Fantasy has had some problems

Fantasy has had some problems with being too repetitive, in my opinion. I try to read what other people are doing – and say, ‘How can I add to this rather than just recycle it? How can I stand on Tolkien’s shoulders rather than stand tied to his kneecaps?’

~ Brandon Sanderson

30 thoughts on “Fantasy has had some problems”

  1. One suggestion:
    Read other authors, especially pre-Tolkien.
    Pratt, DeCamp, Brown, Wellman, the UNKNOWN and WEIRD TALES contributors, Etc.
    Read mythogy and folk tales.

    Fantasy can be about anything, any era, any meme.
    There is little excuse to be rewriting Tolkien.

    • All of this! And expand time periods and places. Come, how does the Late Bronze Age collapse not lend itself to fantasy? Especially Fafhrd & Grey Mouser/Conan type of sword & sorcery? All of those lost kingdoms, and the mysterious Sea Peoples? And those Mayan cities where everyone appears to have vanished in the middle of dinner? Although, that one might be horror (Dean Koontz’s “Phantoms” had a good explanation for that one).

      I’ve long considered “The Odyssey” and “Jason and the Argonauts” and the twelve Labors of Hercules etc. to be part of the canon of fantasy. I would love for more fantasy writers to dip into that vein.

      Fantasy writers could be more like Tolkien in the sense of picking an era/place whose folktales and myths and stories fire up their imaginations, rather than slavishly riffing off of him. Or worse, trying to “deconstruct” him.

      As for this quote, I’ve read two novellas by Sanderson, and neither of them were Tolkienish, so I’m guessing he knows there are other options. I have no idea what the context for this quote was, but I’m wondering if he meant it tongue in cheek.

      Also, who is “Brown”? The other people are already on my “check them out” list.

      • Fredric Brown.
        Both fantasy, both very different from anything else.

        Speaking of Fafhrd and the Mouser, my favorite story is, by far, LEAN TIMES IN LANKHMAR.
        A fantasy realm with a true functioning economy. And an economic depression. You never see that in the faux Tolkien stories.

        The genre has a deep lore besides Tolkien; plenty of authors have explored the borders on their own.

        I expect you’re familiar with Brian Daley and Robert Don Hughes. McKilip, of course. Zelazny. (Love Jack of Shadows and Dilvish the Damned.) Saberhagen. Poul Anderson. Poul Anderson. Poul Anderson. Way underappreciated as a fantasy author.

        How about Chester Anderson’s BUTTERFLY KID? Weirdness can be fun.

        They wander all over, the way a good fantasy can and should.
        There are so many familiar yet unexploited memes and milieux.

        Of course, there’s also Piers Anthony but XANTH is ubiquitous by now. Incarnations of Immortality and Kelvin of Rudd a bit less.

        As a reader I gave up on high fantasy ages ago. But there’s still plenty of good reads to found, fortunately.

        (And good viewing: Looking forward to the new SABRINA show. They better do Salem justice.)

        • Oohh, almost forgot one of the biggies:
          Thorne Smith, of TOPPER and NIGHT LIFE OF THE GODS.

          Still hoping to some day find a watchable copy of the 1935 movie of the latter.

          • I second Thorne Smith, and nominate F. Anstey (The Brass Bottle, Vice Versa).

            Small correction: CONJURE WIFE, like the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, was written by Fritz Leiber.

        • Patricia McKillip is an example of the best of fantasy writers. Her career covers so many different worlds, so many different ways to tell a story, even using similar themes (self-discovery is one of her favorites).

          She has written a Jane Austen-style fantasy story in The Bell at Sealey Head. She delved into Arthurian legend and gave it her own twist in Kingfisher. There is nothing she’s written that I don’t like. If you want to start with her classics, read The Riddle-Master trilogy and Forgotten Beasts of Eld. If you want to start with two of her best, read Ombria in Shadow and Od Magic. Or you can just read all of her work, because it is excellent.

          • It just dawned on me that Thorne Smith has been in the PD for a while now. (He died in 1934.)

            I went looking for ebook versions of his books in the various PD repositories and found good ePub versions in the ebook library at it looks to be pretty comprehensive.

            Just FYI.

    • Read other authors, especially pre-Tolkien.

      Then he’s just staring at their kneecaps among a forest of kneecaps.

  2. That’s why I went science fiction – just add ‘in space’ and what was old is new again! 😛

  3. How can I add to these wheels, rather than just put them on my car the way everyone else does? I want to make a unique wheel, one that doesn’t just rotate at the end of the axle like everybody else’s wheels.

    • If you want a suitable metaphor, try this one:

      Fantasy isn’t Kabuki theater but rather freeform improv.

      The genre has no hardwired requirements other than self consistency; venturing off the known roads isn’t just allowed but encouraged. And rewarded.

      How many faux Tolkiens of the 70’s and 80’s are remembered today? Meanwhile there’s dozens of non-Tolkiens actively celebrated. And selling.

    • Surely the whole point of fantasy is that you can write whatever you like, if you can imagine it, you can write it.
      What’s the point of copying someone else, people will usually remember the original more than your copy.

      • Without copying someone else, the fiction shelves would be bare. Who-done it? Romance? Thrillers saving the world? Zombies? Disgruntled college professors moving eggs about the plate?

  4. Guy Gabriel Kay for wherever cultures are in decay
    Patricia McKillip for Celtic tinged fantasy
    Lond Dunsany for where did that actually come from
    R A MacAvoy for what it it’s like to be in the head of a chosen one and decent urban fantasy
    Michael Morcock for heavy metal heroes
    Steven Brust , Tolkien deconstructed by a communist
    I’m not even including anything Japanese or a comic or television or movies. But did we notice that Good Omens is being turned into a mini series?

    • See my comment above for McKillip. She’s written more than Celtic-inspired fantasy. She’s written urban fantasy as well as Arthurian and Jane Austen-influenced.

  5. There’s lots of excellent medieval fantasy out there but there is more to the genre than that, just as there is more to Science Fiction than hard SF or space stories.

    And let’s not forget that superhero stories are fantasy too, and that sub-genre is seeing a boom in video, especially on TV.

    There’s lots of good stuff to be found outside the beaten paths.

  6. a few more…
    Wen Spencer – Tinker series
    David Weber – War God series (***LOVE***)
    Robin McKinley
    Mercedes Lackey – Vows and Honor series

  7. What am I missing ? One writes fantasy when the constraints of the real world are too limiting for your story. You want a race of plucky 5 feet high people for your heroes, write fantasy, want a world with three sexes write fantasy, want a world were Christ is a lion write fantasy , want a world were angles fell to earth in France write fantasy.

    • I’m thinking the OP has a rather limited imagination – and they seem to think that everyone else shares their lack.

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