did and I did and here I am, chatting away about it, all the while thinking of ways to subvert it for my own needs.

As you do, of course.

Comments

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exp_err
Nov. 7th, 2011 03:11 am (UTC)
I'm commenting thoughtlessly on the most trivial aspect of this post. Privys. I was looking at medieval castles in Wales a couple of years ago, and they had 'em. Small rooms hanging out over the walls, with holes under seats and on through the floor, so that anything falling through them would land outside.

Also: http://www.jamesmdeem.com/castlepage.toilets.htm
benpeek
Nov. 7th, 2011 03:18 am (UTC)
that is awesome. just awesome.
chrisbillett
Nov. 7th, 2011 09:31 am (UTC)
Wow!
Seems like a painful place to put a potential vulnerability to arrows?
benpeek
Nov. 7th, 2011 09:37 am (UTC)
Re: Wow!
lol

i got a whole idea for a story out of those photos.
mastadge
Nov. 7th, 2011 11:37 am (UTC)
Re: Wow!
On the other hand, seems like a perilous place for an archer to try to line up a shot. . .
ataxi
Nov. 7th, 2011 09:22 pm (UTC)
I've seen a few in different places. Some I've seen are timber with simple holes. Others were tiled and had ceramic pipes for the waste.

I believe they were sometimes called garderobes (essentially the same word as "wardrobe", presumably a euphemistic usage).
exp_err
Nov. 7th, 2011 09:53 pm (UTC)
Apparently not euphemistic. I've read that the garderobe/wardrobe from these in the first place. People used to hang clothes near the toilets because the smell would keep away moths - so the story goes, anyway.
ataxi
Nov. 7th, 2011 10:48 pm (UTC)
Interesting (that last tidbit). With clothes so hard to manufacture I'm sure the urge to preserve them was higher than it is now.
benpeek
Nov. 7th, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC)
the bit about hanging the clothes near the toilet is what i read as well.
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