Why fantasy is often blander than literary realism
I really enjoy fantasy literature. Usually I say that I like SF, which is sort of an ambiguous term for me because I never looked it up and includes science fiction and fantasy. Yet lately I have read more realist works (in the very broadest sense but still quite distinct from common fantasy) like Murdoch, Murakami, Bukowski, Steinbeck and friends. Despite the absence of dragons and faeries, what I really enjoy is how the authors have to really think about how to write about a certain real thing. Murdoch, an atheist, writes about members of an abbey. So even though she is not religious she has to think deeply about how to convey pious sentiment that wouldn't sound ridiculous to a given religious person. One thing Murakami has been criticized of is that he doesn't write women very well. So despite all the good and weird stuff that comes from his feather, the ambition to be real gives the reader a certain power namely that they can compare what is written with their own experiential values. So the realist writer has to figure out how the people and things really work from the very privileged point of view of the people and things involved. I've I, as a reader, don't believe your description of something where I have a lot of experiential knowledge about, I'm not going to read it or like it.
This ties in, of course, with a lot of intersectional theory. Women, Black people, queer people etc all don't have a nice spot in the what is considered canonical Western literature (Bloom's words). Why? Because most writers were men and might not have been concerned so much about the inner lives and lives experiences of said and more groups of people. Of course this is getting better since they are included in the dialogue and also get to write more/their writing is less suppressed (implying there always was oppressed writing, it was just not credited or canonicalized).
Back on the main track, in fantasy, on the other hand, I feel a lot can be made up as we go. If the adventurers meet some sort of occult order (something something grim dark Faerun-inspired fantasy), the writer can come up with whatever they want why they are occult, what drove them there, yada yada. This is all good and one thing that is more impressive about fantasy: The sheer wealth of stuff that's gotta be invented. One of the first things that gets mentioned in any laudatio on JRR Tolkien is usually how staggeringly detailed and large his world building was. That's great and if well done like in Tolkien's case, no problemo. Just if we look more broadly at the genre and writers, mediocre realism still has to think hard about the world and how to depict it while in fantasy we just encounter bland, NPC-like characters. Naturally, just like in video games, where the villagers start to repeat their dialogue if you query them too many times.
#fantasy #murdoch #literary_realism #bukowski- 1 toasts