This post is going to be….weird.
CW: Discussion of homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, sexism, sexual assault (no explicit details will be discussed), racism, slavery
I’ve definitely alluded to this in the past, but there are a lot of elements in fantasy that I’ve started having issues with. I got in depth about the specific problems I have as written by male authors in the fantasy genre, but today I want to get into the plotlines, tropes, and other elements that just don’t agree with me.
Fantasy Allegories for Slavery
This particular element doesn’t sit well with me for two primary reasons: the first is that often these allegories are written by white people with no empathetic understanding of the horrors of slavery, and the second is that they are often poorly thought out (usually as a result of being written by white people). There are far better written stories across a swath of genres, including fantasy, by people of color and specifically black and African American people who actually understand the long term effects of slavery. Yes, other groups of people have been enslaved throughout history, but most often fantasy allegories for slavery are based in the trans Atlantic slave trade and its genocidal effects. When written by a white person, these allegories really fall flat because they’re usually written from a place of misunderstanding of the fundamental pain of discrimination based on skin color and racial profiling. Additionally, these stories tend to frame the allegorical slavery in question as a “what if x happened?” and miss the point that it’s already happened and the pain it caused still runs deep today.
Fantasy Allegories for LGBTQ+ Discrimination
This one bothers me on a more personal level as a queer person. There seems to be a tendency in fantasy to create an allegory for homophobia and illegalizing LGBT relationships (which is still a real thing in many parts of the world) without including any actual queer representation. It clearly comes from a place lacking empathy and respect for genuine struggles in this world. “Forbidden romances” that focus on a couple that realistically face no real consequences for their love are tiring. Especially when it’s a clear allegory for a queer relationship.
Patriarchal Fantasy Societies
This one just sucks. I’m sorry, there’s no way around it. About 80% of the fantasy I’ve read has been for some reason based vaguely on medieval Europe, and usually on incorrect notions of medieval Europe. As a result, these fantasy worlds may introduce magic and spells and dragons and other creatures but they also stand firm with a patriarchal society in which women have no power, no rights, and no real lives. As a result the female characters that are there have to be creative about defying expectations, and… Yeah. I’m just tired of this stuff. I’m not saying fantasy novels should do the opposite from now on, but if you’re writing a fantasy novel and you can’t get out of the box enough to give women interesting and unique plot lines, rights, and roles in your story then you’re not creative enough to write fantasy. End of story.
An Insistence on “Realism”
This brings me to my next most hated element. When an author insists on “realistic” aspects of the society in their story but there are magical elements all around. Why in the world is it unrealistic to have loving queer characters in happy relationships and women with agency and choice but it’s fine to have dragons and ogres and orcs? The argument for realism is often used to include other aspects I particularly dislike, such as sexual assault (“it’s unrealistic for it to be eradicated!”) and child abuse. Personally, I like my fantasy worlds to be better than the real one, and I don’t have time for authors who claim they’re just being realistic to human nature when there are elves and dragons and MAGIC involved.
I think at the end of the day what bugs me in fantasy novels are when they’re just not that creative. By that I mean people who can’t imagine a world that doesn’t have some negative element from our own, and usually can’t imagine a world that doesn’t have multiples. Conflict is interesting, yes, but only when it pertains to the specific characters and is written with understanding, empathy, and nuance. It’s difficult to do that from a privileged perspective, and often fantasy authors just regurgitate the same tropes, traits, and elements that have been going around for decades. Fantasy should in theory be one of the most creative genres out there because you can do so much with it! It’s sad and tiring to find authors falling into the same old boring tropes and incorporating elements they have no business writing.
What about you book bees, what do you not like seeing in your fantasy novels? If you have any thoughts feel free to share them in the comments!