I’m a big fan of questions, because it gets me thinking, something I’m not encouraged to do in my work environment. Much as I try to turn it off—occasionally random thoughts break through. The other day I was thinking about behavioral science (never going to do that again…) and this kid at the far end of the kitchen said, “…so she logged into my MySpace account and wrote I broke up with you! Stop calling me!”
...so he keeps talking, telling anyone who’ll listen all about this girl, and how she’d picked him up and dumped him. And he can’t shut up, even though it’s horribly obvious Jose doesn’t care and I’d already given him the “evil-Jodi” talk. (“You know you’re making yourself sound like a loser, right?”)
Which would have shut me up.
But not this guy because—BRILLIANT behavioral science insight—he was trying to create interpersonal relationships by sharing confidences, which sent me off into this long, involved train of thought. Amazing I’d never noticed stuff like that before, amazing people actually “did” stuff like that, and why was he still talking?
Which lead to “how can I make him stop?” and “should I point out I’m a dysfunctional personality, and Jose’s English is about as good as my Spanish?” He finally petered out, but not before giving us an “any buy-in?” look.
Hailey, brave woman that she is, asked for my opinion on the whole fantasy vs. paranormal debate and broke it down into high/low fantasy, rural fantasy and dark fantasy.
High fantasy, from my reading and trying to explain it when I was a bookseller tends to be things with elves, dwarves, goblins and wizards. Sword and sorcery existed in the 1920’s with Robert Howard’s Conan series, and space opera with Edgar Rice Burroughs, but outside of poetry and fairy tales, there wasn’t anything with elves and dwarves and some kind of epic struggle until the 1950’s (1937 for the Hobbit) that Lord of the Rings came out and defined high fantasy.
Low fantasy, in bookseller-terms meant all the trappings of a high fantasy, minus the elves, dwarves and epic struggle.
Not to say you couldn’t have dragons, ala Patricia Brigg’s Dragon Blood series (low fantasy) or Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea series (low fantasy) Or books where the genre line was so close it blurred and became a whole different genre altogether. (The Wheel of Time and the Eddings books) High fantasy, big black and white struggle>no elves and dwarves>”epic” fantasy.
And then fantasy sort of did a side-step with Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker series. Not really a traditional European-derivative, but a strange, moody Native American Appalachian blend. Rural fantasy?
Looking at the definitions, I never really thought of it before, but the difference between high and low fantasy isn’t really what it’s about, where it’s set or whatever people want to focus on. It’s a matter of “slant and focus”.
There’s a huge central conflict in Lord of the Rings and Barbara Hambly's Dragonsbane--there are wizards, dwarves, dragons, hoards of gold, good and bad guys. But…Dragonsbane is low fantasy, not because it’s missing the elements of high fantasy, but because of its focus. It’s down in the dirt, deep pov, up close and personal. The people might have bad motives, no motives, good motives—but they’re just ordinary people doing the best they can.
Lord of the Rings is stylized. I remember reading it when I was a kid, but I re-read it last year and it suffered in the re-reading. Lots of telling, omni pov and cut-aways to what was happening “elsewhere”. Good for its time, but despite Frodo, it’s at a one-remove. Imho, low fantasy with high fantasy elements is the evolution of high fantasy into a more readable form. And a good example would be the Belgariad versus the Wheel of Time. Eddings to Jordan.
Which could be why even when I’m cruising a brick and mortar bookstore, I rarely see high fantasy. It’s great required reading, but as a cash-purchase? My gut feeling says it’s on the verge of disappearing like Johanna Lindsey’s pirate novels.
The question is what type of fantasy do I write? How is it different from paranormal, which is my all-around favorite genre?
Back in the sixties—Roger Zelazny (the Amber series)did what was called new wave fantasy. In Nine Princes in Amber, Corwin starts out in New York, escapes to the “Real World” of Amber and just about everywhere else. I remember the books being labeled science-fiction when they came out, fantasy a few years later, and now they’re—lol, new wave fantasy because they grew out of science fiction. In other words sci-fi with fantasy elements.
The best way—the only way, I think—to describe sub-genres is this entry from Wikipedia:
The Merchant Princes (by Charles Stross) is a series in which some humans have an ability to travel between parallel Earths, which have differing levels of technology. This series is science fiction, even though it was originally marketed by the publisher as fantasy.
The Merchant Princes, if you haven’t read them, are sort of like Nine Princes in Amber done up corporate Mafia style. They’re not sci-fi. They’re not really fantasy either--high or low--or urban fantasy. But, shortly after it came out, I noticed a whole rush of books with a similar “feel”.
It was the first of its kind. Just like LOTR. Cutting edge.
I’m probably meandering, so let me cut to paranormals and dark fantasy. Dark fantasy, in my opinion—is also a feel. I’d definitely consider Anne Bishop’s Blood series a dark fantasy, in the same way I’d consider the Kushiel series a dark fantasy. But it’s pretty much become a generic label for any book with the “tramp-stamped heroine” on the cover. I think it’s evolving in the same way dark fantasy with romance elements evolved out of paranormals and low fantasy evolved out of high. There really isn’t a term yet to separate out the kick-ass heroine with optional vampire/demon/werewolf lover and crossbow/black belt unless it’s urban fantasy, but even urban fantasies are changing. Patricia Brigg’s Mercy Thompson series isn’t set in a big city and Ilona Andrews uses post-apocalyptic Atlanta.
I guess this has been a really long post to say I think we need to go back to “fantasy” as a genre without further breakdowns, because the sub-genre definitions evolve. For all I know, there really is a “tramp-stamp fantasy” genre. Sort of like if I threw a couple handfuls of Temple oranges, Honeybells, navel oranges, scarlet navels and Valenicas into a basket and said, “pick out a honeybell and tell me about it?”
They’re all oranges.
Paranormals have a higher proportion of romance and more of a focus on the relationship between the hero and heroine (and that’s the easiest way to tell—because there “is” a hero and heroine, or at least, two people who fall in love and that’s not always the case in a fantasy) But…regardless of whether a fantasy takes place here or there, or is urban or new wave, epic or high. It’s all fantasy.
"Indefinable" is good. Someone needs to start new sub-genres. Anything beyond that is a marketing issue. The publisher will sort it out.