June 15th 2011
Do You Prefer Adventure, or Politics, in Your Epic Fantasy?
Or maybe both?
The best epic fantasies tend to have plenty of both. Without political context to frame the conflict, an adventure has little meaning. And without the characters placing themselves at personal risk, politics is just so much talk. The best example of a book with plenty of both is Dune, especially given the way the sequels fall apart because of the way the politics is pushed right over the front of the stage and into the audience’s lap.
But, once push comes to shove, which would you rather read? An epic fantasy that’s all adventure story? Or one that’s all politics?
My own choice is for adventure. The old-fashioned choice, but then I’m an old-fashioned guy. I grew up reading adventure stories, beginning with The Hardy Boys, then moving on to historical fiction (anyone remember William O. Steele?), until finally, by way of Andre Norton, ERB, and Heinlein’s juveniles, I arrived at science fiction and fantasy.
Now, however, the trend seems to be toward more politically oriented epic fantasy, especially when readers and reviewers call for books in which the protagonists and antagonists are more morally balanced. Most of these books are much better written than the Golden Age trash I treasure, but I still don’t enjoy them nearly as much as I do my trash. Moral equivalence is, to my taste, better suited to realistic fiction.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not much of a Conan or Elric fan, despite my love of Tarzan and John Carter. No talking is almost as bad, in my opinion, than too much. But there’s no politics at all in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, and I’d much rather read them than anything filled with political infighting and intrigue. (Note that I can’t even come up with a too-much-politics example. I simply don’t read them.)
What about you? Would you rather read Conan’s exploits, or the subtle machinations of the Bene Gesserit?
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Butler is the author of The Stoneways Trilogy from Tor Books: Reiffen's Choice, Queen Ferris, and The Magician's Daughter. Find out what Reiffen does with magic, and what magic does with him... Visit site.
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