South Park Self

Tolkien's representation of hobbits was highly wrong and also bad

I've spent the better part of the last two weekends marking a Masters dissertation. It's on modern fantasy, specifically Stephen Erickson, who I hadn't read before and am very glad to have read now. (Probably more on him in a future post, when I've ploughed through more Malazan). The thesis makes some good points, but its sense of contemporary fantasy is rather limited; it argues that Erickson's gritty, realistic, non-romance-based world and plot is a ground-breaking departure from the classical fantasy genre.

The thing is, it isn't. The epic fantasy genre has been breaking madly away from heroic stereotypes for decades. Stephen Donaldson does it. Terry Pratchett does it. George R R Martin does it. There's a whole new crop of fresh works by China Miéville, Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan, Lev Grossman, which are gleefully standing the genre and its heroes on their heads. These days there's a well-defined and vociferous sub-set of epic fantasy which is resolutely postmodern, dammit.

And I find myself looking at that list and thinking, hang on, those are all men. What's with that? Is the postmodern mickey-take on heroic fantasy strictly a masculine thing, or am I just not thinking of the examples of female writers who do it? I suppose you could count Elizabeth Bear's Iskryne, but it's not strictly epic. So either there's an intrinsic testosterone component to postmodern deconstruction of heroic tropes (or, in fact, there's an intrinsic testosterone component to heroic dudes swinging swords on an epic scale) or my memory is playing up even more than usual. Who am I not thinking of, female fantasy-deconstruction-wise? Help out my fatigued and rapidly deteriorating brain.

Subject line, of course, courtesy of Goats. Read Goats. It'll put hair on your chest. Surreal, wayward hair.
  • Current Mood: confused confused
Robin Hobb does epic heroic fantasy. She was doing interesting cliche-subverting things in the Farseer trilogy, but she completely lost the plot in the Tawny Man and put the cliches right back. I wonder if the earlier stuff she wrote as Megan Lindholm is any better.

N.K. Jemisin's Inheritance trilogy is definitely epic fantasy, but not exactly in the same genre -- less subversion of Tolkienesque McEuropean fantasy; more original worldbuilding.

I can't think of anyone else right now, but I'm not a big fantasy reader.
GRRM's gritty, realistic, non-romance-based plot tries it's damnedest to get away from the classical fantasy genre, to the point where one is repulsed by GRRM's personal character (as it shines forth in his writing. Maybe he's actually rather nice. But I doubt it).