Thoughts on Setting: Conventional Fantasy

3 min read

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Johnny-Red's avatar
For the sake of convenience and brevity, I'm considering telling people that I just dislike the fantasy genre as a whole. Now, of course, given that I can - hopefully - have a little bit of your time and this part of your screen to use as my soapbox, I'll explain in a bit more detail. The driving force behind the entire genre of fantasy is escapism - finding yourself thrown head-first into a world that has little, if any, true similarities to our own reality. Elves engage in homoerotic rituals in the ancient grove, the constant threat of attack by half-naked Orcs, Dragons-


If fantasy should bring us to entirely new and unfamiliar places, how the hell am I able to describe these places offhand?

Now, before I accidentally turn this into a blind, raging negative rant, let me say this - I do respect J.R.R. Tolkien and other early fantasy writers - probably a bunch I've never even heard of, but I wonder if many people respect him for the wrong reasons. I'm sorry, but I don't really respect him for having invented Orcs, Elves, and Dwarves as we have (unfortunately) known them over and over in the genre for half a century now. No, I respect Tolkien for creating a universe that was radically different from many other authors at the time. But, the way I see it, people are honoring his legacy of boldly defying narrative conventions by... Pretty much sticking to his exact same conventions. See my gripe?

In my humble opinion, a good fantasy should provide an experience that's essentially a chain of whatthefucks. I, as the hapless reader/viewer/player, should have no fucking clue what I'm getting in to. Hence the idea of a whole new world. If I hear/read the word Orc, I pretty much already know the gist of what is being described - a big, musclular, green dude who's probably wearing a loincloth. The immersion that comes with learning, exploring a truly mysterious and foreign place is broken when I can refer to something else as guidance. I know there's nothing morally wrong with this, but this trend seems to render the term fantasy into something of a misnomer.

The most comical instances of fantasy trying to break this mold are IP's like The Elder Scrolls, which still clings to the names and vaguest of descriptions of Elves, Orcs, Dragons, Mages and the like but have almost entirely changed the ideas behind them. It's like a weird vestigial limb that just serves no purpose, it needs to be amputated. Is it really so risky to just do your own thing? TES is without a doubt my favorite video game series of all time - I truly had to fight back tears when I heard the Morrowind theme remastered in Dragonborn - but this is one thing I can't praise it for, no matter how much it hurts me.

It's been almost 60 years since Return of the King was published. Don't tell me that only a handful people in the past 3 - soon to be 4 - generations has come up with a truly original medieval fantasy universe in which people can hit each other with axes. Don't be afraid to show off your beautiful ideas. Don't feel like you have to water down your creativity with someone else's work. God dammit, don't force me to give artistic props to JRPGs.
© 2013 - 2023 Johnny-Red
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