wMay 28, 2007

Wiscon 31 Panel Report: "Three Comrades Go on a Quest..."

I sort of apologize for posting so much today/this past weekend. Even I don't normally blog this much. Still, I know that if I don't do these panel reports soon (and I *do* want to post them because I think they're interesting), I just won't do it for months on end, and it will keep bothering me.

Three Comrades Go On A Quest....

Politics, Race, Class, and Religion•Senate B• Saturday, 1:00-2:15 p.m.

So many of the traditional fantasy tropes rely upon distinctions either of class (princes/princesses, lost heirs to thrones, etc.) or that map quickly to class (the aristocracy of those who can use magic, say, lording it over those who can't.) How do we fix this? Who's already done the work that we can look to for examples, and what are the traps we want to avoid?

M: Janine Ellen Young, Leah Bobet, Laurie J. Marks, Meghan McCarron, Hilary Moon Murphy


I'll be up-front in that I didn't really like this panel all that much. I'm not sure why that is, otherwise I'd explain why. I think I thought the panel would focus more on alternative ways to tell the story, while instead it focused on trying to explain who had already written it differently, and also why someone might have written their story that way in the first place.


The premise is that many fantasy novels revolve around quests, usually ones in which members of three different socioeconomic classes unite and save the day. One of these people is usually an anointed Chosen One. At the end of the story, the three classes split again and go their separate ways. Thus, the fantasy epic reinforces the status quo.

It seemed to me like most of the panel was spent trying to think of books that broke this mold in one way or another. The Lord of the Rings was brought up first - clearly, the different classes unite in this story, and Aragorn is the Christ Figure. Still, at the end of the books, things do not fall neatly back into place. Frodo can't readjust to his old life, and Sam's socioeconomic status improves from gardener to mayor - he is changed by his journey.

How do you subvert this tradition? There was a lot of disagreement as to whether or not writers such as Terry Pratchett "count," as he writes farce that mocks these tropes.

Books written and marketed toward Young Adults seem to be the most experimental in terms of trying to break tropes such as this one. It seemed odd to those in the room, as 12-year-olds haven't had as much time to experience tropes. Why do they get the new things while the adult market is stuck? It was noted that 70% of young adult hardcover books are put in libraries. Thus, awards aren't the only thing that matters in selling young adult books as they are in the adult market. A young adult book that wins awards can still tank, and those that don't can still sell well.

Additionally, there is the common mentality among adults that it doesn't matter what children are reading - any reading is good. Harry Potter proved to book publishers, etc. that there is money in fantasy for young adults. Thus, lots of young adult fiction gets the cool stuff. (I would argue that young adult fiction has been fairly experimental for the last 20 years or so, but whatever.)

Lastly, it was noted that while the science fiction genre generally explores the future and new ideas, fantasy is heavily in the past, and often based on social structures of Western Europe, etc. The past cannot be changed, but writers still draw on it.

Books Recommended that break the trope, or just recommended period:
Diana Wynne Jones's Tough Guide to Fantasy
The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin
Watership Down, Richard Adams
Princess Academy, Shannon Hale
Mister Monday, Garth Nix
Goblin Quest and Goblin Hero, Jim Hines
Stuff by Elizabeth Moon
Stuff by Terry Pratchett (depending on whether or not you think that farce "counts")

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scribbled mystickeeper at 10:56 PM

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