Saturday, May 4, 2013

Flags and Fantasy

Several weeks ago, I came across an online opinion piece with the subtitle "Where are all the American fantasy characters?" A few weeks later, my favorite blog posted a brief discussion of it, but I still feel like I should explore some of my own reactions. If you don't have time to  read the whole article, his argument can be summarized in two sentences--
The problem is that most of our Fantasy isn't written by Americans about American culture and values.Even American Fantasy writers write like they're British. 
Apart from his capitalization of  the genre--English major pet peeve--I fail to see the problem with this situation. Yes, my favorite writers/producers are British--Lewis, Tolkien, Moffat, Neil Gaiman (though he currently lives in Wisconsin) and Jasper Fforde--but is there a problem with that? It's not like their characters go around eating scones and singing "God Save the Queen" every ten pages, even when the events primarily take place in "our" world. As for American values--er, I don't think we're doing so hot in that area either. Look at our economy, look at our crime rate, look at how causal we are about truth--modern (secular) American values are nothing to celebrate. And so many of the values celebrated by the best speculative works--self-sacrifice, friendship, strong leadership--should be INTERNATIONAL values, not merely British or American.
As for "even American fantasy writers write like Brits," my response is partially "so what?" and partially "you don't understand the genre. He mentions George R.R. Martin as a famous American fantasy writer, but dassifies him as primarily British for using a medieval-European setting. Seriously? America doesn't have hundreds of years of history to draw from--the oldest we can reliably refer to is the 1600s, which isn't old enough to have a mythic atmosphere, and records from further back are scarce, not to mention possible accusations of plagiarism from native peoples.
For "American fantasy," the article mentions two examples: Twilight and the Hunger Games. At least he acknowledges the poor quality of the former--but I'm still not sure the Hunger Games has the world-building of other famous series. Yes, it would be nice to have some American fantasy writers, but can we just keep looking for GOOD fantasy in the meantime?


  1. I agree that it's silly to have more concern about an author's nationality more than the quality of their work... But, I also would really like to see more fantasy that isn't in a "medieval" setting, because I'm just not the swords and castles type. (That might be kind of an ignorant wish, though, as sadly I don't actually know that much about fantasy as a whole-- does it require swords, wizards, castles, etc? Or is that a sub-group? And what would make Hunger Games fantasy and not sci-fi or speculative fiction?) (Or, is sci-fi actually part of the fantasy genre? They do have a lot of similarities.)

    1. I would classify Hunger Games as sci-fi too, but I think they both fall under the wider genre of speculative fiction---with fantasy tending to be things that can't happen in this world (dragons, elves, etc) but scifi being things that might happen in the future when technology advances (space colonies, etc) Not always perfect, but fairly close.