On Writing · Writing

Why I stopped writing fantasy fiction

I fell in love with fantasy at a very young age when I came across my father’s copies of Tolkien’s epic novel The Lord of the Rings. I read the three volumes cover to cover then set my sights on reading his other works, acquiring copies of almost every book pertaining to his legendarium. As a teenager I read George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series in less than a year, and throughout my university career I read and enjoyed a broad range of texts one might consider to be fantasy including The Faerie QueeneLe Morte d’Arthur, and more Gothic novels than I can remember. This is meant as a disclaimer: do not let me stop you from reading or writing fantasy because it can be a wonderfully challenging and fun creative outlet. But last year I made the decision to stop because, in my experience, it is not viable for a young writer to seriously pursue fantasy fiction.

For one, loyalties within the fantasy genre run deep and produce fierce zeal for certain authors who have become giants in the field. The aforementioned Tolkien and Martin are the rulers in this sphere alongside others like Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, Brandon Sanderson and Diana Gabaldon. Most of these authors helped define the genre as we understand it, and a dive into any relevant forum, blog, YouTube video, etc will see fans exploring the detail of their chosen author’s work and fanatically defending it from criticism. Fantasy readers go skipping down the rabbit holes of canon and lore at the expense of most other forms of literature, they devote so much of themselves to big-name fantasy authors that any new writers will almost certainly pass under the radar into obscurity. In general, I find this idolisation of authors not only distasteful but deeply flawed as a mode of reading since it eliminates any possibility of referentiality.

It is also worth noting that fantasy is necessarily ruled by certain conventions of genre. The quest, the hero, the power struggle against evil, the timeless romance, the noble sacrifice. These are all components which readers expect in fantasy fiction, and as such it is hard for a young writer to make a name for themselves in the genre by being “different”. It is rare for fantasy to facilitate innovation, it demands a certain adherence to “tradition”. And when the contemporary publishing industry repeatedly bays for new, fresh, exciting, consumable material, this makes life for the new fantasy writer on the block even harder than it already is.

Finally, and most personally, I became disenchanted with fantasy because it grates against the fundamental principles I hold about writing. My singularly postmodern tendencies make me sceptical of the grand narratives of the fantasy genre, of its universalism and its literary absolutism. It defines itself as so concrete that I cannot help but be suspicious of it. Fantasy still carries with it the dogmatism of Enlightenment certainty, such that it can no longer adequately reflect the modern human condition. It serves the most meagre purpose of escapist entertainment, but it is neither productive nor radical. There is nothing problematic about fantasy, and in a highly problematic world I find it dissatisfying.

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