Friday, September 25, 2009

Things I've Noticed #6: 80% of Fantasy series are pointless

Growing up in the Prairie Provinces of Canada with bad asthma and where winter lasts more than half the year, I spent a lot of time indoors. While the other kids were skiing, skating, and having snowball fights, I spent most of my time doing a lot of reading, and although Horror and SF where my favourites growing up fantasy series definitely had a special place with me.

Both of my parents loved fantasy books, so you could say I have the love of Fantasy in my blood (True fact - my Dad originally
wanted to name me Conan - the fact that I ended up with at a career in libraries would have ended me). The Lord of the Rings, Dragonlance, and The Xanth Series were huge favourites of mine, and when I say huge I mean those three series alone took up most of my bookshelves.

Now, just to clarify my complaining, I am not talking about episodic series, where the main characters go on different adventures (Farfhd and the Gray Mouser or Conan the Barbarian). I like these books and many of them are still favourites of mine.

The Fantasy series I really have a problem with are the "Quest" series, which basically cut and paste from other, better books. This quest fiction, wherein some evil takes over a world, and a band of plucky youths my travel the land collecting parts of a fantastic treasure to ultimately defeat the villain is repetitive and pointless (The Sword of Shanara is a complete rip-off of The Lord of the Rings - I liked the rest of the series, but that first book shamelessly steals from Tolkein). Author Neil Gaiman actually calls this cut-and-paste process "plot coupons" and explains it very nicely here.

I think that unless the author actually has a story that MUST be told in more than 10 sequels they should go out and try something new. Heck, I would even be happy if they told other stories in their own world - I'm a huge Terry Pratchett fan, but if you break down his Discworld series into books about each character, the numbers are actually pretty conservative.

In the end, the best fantasy stories can still use the standard plots, but they do it from a new angle, or bend the rules to dazzle the readers (Fables, by Bill Willingham is a wonderful example). As of late my favourite Fantasy books are definitely stand alone ones (Neverwhere), or series that seem to be going somewhere - but in their own unique way (Percy Jackson and the Olympians).


  1. is there where I agree with you and complain about Terry Goodkind and Wizard's First Rule? Hated that book and won't read another by him. I too like Percy Jackson, and in a similar vein really enjoyed Jonothan Stroud's Bartimaeous series.

  2. I never really got into Terry Gookind's work, honestly the books looked too big and I prefer starting a series after it has finished (I hate cliffhangers). I just finished Sea of Monster's last month and am anxiously waiting for The Titan's Curse - these Percy Jackson books are really quite fun!