For many years, fantasy was my favourite genre. It still kinda is, but I’ve discovered so much good historical fiction lately that it’s a toss up now.
But still, I grew up with fantasy. I loved (and still love) the classics, like The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. The problem with fantasy though, is that so many novels just fall into the same old tropes time and time again, copying what worked for Tolkien and putting no originality into the process. It gets a bit tiring and originally I was going to do a post on all the tropes and clichés I hate in fantasy. But I thought about it and decided that I wanted to be a little more positive.
Hence, we’re going with seven things I’d love to see more of in fantasy (and the great thing is, these don’t apply just to fantasy, but to all speculative fiction).
More platonic love
Is platonic love even a thing in fantasy? It seems like every fantasy needs a good old love interest (or a couple, depending on the author). Honestly…it’s tiring. Let’s move onto some platonic love. Did you know it’s possible for guys and girls to be in the same room for five minutes without falling in love? Who knew?
A Few Books That Did This Well: Most middle-grade fantasies fit this well. The Magician’s Daughter (Justyn Walker), The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis), Rowan of Rin (Emily Rodda) and The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien) all focus on platonic friendships and its awesome. In adult, there’s basically just The Lord of the Rings. How about a little more YA and adult like that? (Also, not fantasy, per se, but I was pleasantly surprised in Rogue One that Jyn and Cassian didn’t fall in love).
More epic siblings
Siblings are, again, the stuff of middle-grade novels. Who didn’t love reading about the Pevensies? Or Anthea, Cyril, Robert, Jane and the Lamb from Five Children and It? I definitely did, especially as someone with four siblings. But again, YA and adult fantasies just don’t seem to be into it. I have to say, even though I didn’t like Frozen that much, that I loved Anna and Elsa’s relationship and the way they were literally ready to give their lives for each other.
A Few Books That Did This Well: the Chronicles of Narnia, Five Children and It (E. Nesbit), basically every other MG fantasy out there.
More diverse personalities
Yeah, fantasy can be pretty formula. If the main character is a boy, he’ll be a farm boy. He’ll want something more, his parents will be dead, and a mysterious old man will come for him on his sixteenth birthday. If the character is a girl, she’ll be plain (but also shockingly beautiful), probably about to be married to a creepy old guy, and has a either a dead father and an abusive (step)mother, or an abusive father and a downtrodden mother.
It’d be great if there could be a little more personality here. How about a humble guy who steps up to the role of Chosen One without arrogance or whining? Or a boy who thinks he’s the chosen one and isn’t? What about a girl who really is awkward and ugly? What about a girl who is shy and feminine, yet willing to fight for what she loves?
A Few Books That Did This Well: How to Train Your Dragon (Cressida Cowell), Hiccup is the world’s most unlikely hero, yet still the Chosen One. Once Magic (Cressida Cowell), Xar thinks he’s the “Boy of Destiny”, but–spoiler alert–he’s not, and Wish, who’s small and ugly, is super powerful. Heartless (Marissa Meyer), Cath wants to be a baker and is in love with a jester.
More diverse settings
How many books are set in some psuedo-medieval England? Way too many! Thankfully, this one’s been changing a little in recent years, with hits like The Children of Blood and Bone and The Wrath and the Dawn.
But really, England is only a very small part of the world. There’s so much to explore in the rest of the world. Asian fantasies have boomed lately, but there’s still sections of Asia that have been largely overlooked–Nepal, the Philippines, and Thailand come to mind!
And Africa is a huge, diverse place. And yet basically the only fantasy set there is CoBaB. And then places like South America are almost entirely overlooked, not to mention the whole of the South Pacific.
A Few Books That Did This Well: Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi), set in West African inspired country. Barefoot on the Wind (Zoe Marriott), set in Japan/Japan inspired country. Hunted (Meagan Spooner), set in Russia/Russian inspired country.
Something that really irks me about fantasy is that they all seem to subscribe to Tolkien’s “technology is bad” worldview and all take place in ancient/medieval type worlds. I get that Tolkien was upset with technology and the way it was destroying lives (literally), and destroying nature (also literally), but technology in and of itself is no more good or bad than magic. I’d love to see some more fantasies that incorporate technology into the plot and deal with it a nuanced way.
A Few Books That Did This Well: Fawkes (Nadine Brandes), takes place during the 1600s, with guns and gunpowder and all that sort of stuff.
More disabled/ill/not perfectly healthy characters
I get that sometimes its hard to work disabilities into epic quest plots. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. It always annoyed me as a kid that these really dull farm boys/aristocratic girls somehow never reflected me…who had knee problems and bad ankles and asthma. For other people, who are actually disabled, this problem must be even worse.
There’s been an increase in disabled characters in novels lately, but they’re still lacking in fantasy novels. Wouldn’t it be awesome to have a deaf character defeating the dark lord? A boy with severe asthma overthrowing the corrupt king? A chief with a stammer overcoming every hurdle thrown in his path (shameless self-promo)?
Seriously! So many kids, teens and adults suffer from disabilities and illnesses–whether those be blindness, mental disabilities, diabetes, asthma, deafness…you name it. Why not include more of them in fantasy?
A Few Books That Did This Well: I can’t think of any off the top of my head. If you can, please let me know!
More characters that suffer mental illness
Let’s be honest, fantasy characters go through a lot. There’s death, violence, usually a war or two, and sometimes things like extreme poverty, or rape. These are all things that are almost guaranteed to cause PTSD, anxiety or depression. But rarely do fantasy novels portray these aftermaths or show how trauma affects each individual character and that really bugs me.
In real life, wars and violence happen all the time, and the people involved have to bear some sort of scarring from it. Sometimes it’s severe and sometimes its barely noticeable, but its always there. Let’s start including it (after researching it, of course. The last thing mentally ill people need is more misinformation running around).
A Few Books That Did This Well: The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien), Frodo breaks my heart every time I come to the end of ROTK, it’s such a realistic picture of the pain so many soldiers (like Tolkien) felt when returning from WW1. (And again, not fantasy, but The Hunger Games.)
Well, that’s it from me! What about you guys? Do you enjoy speculative fiction? What tropes bother you and how have you tried to change them? What would you like to see more of in fantasy?