You know, I-, I have shit on the fantasy genre more on once over the years on this blog. Sometimes, indirectly, sometimes, very directly. I-eh, I really don't think much of the genre. I'm not-a-fan. Now, I don't typically think that about an entire genre, and yes there are exceptions to this, but, ugh, even at it's best, there's so much just, wrong, with this entire genre. There's a lot for my disgust of the genre. Tolkien, being the main influence is a big one. Yeah, I've made no secret about how I'm just disgusting and shocked that "Lord of the Rings" is considered good at all, in any form,- plus, the rules of the genre, well they're basically just, cheating. Basically the rules are, with fantasy that there no rules and anything can happen, which is dumb, becomes now you've allowed anything that can happen. So, A. there's no stakes, 'cause you can't care. If anything can happen-, it's like making your character immortal, you can kill him as many times as you want but, who cares, he's coming back to life, or whatever, anything can happen, there's no science in the world, there's just plot convenience. (coughs, Tolkien) and you know, now that I think about, much of it, isn't even that imaginative a genre. No really, basically, I mean, there's exception and subgenres of fantasy, but most of it, is basically influenced by eh, King Arthur-type literature (Which itself isn't particularly great most of it) and historically, it's all set in some re-imagined version of Europe, circa, Middle Ages, to the beginning of the renaissance. It's all about honor, and valor and an epic journey-, you know, if you're actually gonna be a genre where anything can happen, I'd like to see anything happen. Really go stream-of-consciousness crazy with it, if you're really gonna do it. You want, fantasy, uh.... let me get into writer mode here...
"Gregor Samson awoke one morning to find himself turned into peanut-based Vietnamese sauce. He knew that the Samurai had something to do with it, so him and his pet caterpillar, Butterfly went out to learn the ancient craft of turning mobiles into superpowerful ant armies, to combat the Samurai's navy of alien grasshoppers from Saturn who know jujitsu and the ancient martial art of turning grass into vegan guns. And they fight at the top of Kilimanjaro, but not during the snowy season, 'cause the guests would've complained. "
You see, when I mean when I say fantasy isn't that imaginative as they think it is. I mean, yeah, that was camp and it's stream of consciousness insanity, but I'll take that over another knight at the Round Table. Besides, Little John Snack Bar is much better than the Round Table Buffet. (To the five people in Vegas who get that joke, kudos.)
That's one thing that dawned on me recently while rethinking about the genre again. There were a few things, that sorta made me rethink it again. One of them was, when I was listening to Geekcast Radio's podcast on those 100 Greatest TV Shows they did earlier in the year, the poll that I participated in. They go "Game of Thrones" which was the fuck too high (And didn't make my ballot, even though it is the best of the genre television-wise, which should really tell you how useless the genre is.), but something they kept saying a refrain, that was mentioned multiple times, was that the show, "Keeping fantasy alive". "Keeping fantasy alive,""Keeping fantasy alive," the show was "Keeping fantasy alive". and all I could think was, "Why the hell is that good?!" If there was ever a genre that needs to fucking die, and quick and painful death, it's fantasy. And we've done it, we've killed genres before. How many westerns have you watched lately. Hollywood used to make hundreds a year, but you know, there's a few, but no, the genre doesn't have a hold over the country like it use to, thank god. Yeah, sorry John Wayne fans, but it was time for that overrated genre to end, years before it actually did. They had run of stories for the most part, it was based in an old, outdated time period of Americana that had no relevance to today, it was incredibly overdone and way too influential and eventually we killed. We killed the musical, that got old, except on Broadway. There's exceptions, but yeah, you don't see random unrelated musical numbers just shoved into the middle of movies anymore, except maybe in Bollywood, for a reason. They sucked.
And yet, somehow this genre, that thinks it's mythology when it's not- it actually bugs me, that so many people just gravitate towards this genre blindly. Anyway, I thought I had gone through every possible argument against this genre, and I wasn't interested in drumming all this up. but- something else occurred to me about the genre, and the fanbase of the genre, And, the more I thought about, the less I could ignore it, or dismiss it. So, okay, I've through three, maybe four seasons of "Game of Thrones", like I said, I do like the show. I haven't seeked it out in a while and no, I'm not keeping up with this new season, but even as I watched it, I barely kept up. I mean, it's entertaining, and I do get the sense that, this world is complete, and while it is a creative, made-up world there are only certain things that can happen, but that said, it's about five families, of people fighting over, well fighting against each other really, and, I-eh, if you gave me a test on the show, I probably would not only fail, I'd fail pretty badly. I know, they know what's going on, but I-, I'm amazed are shocked and saddened by character deaths on that show, I can barely tell one character from another half the time, much less care about them, except for maybe the Dragon Lady and Tyrion Lannister, and the latter is only because I'm a huge Peter Dinklage fan. Like, I- I used to joke that I need a scorecard but actually, I used to write scorecards for baseball games, and those are much easier to keep track of. For one, thing, everything's confined to a baseball field, you can see everybody, most of the positions are location or direction-named, they announced each change, there's a batting order to follow, and things usually go in a way,- a fantasy scorecard would not help me, I would be constantly going around trying to remember who everybody is. Also, um, I was rewatching Lindsay Ellis's Nostalgia Chick episodes on "Lord of the Rings", 'cause she reposted them recently..., I disagree with her on it obviously, but it's still interesting, but it's way overly elaborate about, everything "Lord of the Rings" and she really goes through character and has opinions on how they were portrayed in the films and comparing them to the book and, how supposedly it was sad, when whoever the hell it was, died at the end of the first movie, which, I-eh, I have absolutely no idea what she's talking about there, the first movie was by far the worst of the three and I can't imagine how we were supposed to care about that character who's name I can't even remember. And-, those other character and the elves, and the.... huh. Wait a minute.....-
Yeah, my wheels started turning a bit here at this point, and it suddenly dawned me another major, major problem with this genre; why the fuck does every fantasy have like a thousand characters?! Like, major characters, or at least in the fans' minds major characters? Like, "Lord of the Rings" isn't about Frodo saving the world by bringing the ring to the mountain, it's about all the other what-the-hell shit? Yeah, as soon as I realized this I wanted to dwell on this for a second, 'cause-, it's not that other genres don't have a ton of characters one needs to keep track of, but- for instance, a modern show that I think to a certain extent suffered from this was "Big Love", yes, it's about a polygamist family, but good lord, at certain points during it's bad seasons, some of the episodes were just going from one characters and his/her plotpoints, to the next, to the next, to the next, it was drama overload, just ugh, everything's important, where's the damn comic relief! or in other words, when everything's important, then nothing's important, and you'll just tune out. That's not even necessarily bad, and my initial thought was to just dismiss this. I mean, my whole criticism of fantasy, mainly relies on the fact that most fantasy, doesn't do what it should and effectively create it's entire world and universe completely; there's no science to Middle Earth is one of my constant complaint refrains, and I stand by that, but even still, one of the aspects of creating that world, would be creating the people and characters of se world. No complaints from me here, that's actually correct, so naturally fantasy would have to have a very large collection of characters it's an entire it's creating, and it's hard to create a world without people living in it and how they live in it, and how they relate to the world and vice-versa, like okay, it can annoy me, but it makes sense in the genre, so it's okay, and dare I say it's essential, an essential, important aspect of the genre.
At least, that's what I wanted to think so I could dismiss it as a purported problem, BUT-, that's not actually right. Yes it is and can be an effective part about creating a universe, but not an essential one. You see, all that really is, is exposition, there are these people, they're here, they're at war, fighting, or at peace, or vampires, or whatever, blah, blah, blah, but exactly how many of them are actually relevant to the main story. Like, essential to the point where we actually need to know their name? Or have the fanboys and fangirls obsessed over them? Ye-ah, not as much. Actually, quite a few. That's when I thought, well no wonder I hate "LOTR", the story is about everything but Frodo's journey most of the damn time, 'cause we're so caught up on all this other bullshit, but then I thought, "Well, I love "Les Miserables" and there's an overload of characters doing a bunch of stuff there too? (To name one, there's obviously other titles I could name.) Well, first I though, it's because in "Les Mis..." they're all somehow it's more interconnected to the main story, but thinking about deeper, actually, no it isn't that many characters. It's maybe, at most, eight, ten, twelve characters, like really important ones, essential to the story. There's a lot of shit going on, but that's the exposition, the situation in which the story takes place in. Like, let's look at fantasy's closest relative, science-fiction, sometimes the best science-fiction literally has, a couple main characters at most, maybe less. Hell, "Gravity", one of the best sci-fi films in recent years, has two main characters, and one of them isn't even in the movie for like the last hour or so. I'm not saying, I want to see a fantasy version of "Gravity", but take, "Star Wars", which for this conversation, we'll call science-fantasy, and take the first three films. Now, there's a lot of characters in "Star Wars", a lot, but if you were gonna tell me the story of "Star Wars", as basically as possible, how many characters would you name? I thought about it, and I'm not a "Star Wars" specialist, but at the most, even for, all three films, maybe 12, 15 characters I would name, at the most. Hell, I might not even mention Jabba the Hut, how essential is he, really? Not terribly, I don't think. I mean, I'd probably mention him, but, the point being is that, no, having a lot of character, major characters, um, does that actually, help or improve the piece. The problem is, when these extra characters and storylines, get in the way, or remove us from the main story arc and drift into something. With "LOTR", as much as I believe the world isn't created or thought-out well-enough, the bigger problem, I realize is the focus isn't there. Okay, Frodo's journey, this is important. No, this other thing is important. No, this character is important, but it's about the journey, that's what's important, but this character who's really important dies now, well, it can't be that important, he died pretty early, so why are caring about it; but now we got this important thing, and these important characters, and this character's back now--- AAGH! WHAT THE HELL AM I SUPPOSED TO PAY ATTENTION TOO! FUCK! That's what I really feel like watching that and most fantasy in any genre, keep in mind, I'm already looking at the world they're creating and trying to comprehend it, but now, I gotta deal with all this other crap, that's mostly separate but sometimes apart of the main story, but not really or always! (Smacks forehead) You know, "Avatar"'s storyline was stupid, but at least they waited 'til they established the universe well-enough and didn't go on too many extra tangents and subplots like that, you know?
Even in mythology, there's a lot of characters, but actually, most of the stories, were really focused and they weren't exactly all shoved together, they're pretty much separate, even when characters from one show up in another; it's structured more like "Winnie-the-Pooh" then anything in fantasy. Even, "The Iliad," is mainly about, five people, and major three gods. Or, even in a piece of literature like "Gilgamesh", which is pretty similar to "Lord of the Rings" two people on a long journey, etc. etc., there's a lot of smaller characters, but the main story is about only two characters and two characters only. Hell, much of that story is about what happens in their dreams, oddly enough.
So, if you don't need, to create a world of people, characters in order to make an effective fantasy, then why is it, so overly prevalent? Or, why does it seem so insistent or at least, so essential? Is it just tradition? Is it that nobody can think of how to convey a fantasy universe without going into elaborate details into what seems like every character that exists in the world?
Well, I went on Twitter about this, and yes I have a Twitter, the site has a Twitter, it's at https://twitter.com/DavidBaruffi_EV, so follow me, 'cause I do make occasional end-round statements that I suspect you would enjoy and I asked this question:
Yes, I include CAPITALIZED WORDS, not only in my FB posts promoting my blogs, but also on TWITTER. It's a screenwriter thing, plus, you notice it. Anyway, since I'm not that popular I didn't get a ton of responses, but I did get one, and it pissed me off.
I would've gone on, but Twitter is only 140 characters, which is about 149,860 too few, but yeah, BULLSHIT!
Seriously, it's stuff like that's why I'm so against fandom and everything it stands for. People get so caught up in this kind of shit that people don't take a step back and go, "Wait a minute, why?". So, I'm asking why, why does the fantasy genre in particular become so overly fascinated with every character in their pieces of literature?
Well, whatever the reason, I don't think it's a good one. I don't mind, having an overload array of characters, there's actually a lot of positives for it, especially in this genre, but a lot of the genre is also based around, mostly, a literal Hero's Journey arc. I'm not exactly sure why, but usually that kind of journey, the main focus is always, the hero, and when you do run the risk of including several other characters, each with their own separate plotlines and stories behind them, you completely diminish and undermine the hero's journey. I mean, if it's like a road trip story, for instance, something like "Gilgamesh", or "The Odyssey", they're obstacles to overcome, instead of just, more shit to get in the way. Now that I think about it, that, more than anything else is probably the reason I despise "Lord of the Rings" so much, we're on one journey, but instead we get caught up in all the soap opera crap of everybody else. That's the reason why, "The Return of the King", while not a good movie, is by far the best of the three films, 'cause at least there, some of these stories are actually coming together and making their way towards a gigantic climax, but most of the time, it's just, getting in the way, and at least "The Return of the King" is about an hour and 45 or so, of true tension and conflicts over the main storyline. (Of course the movie is 3 1/2 hours that's the problem, but....). They have one journey set up, and in the meantime they do everything to get away from it.
I know Tolkien's idea was to create mythology, which in of itself was a pretty stupid, because mythology itself gets away with whatever insanity it wants because it's read as religious texts and stories, with morals and whatnot, explanations for the way things are and how we behave; they aren't literature texts as they are religious texts and they're rarely if ever meant to be taken literally. There is a subtext to most fantasy works, the way there are to most sci-fi, fantasy's closest relative, but you still have to make something work first as a piece of text and not as symbolism. They're, just getting in the way, and I'm sorry, but most of the time, these characters that most people seem to love, because, mainly as far as I can tell, because they love the piece of literature, so they obsess over any/all aspects of it, and ugh.
Again, that alone isn't horrible, while I'm not-a-fan, I do understand how obsessive fans can be, but with fantasy, I think they're doing it the other way. It seems like people are recognizing the obsessive behaviors of fans and are then inject numerous other character into fantasy, in order to appease them as oppose to putting in characters as needed to tell the story, or simply to populate the universe they're creating. Hell, "Game of Thrones" is basically subverting this entire trope, by seemingly taking all the characters that people supposedly like and killing them off. (I say, supposedly 'cause none of the characters that I've ever given a damn about on that show have died yet, so it loses that effect on me. As far as I've watched anyway.) That's when I start to say, we need to rethink this tendency. While I'm not-a-fan, I'm definitely not a fan, of this kind of fan service. I'm the first one to tune out when something or someone gets in the way of seeing a work of art achieve it's- well, hindered. If sure there's pieces of fantasy out there that I'm not thinking about that would be a good counterargument, and hell I hope there's some that actually do find a way to focus and narrow it's story to a few main characters while simultaneously creating a greater, complete wider universe for it's story to take place in, but I can't think of any. If anything, this blogpost, isn't so much a rant as it is, a challenge. Make it, let me see it.
Hypothesis: Fantasy doesn't need to create a world through it's use of creating an over-abundance of characters with their own tangential character and story arcs in order to both, create an effective, complete universe and still be good as a fantasy and tell a good story.
Well, there's the hypothesis, now scientific method, let's prove it. It's an inherent flaw but not one that's impossible to correct, or at least circumvent.