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Fantasy and the Status Quo

G D Penman By G D Penman Published on December 2, 2015

This is not another rant about how the fantasy genre has become stagnant, repeating the same patterns over and over until everyone has had enough of hearing about elves and dwarves and wizards because ultimately, every genre has its own tropes and traditions and if you want something on the periphery of that then go forth and explore. Original works are being produced and published if you look beyond the bestsellers lists. That is the nature of genre fiction. Live with it.

Today’s rant is about how things change in a fantasy story, or rather, how they do not. How many secret kings have risen up to take the throne? How many kingdoms were saved by defeating the dark lord? How many times can we go on an adventure, save the world and then go back to life as usual? I blame Tolkien for a lot of this of course, I blame him for practically every problem in the fantasy genre. There and Back Again was the alternate title for The Hobbit and the concept certainly has stuck. Obviously adventure is not always something that happens in a far off land, there have been enough murdered farmer’s relatives setting off on quests to prove that, but there remains this idea that if you defeat evil then your reward is for the world to proceed as before.

Those few stories where we do not start in an idyllic life have the great villain having already won some battles to justify it. Then we have the call back to history, to the time before the villain came and spoiled the world. The same drive to return to the way things were.

The only situation that you frequently see in fantasy where the status quo is not being maintained is when the “natural order of things” is being cited as the cause. Ancient creatures fading away into obscurity because “their time has ended.” You need only to glance at a history book to realise that there is no natural order, no thinking people will willingly fade away and the idea of a fixed plan for the future of a world is as offensive as the idea that returning things to the status quo can be considered a victory.

Many fantasy writers come from the intersection of privileged backgrounds, straight, white, wealthy enough that they can choose to tell stories about goblins rather than working full-time. To a person like that, the world seems like a pretty good place. A world worth fighting to maintain. To the poor, the disenfranchised and discriminated against the world is already against them. Keeping things the way that they are is not a net victory for the forces of good. That is why, on the periphery of the fantasy genre where the more diverse authors gather, there is talk of revolution and victory means change.

G.D. Penman writes about queer monsters for a living. He is the author of Call Your Steel, The Year of the Knife, Heart of Winter, Apocrypha and many other books. He is also a full-time freelance ... Show More