Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Fantasy by Definition: Part 5


This has been a long series of posts but I’ve still barely scratched the surface of the Heroic Fantasy field. There are many other books and authors I could talk about, and I’ve barely touched on the whole subgenre of Urban Fantasy, which I know virtually nothing about. I’ve only read a couple of books in that field, and they were much more modern in setting than what I’ve discussed with the other four subgenres. That makes it very different to me. There are also many books that don’t fit clearly into the subgenres as I’ve described them.

Glen Cook’s Black Company books, for example, seem to cross the border between Sword & Sorcery and High Fantasy, though I tend to put them more on the side of S and S. Or take John Norman’s controversial Gor series. There we have an earthman transported to an exotic alien world, as in Sword and Planet fiction, but the earthman certainly isn’t chivalrous. And what is one to make of the Aldair books of Neal Barrett, Jr.? Aldair is an intelligent pig who lives on a future earth where beasts of various kinds have been raised-—Dr. Moreau fashion—-to a semblance of human form. There is even the Redwall series of Brian Jacques, which would clearly be High Fantasy to me if it weren’t about...mice.

But this is all good thing. We don’t want our fantasy to be churned out by some paint-by-the-numbers process. Besides, the exceptions just make the whole process more fun to argue about.

As for the films, from Conan the Barbarian to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, from Excalibur to Red Sonja. Well, most fantasy movies don’t do much for me, although I rather like two of the ones listed in my previous sentence. We could argue for ages undreamed of about such films’ quality, or lack thereof. But that’s another post, or maybe a series of them. :)

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting.
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37 comments:

Cloudia said...

You have shown why these genres are worthy of some scholarship, Charles.





Aloha from Waikiki, Friend

Comfort Spiral

Sphinx Ink said...

Thanks for this interesting series of posts. I learned some new terms, and have a list of authors to try whose work will be new to me. Good job!

Mike Golch said...

Charles,great posting.I have moved you from my reader to one of my blog rolls,I have some really bad days lately and am lighting my reader load.

David J. West said...

Do I have to guess which films you liked? Conan and Excalibur?

Great posts I enjoyed them.

Richard Prosch said...

Never been much for celluloid fantasy. If I had to cite a favorite, it would probably be THE WIZARD OF OZ!

Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, thanks. I appreciate that.

Sphinx Ink, glad you enjoyed.

Mike Golch, my reader list has gotten pretty huge as well. Amazing how fast they grow.

David J. West, Excalibur was one, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy was the other. I liked Conan OK but it wasn't really HOward's Conan. I'd have preferred it to be called something different.

Richard, I like the Wizard of Oz myself, and it is one that is much much better than the book. Or so I thought.

David J. West said...

True it wasn't Howards Conan-though it was an introduction for me, so I give it that for credit.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I think of all the fantasy types--Urban Fantasy would be the most identifiable for me. Something about having a familiar setting makes it more believable for me.

Charles Gramlich said...

David, I was already pretty well entrenched in Howard's stuff by the time that movie appeared so it was a different kind of experience for me. It wasn't a bad movie, though.

JR., hum, I'm exactly the oposite, I think. I'm much more critical if the setting is recognizable, and find it harder to get into. Give me another world anytime.

laughingwolf said...

i'm with you on the ltr trilogy, but excalibur did nothing for me

as for the matrix trilogy, i really liked the first, the second was kinda ok, but by the third they'd shot their load and left me totally unsatisfied....

pattinase (abbott) said...

I could see Excalibur again. It's been a long time.

Steve Malley said...

I should congratulate you-- these posts have woken up my long dormant, oft frustrated inner fantasy fan.

After wading through so much dreck, it's easy to forget what it was like to discover Glen Cook, China Melville and Elizabeth Moon. And I still have a bunch of Redwall books I haven't read yet!

Mmmmmm... fantasy....

Cinnamon said...

Well Charles! I am going to have to go read some now!!

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, yes, the first Matrix movie was truly outstanding. The others nto so much. I liked Excaliber pretty well. I thought it was one of the better fantasy movies done up to that time.

Pattinase, it's been a few years for me as well.

Steve Malley, I well remember the Glen Cook Black Company books. I was just blown away.

Cinammon, reading is always good.

Travis Cody said...

I've enjoyed this series of essays, and I've picked up a few writers to add to my list. I even learned a thing or three.

Lana Gramlich said...

This has been an interesting series, baby. It's made me think more about various types of fantasy than I have in quite a while.

Charles Gramlich said...

Travis Cody, then my job here is done. :)

Lana, thanks sweetness.

BStearns said...

Great series of posts, I'm sad to see them end. You clearly have great insight into these topics, and you've definitely taught me a thing or two about these genres. Thanks a lot Charles!

-Bryan
sff-hub.blogspot.com

ivan said...

I used to like it back in the Sixties when the then-great MAD Magazine would lampoon--oh, say it on!--ridicule superheroes.

Clark Kent, somewhat decrepid now, hobbling from spittoon to spittoon, flies buzzing around him, making a pass at the unattainable Lois Lane, being rebuffed in a final comic book frame, by a backhander from Lois, standing there in her high heels and seamed nylons. "GET LOST, CREEP!"

"Prince Violent", ready to come on the scene, but he is a f*ck-up. (Picks up bow, drops bow, picks up quiver, drops quiver....Drops chainmail pants).

And the Lone Stranger, employing Tonto to get a fire going by rubbing two sticks togethere, finally in frustration pulling out a Bic Butane and saying **** it!

More recently there has been a satire on the female superheroine or some such...Was she called EMPOWERED GIRL?...Getting into a scrape and calling her mother on the cellphone for advice.

Heh. You get into funny turns of mind when you do your Master's thesis on MAD Magazine.

I wondered why they had let me do it, until I realized that MAD --in the Fifties anyway--had elements of Kafka, Orwell, Hemingway. These were talented people, very aware of the twisted spirit of the age.

I was disapponted and saddened last year when I found out that Wille Elder, the brilliant inventor of Melvin Mole, a Man Out of Control--surely pure Kafka--had died at an advanced age.
I still possess the email from him.

He had said, after I had cited the MAD out of the Fifties as high literature, "You are now one of us."

But Willie had added, characteristically,

"But Groucho Marx said that 'I wouldn't want to be part of any club that would have me as a member. :)"

Bernita said...

I read recently that urban fantasy is now split into "urban" and "rural" fantasy...

Charles Gramlich said...

BStearns/Bryan, I appreciate the kind words. I've spent a lot of years reading, and writing in and about these genres so I like to think I have a feel for them.

Ivan, there have been a number of send offs of the Heroic Fantasy genre, particularly Sword and Sorcery. One funny one is "Mention My Name in Atlantis" by John Jakes. Poul Anderson also wrote one. A send up on Sword and Planet fiction, something of one anyway, was Ardor on Aros by Andy Offutt.

Bernita, I wouldn't doubt it. The nature of such things is to explode and then specialize.

BernardL said...

Thanks for a very enlightening series. I enjoyed it very much. I read most of the Gor books by John Norman. It's too bad he went a little nuts because he wrote some of the best action sequences I've ever read.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernardl, the first ten books of the Gor series, with one exception, were really good, I thought. But then he got so focused on the slavery thing that the action really took a back seat. I really liked Nomads of Gor, one of my favorites.

Barrie said...

What a great series, Charles. I really enjoyed how you explained the various subgenres of fantasy. I used to read more fantasy than I do now. Your series made me want to add some fantasty to my TBR pile.

eric1313 said...

A lot of my fantasy background comes from gaming, both role playing games and video games... on the RPG side there is a great game called RIFTS, about a post apocalyptic world were the sheer amount of death that took place in a nuclear holocaust caused a rupture of magical and psychic energies to manifest all around the globe, spanning in ley lines and joining a many nexus points across the planet. It mixes Sword and Sorcery with the Highest Tech, wizards combating cyborgs, CyberKnights combating demons and other dimensional beings who can now access the world through the nexus points, Atlantis rising from the sea and the rise of a totalitarian human empire from the ruins of old Chicago (Called Chi Town) that wishes to exterminate all manner of dimensional beings, evil or benign... It even explores the darker side of technology, like the forced application of cybernetics on an unwilling being, or a mind over matter chip installed in a a human brain magnifying psychic and physical strength but at the cost of the recipients sanity... all kinds of dilemmas and ideas explored...

And of course I was a fan of Final Fantasy, a video game that was a synthesis of High Fantasy and Sci Fi as well...

Have always been a fan, obviously. Great series of posts.

Charles Gramlich said...

Barrie, glad you enjoyed.

Gustavo said...

Hey Charles,

Gustavo here. Cook's Black Company is a classic - but I prefer his PI Garrett series.

Charles Gramlich said...

Gustavo, I actually haven't read Cook's PI series. Early urban fantasy I think, and I've never gotten deeply into that field. I probably should read more. thanks for dropping by

Erik Donald France said...

Charles, nifty-fifty. You've piqued my interest about Urban Fantasy here of the non-vampire kind. Loved Excalibur, and liked LotR, and agree on Conan. The first one uses Wagner well, eh? Didn't see Red S.

eric1313 said...

Looks like we posted at the same time earlier to... errr... yesterday, rather.

BTW, I was wondering what ever happened in the case of your book being found for free on the web? Hope you got it taken down or some recompense for that troubling bit of news that someone decided your work was important enough for you to not get paid for it's being read.

L.A. Mitchell said...

Darn..I kept checking back hoping you could shed light what it takes to be moved in the brick and mortar stores from romance to the fantasy/(sci-fi) section. Percentage dedicated to each, sure, but some really seem to blur that line.

Informative, as always, Charles :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Erik Donald France, oh yes, the first Conan movie had some great music. I need to make more of a study of urban fantasy.

eric1313, turned out that was a misunderstanding. There was only a sample posted as part of an advertising kind of thing. So I didn't end up having to take any action.

L.A. Mitchell, one of the reasons I probably haven't read a lot of urban fantasy is because of how blurred that line is and I don't know what side the book I might be intersted in falls on.

David Cranmer said...

Charles, I've been silent over your terrific series of posts and have enjoyed reading them. I don't read a lot of fantasy so have been slow to comment but I will agree that we don't want "paint-by-the-numbers process." That also goes for the genres that are close to my heart: Crime and Westerns.

Charles Gramlich said...

David Cranmer, I think there's ample room still in fantasy, and westerns as well for peple to do interesting variations on a theme. They can use tropes developed in the field but don't have to be hack work.

ARCHAVIST said...

I just read through all these posts in one go. Very interesting and something I will refer to from time to time.

Charles Gramlich said...

Archavist, glad you found them of some use.

Lauren said...

Another great post on the series :) I'm not too big into Urban Fantasy, but I do know there are many good books in the sub-genre. I've been enjoying True Blood which is an urban fantasy TV series and has made me a bit more interested in the sub-genre, but I've yet to break away from my high fantasy roots :)

Another sub-genre I've been interested about recently is steam-punk where the world has a different technology than our own, usually steam-powered.