Revenge of the Grammar Geek: Does fantasy have to suck?

Kelly Weber, Staff Writer

The point at which my self-esteem dips lowest in the bookstore is when I find myself slinking, coffee cup in hand, over to a certain paperback novel section. Not romance—no, my self-esteem stock would take a real dive, then. The shame begins when I’m glancing over both shoulders and thumbing through books with so many spine-creases they might be ex-football players. The book section is labelled “Fantasy,” but it might as well be titled, “Send your books here to die, please.”

I know I’m doomed when there’s a castle on the cover. Tolkien was smart—Tolkien’s got some vague, gold-etched symbols of a sun and a mountain, maybe a white tree growing in the distance or a wizard winding up ever-green hills. The rest make the rogues gallery of covers: a rider looking back over his shoulder as his horse plunges into a forest, a spectral monster looming over a tiny person down in the far right corner (possibly eclipsed by the “10 cents” sticker), a woman gazing out of the shadows with a white halo she should cash in to escape this piece of garbage literature.

The first pages offer nothing promising. If one more person overlooks the army approaching the town, discovers she or he is bound for a great destiny, or listens to a prophecy, I will close the book on fantasy. Forever.

Well, almost-forever. Why? I have a much, much greater chance with sci-fi books because, like it or not, the authors have often had to think out the science and, hopefully, the plot. Fantasy? Ha. No. Throw in some elves and a few forlorn vampires, and apparently we’re set. But I come back for that rare, one-in-a-hundred chance that the book will be good, that beneath the terrible cover there will be a hidden gem the author took the time to think through.

I have not found the equivalents of Asimov, Ray Bradbury or Matheson in fantasy. A few come close. Not many.

Why? Does fantasy just bite that bad? Is it doomed? I don’t think it has to be (although I’ve mostly given up hope), but the genre has accepted mediocrity so long that fantasy is.

The genre, and its authors, need to raise their standards to have any hope at all. Otherwise, I’m embarrassed to keep returning to a genre I can’t in good conscience refer to as “literature.”

So—writers, readers: the genre does not suck. 99.9 percent of the writing contained within it certainly does. Read more literature and raise your standards, writers and readers.

Share good recommendations if you have them, fantasy-readers. Those who dismiss it: I’m right there with you. It is not Good.

Yet, like pop culture, and themed weddings, if done well, it can be worthy of great praise and study. So let’s try to raise our expectations.

Even if, like me, you’ve (mostly) given up on writing or reading the genre altogether.