In my previous post I fully admitted I have a bias against the fantasy genre, which I would explain later. Well, here we are and I believe I owe you all an explanation. (Keep in mind that I in no way am arrogant enough to pretend I know every single fantasy text in existence or have seen every movie in history. I’m basing my knowledge purely on what I’ve seen and what most frequently appears in popular culture.)
At the very root of my prejudice is a major, internal factor: I don’t find fantasies interesting. Keep in mind this is not something I have control over. For the same reason I don’t like the taste of tomatoes or cringe when I hear certain sounds, whenever I see a movie involving wizards or talking animals or magical potions my brain sends me a signal asking, “is there anything else on?”
However, this hasn’t been the case is every instance and some films have been compelling enough to break through this barrier. Namely, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I still consider that film, the first in the trilogy, to be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the second film is a bore and the third falls victim to my biggest criticism of the genre: anything goes.
Put simply, a fantasy author has too much power. They can write any absurdity they want and if, God forbid, I try to raise a logistical concern or address a plothole, I am immediately lambasted with, “it’s fantasy Bill. Relax!” Which is tantamount to the old saying, “it’s just a movie!”
But that doesn’t cut it for me. A writer should create the characters and set up the story but once it is underway it should feel as though it resolves itself naturally. The better the writer, the more it seems to flow. The worse the writer, the more you can feel their hand involved, manually arranging and forcing plot developments. And no where is this more apparent than the fantasy genre.
I have two perfect examples that put me in a rage every time I consider them (warning, these do include LOTR and HP spoilers):
First, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It’s the second to last (if I remember correctly) battle. The evil army is destroying the good guys. I mean really beating the hell out of them. They are outnumbered to the point of lunacy as the camera flies over the CGI battlefield, showing there is no possible way our heroes can win this battle.
Which is now a problem for our screenwriters. They have written themselves into a corner. The bad guys are about to win, but the good guys have to pull out a victory for the story’s sake. Luckily, this is fantasy, so anything goes.
Out of nowhere (fine, out of one brief scene penciled in earlier to cover themselves) comes an invincible army of ghost pirates! Convenient! Do these extra hands on deck help turn the momentum of the battle? No, they simply win the battle… immediately.
Because they are ghosts, of course, these pirates cannot be struck down by conventional weapons, but luckily for our heroes, they can still strike their enemies. Allowing them to flow over the battlefield like a giant, ectoplasmic tidal wave and single handedly win the battle instantaneously.
It was the single cheapest moment I’ve ever witnessed in the history of film. It forever tainted the series for me. My blood boils when I think of the audacity of the screenwriter playing God like that. But I can’t argue because, “it’s fantasy Bill. Relax!”
(Whether it is explained in more depth in the novel is beside the point because the film needs to be able to stand alone as a product for all those like me who simply watched the LOTR series.)
Another prime example of an author making his or her presence all too clear comes courtesy of the final novel in the Harry Potter series: The Deathly Hallows. This complaint is not specific to fantasies, it is more regarding bad writing in general, but this type of bad writing seems to crop up more in fantasies than anywhere else.
Much like the above example, it has to do with the author creating his or her own plot turning event out of convenience rather than natural story progression.
It occurs in the middle of The Deathly Hallows. Our leads are on the run, apparating every day to random sections of different woods all over the world. To reiterate, every day they are in a new part of a new forest that could be anywhere in the world and is totally at random in order to hide.
… And the story ends.
The book is essentially over. There is no where else to go. Nothing else to do. The characters have no leads, no direction, no forward momentum.
Obviously Rowling has made a mistake and now has to write herself out of it. But, hey, it’s fantasy so anything goes. One night the characters happen to appear in a particular part of a particular forest where a group of people happen to be. And these people happen to have information regarding what’s going on at Hogwarts and they happen to say it out loud and happen to give our heroes something to go off of for the rest of the novel.
That one scene, made purely of forced coincidence, is the fulcrum point of the entire novel and essentially the entire series. I’m sorry, but I refuse to accept that. I cannot let that pass by saying, “oh ok, that works.” My anger towards this event knows no bound. This appearance of the author as the hand of God is far too blatant to be ignored.
Another factor that doesn’t help fantasies in general is the fact that the main ambassadors for the genre, the most visible moneymakers, are some of the worst movies in recorded history. I cannot summarize just how much I hated The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass and Eragon.
To sum it up, on one level, my dislike for the genre stems purely from the subject matter. On another it is based on the actions of the writer and could actually occur in any book or film. It just happens to occur more often in fantasies and because it uses that moniker, ‘fantasy,’ people give it a pass. But not me.
And you may note that I love superhero movies and science fiction and ask, “are those not fantasy?” No, they are not. There is a distinction. That distinction being that they still occur within the real world and that world has rules (as Morpheus says).
Superman is a fantastical character but he exists in the real world. He is the one anomaly in his otherwise normal surroundings. Science fiction is similar. The idea of bringing dinosaurs back to life is fantasy but it’s based on very real science. As opposed to fantasies where the entire world is created and controlled by the author.
Anybody out there agree? I know plenty of people probably disagree. Sound off in the comments section below!