What I Hate about Fantasy
There’s a story I tell. I’m in third or fourth grade and my mother is making chili. She had to make two pots because she loved having beans in it while my father, brother, and I wouldn’t eat beans.
She got fed up with having to make two pots—entirely reasonably, my adult self says—so she sat my brother and I down at the kitchen table with a bean in front of us and said we weren’t going anywhere until we ate one single bean.
My brother gave up after about an hour, but folks, it’s been more than forty years and I still haven’t eaten a bean.
It’s not because I’ve always been a stubborn pain in the ass. Okay, it’s not just because I’ve always been a stubborn pain in the ass. I have a firm belief in the individual’s right and ability to choose their own destiny. The ability isn’t perfect, of course. We can’t choose to fly, change our sexuality, or ensure we’re always healthy.
But in any free society we—and by that, I mean everyone—should be able to make the important decisions in life based on what we think is best for us. There are those that say we already can, but I’d suggest that making decisions based on your ability to eat next week or survive the month isn’t remotely the same thing.
Enter the Chosen One
As you might expect, I have a pretty dim view of the chosen one trope. If you read this blog, there’s a good chance you have at least a dozen books on your shelf where someone is destined to save the world. They’re given special powers or a personality trait that is going to be the key thing that overcomes evil and allows goodness to thrive.
It denies everyone on the side of good the right to control their destiny. It denies the Chosen One the right to go off and raise daffodils and it denies everyone else the right to be the hero.
Perhaps more to the point, it’s not how good and evil works. Evil is not a big-ass monster that you fight once and get peace and prosperity for thousands of years. The fight against evil is one we all have to tackle every day in ourselves, our daily lives, and—light help us—in our politics.
To be sure, there are waxings and wanings. Now and then, a Hitler comes along and does more concentrated evil in one lifetime than most dystopian leaders can dream of in a thousand.
But what happens? We band together as a species and fight the evil. We get a whole new batch of heroes. Some of them are the President of Ukraine, and some of them happen to be normal folks who hid a Jewish family from the Nazis.
The Chosen One trope denies all characters the right to make their own choice.
A Thing I Particularly Hate
A lot of storytellers do something to create tension. They pretend the hero might not accept their destiny. That makes it look like the protagonist decided to become the hero, but it’s almost entirely bullshit.
If you became convinced that by becoming the hero, you could save everyone you cared about from a horrendous evil, would you do it?
Unless you’re an absolute sociopath, of course you would. We all would. It’s not an actual choice in the same way that it’s not an actual choice to work the weekend when your boss says he’ll fire you if you don’t. Sure, you could say no, but nobody who cares about their family would.
Then There’s Elves
Honestly, just fuck elves. They’re one of two things Tolkien did to fantasy that I completely loathe. Picture it. The Fellowship of the Ring is trying to cross the mountains so they don’t have to go down into Moria. The wind is vicious and the snow is deep. Aragorn and Boromir are using their bodies to push through the snow, making pathways for the hobbits. It’s bloody terrible.
And there’s Legolas walking on top of the snow sucking on a slurpee.
Fuck Legolas. Fuck Elrond, Galadriel, Glorfindel, Thranduil, and the rest of ‘em. Tolkien made them better than the rest of folk and that’s just reprehensible. No class of people is any better or worse than any other and a motherfucker that fought at the bloody Somme should understand that.
And In Conclusion…
I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that my likes and dislikes in literature reflect my personal beliefs. I have a view of how people and the world should work, and another view of how people and the world do work. I apply those standards to every world I encounter, whether it’s full of humans, elves, or bug-eyed monsters.