Today I bring you a guest post by Ross Hughes, who wrote an article about how modern fantasy is trending away from fictitious races and what he thinks where fantasy is headed these days.
Graduating from the University of Birmingham in 2012 with a BA in Ancient History, he immediately began working at his family’s plant nursery in Northampton and continued the novel he had begun in his last year of university.
That one novel became six; the Convent series.
Ross currently lives in Northampton in the UK, always working on his next fantasy novel or short story. He takes occasional breaks to walk the dog, see friends and family and explore other countries. He has always enjoyed reading fantasy books and still does, his favourite authors being Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, David Gemmell and Raymond E. Feist.
He also loves old kung fu films.
If, like me, you harken with fondness back to the days of yore when fantasy books were overflowing with elves, ogres, orcs, goblins, dwarves and dragons, you might be saddened by this new trend – the trend in modern fantasy which seems to be tacking away from those beloved old fictitious races. Tolkienites and Dragonlance afficionados may not be getting their fix from this new style.
Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe fantasy is not trending in that direction. I’m open to that possibility. I obviously haven’t read every single fantasy book that has ever come out. No one has. I like to think I’ve read enough, however, to form an informed opinion. And here it is.
It seems to me as though fantasy is tending towards the use of solely human races in modern literature. No longer do we so often see such wild and diverse races (talking about fantastical races like elves and dwarves) as we did in the not-so distant past; books like the Dragonlance series and The Lord of the Rings, like Narnia and the Riftwar Saga. Now, we seem to be drifting toward stories centring solely around humanity, with books by the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie and Brian Staveley all focusing on human characters. Even Game of Thrones is almost all humans – apart from the dragons and one dwarf. Don’t get me wrong. I love all these books. A part of me just remembers the old ways with fondness and misses those old races.
As I write this post, it occurs to me that a lot of those old fantastical races were often white-skinned and that today’s fantasy features a broader spectrum of skin colour, which I think is a good thing. So there’s one argument against me – and a good one. I do think fantasy is making some steps in the right direction.
I’m only saying that I miss crazier stories. It seems as though we’re entering the age of gritty realism, thanks to the aforementioned Joe Abercrombie, George RR Martin and their forefather, Glen Cook. And that’s fine. Sort of. I do love these books, but sometimes I miss the slightly sillier escapism of the far-flung imaginings of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman or the fable-like land of Middle Earth. Everything has become shades of grey – no, I’m not talking about the book – and I’m left wondering what happened to my beloved black and white?
I understand it’s a more mature approach to writing a fantasy novel, to tackle real issues and portray people as they really are – as selfish b******s – but I guess a part of me remains immature in longing for the simple, uplifting story of the good guy versus the bad guy, rather than the grey guy facing the greyer guy. I mean, who are you supposed to root for in these stories?
Some authors have taken to inverting those old well-known tropes, like Andrzej Sapkowski giving us evil elves and Katherine Addison giving us sympathetic goblins, and I think that might be where fantasy is or should be heading. I think we should be using these old devices, just spicing them up in a new way. I know that’s what I’ve tried to accomplish in my epic fantasy novel, A Dead Wizard’s Dream, where for example dwarves live underground but are bloodthirsty xenophobes. Later on in my Convent series, the characters come across elves with beaks and goblins with blue skin that blends in with the ocean.
I know one major argument against such fantastical races – I think I heard it spouted by the Youtuber, Daniel Greene – is that one can make the same story without them, that they are only caricatures of certain types of human beings all lumped into one stereotypical race. And to some extent, this is true. No fictional race should be populated by identical people – unless they’re clones – because that is not the way society works. People are different, therefore elves and dwarves should be different, each with his or her own idiosyncrasies. However, I would argue that these races of olden time fantasy can still be used. Yes, they are hyperbolic representations of humans, but what’s wrong with that – as long as it’s done well, as long as the characters come across like people rather than cardboard cutouts taken from The Lord of the Rings?
Maybe you could tell the same story without them, but it would be missing the panache, the icing on the cake. And certain fictional races delve into weird and wonderful problems, like the squabbling of the dark elves in Menzoberranzan. Yes, it’s basically just civil war and the tale could be re-told using only humans, but such a story would be missing the magnificence of the original; the different houses, the setting, the drow adaptations to the dark, the Queen of Spiders, the magic. Using fantastical races allows us to explore realistic issues in extraordinary and varied ways, and – despite the current trends – I think they should remain a staple of fantasy literature in the years to come.
If you’d like to get in contact with Ross Hughes, you can find him on social media:
You can check out the first book, A Dead Wizard’s Dream of Ross Hughes‘ Convent series, by clicking on the cover below, which will lead to its Amazon page:
What do you think? Does modern fantasy needs more fictitious races? Do you agree or disagree with Ross? I’m curious what you think, so feel free to comment and let us know!