I read a lot of fantasy novels. Of the books I read, that genre and the classics (usually things written before the 20th century) are the most read, but I’ve noticed that I don’t reread fantasy that much. I think about it. I plan to reread it. I own the books in question. But I don’t always get to it, and here’s a few reason why I think that happens.
- Fantasy is simply an adventure. More often than not, fantasy stories are about adventure. A quest. A journey. A battle. They focus on that, and everything outside that goal is ignored. It makes for extremely engaging reading the first time through, as you want to know what happens. But the second time through, when I already know exactly how they’re going to make it, when I remember most of the details…that’s less enjoyable, and thus I seem to gloss over the fantasy books I’ve read and skip on to other things (new books or old favorites).
This can also lead to the problem of “If you’ve read one fantasy, you’ve read them all.” They come off feeling the same (much like some Christian Romance novels), and it becomes a bland offering the second time through when the spice of “what’s going to happen” is gone. Why read one you’ve already read when you can go on to something new that might just be different? If I’m in the mood to go-adventuring, I guess I’d rather go somewhere new than retrace my steps (unless a particular “trail” offers something memorable and uniquely delightful…see below).
- Fantasy isn’t that fun. Too often, fantasy books don’t have enough light-hearted moments to make me want to come back. For me, books are about experiencing a slice of life that I can’t get in the same time, just by living my own life. It’s about rubbing shoulders and sharing secrets with others and becoming friends with them, and what better way to become friends than to have fun? To enjoy humor together, to experience sorrows and joys, both, and to long for the fun to come back and stay, to want the villain to be beaten so that all the moments of fun and delight can burst forth and take over.
The happy ending may not happen, but more often than not, fun is a powerful ingredient to make me read something again. (This is the case of Hamlet, one of my all-time favorite Shakespeare plays. In the end, the stage is littered with dead bodies, but along the way, we have all sorts of fun: Hamlet mocking his father’s advisor, giving acting advice, and feigning madness much in the vein of Howling Mad Murdoch from The A-Team–from the original series. I haven’t seen the new one.)
- Fantasy is excitement…and no other emotion. Often, fantasy books seem to prefer the excitement and drama and physical conflict of good versus evil to the more introspective change of characters’ hearts. We aren’t allowed to get close enough to the characters to feel what they feel, and thus, as a reader, I don’t feel anything other than excitement and suspense (unlike in a good romance, where I can feel all sorts of things: anger, frustration, amusement, delight).
For me to come back to a story, there must be something worth coming back to. Since there isn’t the mystery of the plot, there has to be a compelling mood I want to feel again. Even if the plot ends on a sorrowful note, I still want something powerful to come away with. (A good example of this is the song, “Into the West.” No matter who sings that, provided they sing it well, it always makes me want to write a character’s death scene just to be able to delve deeply into the loss it’s describing.) I mean, who wants to experience danger and depression and pain and suffering in a loose, uncathartic way? Would you really want to revisit that?
This isn’t to just pick on fantasy, of course. Other genres: historical fiction, romance, literary fiction, science fiction…they can all have the same problems. If they don’t offer rich mood or characterization or setting that makes me feel along with the cast, and they don’t offer any fun along the way, then I probably won’t touch those novels again, either. They’ll become decorations on my shelf, ready for me to offer to a friend who hasn’t yet read them…or to be reread sometime, long in the future, when I’ve finally forgotten enough of the story to be ready to touch it again.
Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgre
Photo by Jacky, Creative Commons