Nov 14, 2010

The Genre Landscape - Epic Fantasy

Imagine if you will a world of different kingdoms and nations. Fine. Yes, ours is a world of kingdoms and nations. Then imagine a different set of kingdoms and nations, one ruled not by politicians, kings, and tyrants but rather by (hopefully not so tyrannical) authors. Authors who rule over continents of genre - fantasy, science fiction, horror. Within each continent are kingdoms and nations that mark the various subcategories of each collective style. Their borders are poorly defined, particularly in the mountains and valleys where the continents meet. Borderlands are often claimed by more than one nation and some others wouldn't have it any other way. New nations form every year, others fade away. Some declare independence but are largely ignored. Others have many citizens but no ruler. This world has produced storied kings - Tolkien, Asimov, Lovecraft, Clarke, Wells, Dick, Lewis, and many more - authors whose stories have sadly been concluded and deemed worthy of becoming legend. Some kings and queens still remain - Le Guin, King, Pohl, Hamilton, Pratchett, Martin. But even as the old lords fade a way, the nations remain strong as enterprising new nobles rise up to protect and expand the empires they grew up in. Some author traverse the genre landscape, refusing to settle in one place, while others carve out specific kingdoms they spend their entire careers building. Other authors ascend to the noble heavens of literature. Sadly an even greater number dabble in the dark graphic arts trading their words for mere pictures in the colorful world below. This great world is limited only by imagination and what the human mind can put into words. Let's explore, shall we?

Today we focus in on the continent of Fantasy. Fantasy was originally little more than a series of small coastal towns filled with talking animals and imaginary gods. There were few inhabitants and even less respect. Then came the first king of Fantasy. The simple scholar Tolkien wielded Christian allegory like Excalibur and defined a kingdom of Epic proportions. King Tolkien unified countless elements under his rule and created new lands where none had previously existed.

Even as Tolkien carved his empire from the limitless realms of imagination, it became clear that there was simple too much territory to be explored by a single man or to be ruled by a single king. As such, the legendary crown of Tolkien was passed on to a series of lesser nobles. The greatest of these, men like High Lords Eddings and Brooks were faithful stewards of Tolkien's most developed lands but failed to explore or expand the greater kingdom significantly. 

As more and more people came to explore the wilderness that Tolkien had called into being, a nobility was established. Some lords were happy to move into existing lands, others built their own. Most were temporary, though a few of them managed to establish hallowed ground despite their brief time in power. The lucky few gained notoriety for one reason or another, establishing a loyal following and defining their own legacy within the history of Fantasy. Eventually, a hierarchy of sorts emerged. There are the high lords, the world builders who define the overall direction of the realm. These are the men and women who are seen by outsiders as rulers over a united front, erroneous as that may be. There are also the lower lords who reign but only over a devoted few or a small niche kingdom. These lower lords are more frequently replaced, sometimes fading away without warning or being replaced by challengers with a sharper wit or larger fan base. Then there are the masses of unruly peons, so desperate for substantive story that they will frequently challenge lords low and high for a chance at creative power. In the realm of Fantasy, the peasant king is a common occurrence but one significantly outnumbered by the number of aspiring revolutionaries. And even that number pales in comparison to the number of uprisings who have already failed.

Occasionally though, the High Lords of Fantasy do fall. The vain High Lord Goodkind feared revolt [though he claims to have abdicated willingly] and exiled himself to a remote valley which he claims belongs to the universe of Literature. High Lord Martin, whom many regard as the reigning king, fails to leave his keep and feed his subjects causing many of the starving to seek more fertile ground. Sadly, the kindly High Lord Jordan, who reigned as the highest of the high lords for decades succumbed to illness, though not before anointing Lord Sanderson as the general to close out his campaign of creativity. Some citizens of Fantasy bristled under his rule, tiring of long wars with few spoils. They abandoned the towering castle (some say it will span fourteen stories upon completion) while declaring loyalty to lesser lords or leaving Fantasy entirely for other less whimsical lands. Despite what these poor souls may claim, Jordan is still one of the greatest of Tolkien's ilk and his legacy is set in stone. High Lord Pratchett sits back and mocks his friends, reflecting the most absurd of their creations in his twisted realm where laughter replaces logic. But even Pratchett cannot rule forever. Regardless of how or why they left, Fantasy is in need of a few new nobles to be the outward face of the genre. But who will claim the vacant thrones? 

There is the nomad Gaiman, born in the colorful fires of the graphic universe, who crossed into the realm of genre on a bridge of sand. Many people believe Gaiman could be the next great king of fantasy but he appears largely uninterested in the many titles bestowed upon him or ruling one land over the other. Bombadiltastic as he may be, Gaiman is content journeying between realms and universes, often returning to the underground images of the comic world and even climbing the peaks of genre where the heavens of literature can be glimpsed. Does Gaiman travel ever onward for fear of the lone warrior, Mieville, who seems destined to eventually surpass him?

Ignoring the nomadic savants, the next ruler most likely comes from the houses of the lesser lords. The candidates are many and are more. The Lord Erikson is as close to a High Lord as is possible, but he completes his creation in the near future. Is it too late to earn a title? Lord Sanderson currently tends to Jordan's flock but can he lead them to his own pasture? He appears to be the favorite of the youngest generation. Lord Abercrombie is a worthy candidate although many are put off by the rivers of bloods that run from his kingdom. The upstart Lord Rothfuss has debuted to trumpets, but will the fanfare last? Then there is Lord Abraham, a brilliant tactician who seems mocked by fate. The Lady Jemisin proves to be the equal of any but can she govern a larger story? Lord Lynch is another lesser lord who has perhaps may be overwhelmed by the prophecies proclaimed upon his arrival. Or will the foreigner Space Lord Morgan, son of science fiction, have a say? Will Lord Newton ever return from King Lovecraft's great old home in the peaks of Madness, where the lure of literature can be heard like a Siren's song? What of the many Princes -  Scholes, Brett, Weeks, and Charlton? Is the crazed Sykes madman or messiah? Or is there another challenger still waiting to pull King Tolkien's pen from the storied stone?
2011 is a year that promises a lot of change within the genre landscape. But when the words end and the dust settles, who will be the next High Lord of Fantasy?


  1. This is spectacular! This needs an expanded meta fanfic RIGHT AWAY

  2. Wonderful post! I love it!

  3. :D Fantastic! And Lone Warrior Mieville and Nomad Gaiman. Need to go and check out some of the younger Lords and Princes now.

  4. Brilliant approach - it's a wonderfully crafted look at the high fantasy genre.

  5. I know I'm super late, but is awesome! Great post!!


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