So, I just finished reading The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss – excellent books both and if you enjoy fantasy, you really should pick them up. Just before I gobbled down the final chunk of The Wise Man’s Fear, I came across an interview with Rothfuss in which he talked about the fantasy clichés writers needed to avoid and his pet peeves with fantasy in general. I pointedly ignored the article until I finished the book and then went to go see what this obviously talented writer had to say about my beloved genre (I didn’t want anything to cloud my enjoyment of the book).
First, let me say that Rothfuss makes some very valid points about clichés in the genre – who isn’t sick to death of those damn whimsical, flighty, pointy-eared, smug-ass elves, anyway? I even agree with him on most of his points (particularly the one about vampires – they were fine when Anne Rice first started and for some time after. I’m sick to death of ‘em now).
Rothfuss basically takes aim at some of the rather overused elements in fantasy as a whole:
- Axe/hammer wielding dwarves swilling down ale in their underground cities
- The aforementioned smug-ass elves wielding bows in the depths of their forests
- Prophecy – The “chosen one” theme does tend to bug me as well
- Dragons – (You really need to read Rothfuss’ interview to get his point about dragons. Suffice to say I agree with him on both their awesomeness and their incredible overuse and redundancy. If you want to read the interview, hit this link)
- Helpless damsels who exist only for the theatrical heroics of the protagonist
There’s a problem, though – I LIKE dwarves (and I prefer my dwarves surly, swilling ale and beating down their foes with joyful abandon). I LIKE dragons (but do agree with him on their overuse). I LIKE powerful, wise wizards handing out timely advice and I LIKE the evil wizard/king/warlord bent on world domination. I know most of this stuff is tired, overused and old, but something deep in me loves the pulpy-ness of it all. Some of my favorite characters from books have been surly, axe/hammer wielding dwarves.
Now, do I agree with Rothfuss or disagree? I can see his points, certainly. I have my (somewhat abashed) love for clichéd settings and character archetypes. Which trumps?
Rothfuss’ OTHER point is what I agree with – the elements you use in your story don’t make the story. It’s the writing – the creating – the uniqueness that you bring to the page that really makes a good fantasy. It’s the author’s skill with words, ability to create compelling, captivating prose that makes a good story. It’s not having Bogdur the Brash Mace-Wielding Orc die bloodily at the hands of Gorthar the Dwarven Barfly with the Shining War Hammer BECAUSE they’re orcs and dwarves. It’s the reasons why Gorthar is bound and determined to make Bogdur his bitch.
It’s the story, dammit. It’s your storytelling – the warp and weft of your tapestry.
Is fantasy in need of a breath of fresh air? Maybe. I think what fantasy needs is more people willing to invent new, fantastical places, beings and worlds rather than follow in the footsteps of the myriad writers who’ve already followed in the footsteps of people like Tolkien and McCaffrey.
Read that as – Stop doing it because you think THAT’S fantasy. Because it’s not.
That brings me to Rothfuss’ point I agree with most strongly – fantasy is NOT elves and dwarves, orcs and gnomes, halflings and power-mad wizards. As Rothfuss said, those are props.
So… if that’s not what fantasy is, what IS it?
Why don’t you tell me? Maybe you could write it down… just sayin’.