This may be blasphemy to the Horror genre, but I hate what it is anymore. The classical horror of the Victorian era let the imagination of the reader fill in the blanks allowing for more “horror” than bombarding people with gore. Yes, I know, death is a part of the genre, but in recent decades, death and gore isn’t a consequence, but the point of the story instead. In fact, story takes a back seat to gore and death for much of horror. I would like to challenge people to see the beauty in classical horror.
The setting is a rarely traveled part of the world, perhaps the woods, and there is either a killer or monster lurking. Unfortunately, a group of stupid college students go in that region and get picked off one by one in terrible and gruesome ways. This is the sort of thing that passes as horror anymore, with few exceptions. I enjoy tales of werewolves, in fact my upcoming book will include them, but gaining inspiration was pretty challenging because there are very few quality werewolf stories out there.
I enjoy stories that are based around suspense and unknown with supernatural elements. This is what horror used to be. It isn’t just horror that has changed, fantasy has grown darker and grittier. Dark and gritty isn’t inherently, bad but both modern fantasy and horror have grown incredibly cynical in their messages. In horror most of the time everyone dies brutally, life is cheep, and it seems fantasy is adopting that approach as well. Why is that? Storytelling tends to follow cultural trends, have some genre fiction stories gotten darker, horror much earlier than others, due to an increasingly cynical outlook on life? Is it due to changing tastes that accompany an evolving culture? What if storytellers focused on plot and character development over pushing boundaries instead? At this point it is hard to imagine any boundary that hasn’t been pushed anyway, perhaps all of us who craft stories need to examine why we write them and what is their purpose.
It is my favorite time of year again. If you have been following my blog for a while now, you are undoubtedly aware that I absolutely love autumn. It is when the leaves turn beautiful colors, the temperature drops (I hate hot weather), and we celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving. Not to mention the mosquitos are finally gone, which is a big deal here in Minnesota. Not one of these single aspects are what makes fall wonderful to me, not even all of them combined.
For me, fall has a certain feel to it. It is a spiritually refreshing time of year. Sure, everything I listed contributes to that feeling, but there is something deeper to autumn. I see it as the annual climax in God’s creation before everything becomes white and brown.
Then there is Halloween. Oddly, I used to hate that holiday as a child, a time in most people’s lives when they were actually excited for it. I was easily scared as a child, and it didn’t take much to keep me awake at night worried something was going to get me. Aside from that, Halloween was simply creepy and felt like it left a stain on my being. Once I became an adult, things changed. I began to enjoy dressing up and going to costume parties with my wife. After some experiences in college, I also became fascinated by the Celtic origins of Halloween. When I became a father, Halloween became even more fun.
As a writer, autumn is a very inspirational time of year, and it is difficult to pinpoint why exactly that is. Perhaps it is the absolute freshness of nature, or the fleeting beauty that trees display only for a few weeks out of the year. Fall is truly a beautiful time of year and so fleeting. Take time out of your day to enjoy the marvel of nature before it is gone for yet another year, especially if you are a writer. Your soul will thank you.
As a writer, obviously I’m a huge fan of books. I love that books are able to flush out a plot and the characters better than most movies because they aren’t confined to a certain length. In saying that, I argue that films are just as important as books to the genre, and frankly there is quite a shortage of quality fantasy movies.
The most recent fantasy films we got were The Hobbit Trilogy. Many people are divided over this films. Some complain about the deviations from the books, the 60 frames per second, supposed lack of character development, and the over usage of CGI. I would argue that they are gleaming gems for the fantasy genre. These films are far from perfect, but in the context that films should be judged separately from books they are some of the best fantasy films made recently. No, I do not count the overabundance of Marvel movies, besides they are science fiction not fantasy.
Over all there has been a draught of well-made blockbuster fantasy films, which is rather disappointing. Why is that I wonder? It isn’t like the audience for fantasy movies is too small. I would imagine filmmakers could tap into The Lord of the Rings fan base. Over the last decade science fiction movies, particularly superhero moves, have seen a huge uptick in quantity. Most fantasy films I have seen in recent years have been independent films, which is fine of course, but where are all the major films? Someone might point to Warcraft, and that might be a valid point, but we all know that movies based on videogames are rarely tolerable let alone good. Perhaps Warcraft will prove an exception to the rule, but that is still one move. The fantasy movies that have been released within the last few years have generally been panned. The Seventh Son, The Last Witch Hunter, all of them were pretty mediocre as far as reviewers were concerned.
What can us fantasy fans do about this? Well, maybe not much but we can support the films that are being released and maybe give attention to indie films. Typically, independent films have low budgets and subpar special effects, but I have found more than a few gems. Hopefully since superhero movies have made such an impact on culture, fantasy will not be so over looked in the coming years.
I have noticed in the shows and movies I watch, and the books I read that Nazi imagery for the villains is prevalent. Okay, prevalent might be a little bit of an understatement. The correct word would probably be ubiquitous. I have seen the imagery in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Wayward Pines just to name a few examples. The Third Reich has undoubtedly earned the villainy reputation it has. Nazis did horrible things and now modern fiction often models the villains after them in some fashion, even if it is just loosely. Now whenever someone doesn’t like a politician or political party, too often comparisons arise between them and the Nazis. Nazis are so commonly used, either directly or indirectly, that they have become the clichéd villains.
History is important, and learning from the atrocities of the past is the most important. I have said before that fantasy isn’t just about escaping reality, it is another window to view it. Reminding current generations of the horrors people have committed in the past is one important function of fiction. The Nazi imagery has been overdone however. Yes, the Nazis did horrible things and history should not forget what they did lest history repeats itself. There were other evil groups, cults, governments, and beliefs that we need to prevent from happening again too. Stalin killed a lot more people than Hitler, yet him and the KGB haven’t even come close to the notoriety of the Nazis. I would argue learning from that part of history is equally as important as the Third Reich.
I would like to encourage other areas of history to influence fiction. Let’s face it, Nazi imagery has been overdone. What about Pol Pot and the genocide he committed, or more recently ISIS? I would like to see more varied allusions to history outside of “How can we make this group more evil looking by subtly comparing it to the Nazis?” We are writers, creative thinkers. Let us tape into the wellspring of history and most just lazily follow the crowd and use the same allusions for evil.
Speculative fiction has earned the reputation for being an escape from the harsh reality us adults face every day. Undoubtedly some movies, novels, and TV shows serve the purpose of mindless entertainment. We all have read a book or watched at movie on Netflix and asked ourselves, “Why was this even made? What is the point?” Good Fantasy serves a purpose, has meaning, and leaves a lasting impression.
Now that I set the bar incredibly high for myself let me define “Good fantasy” because that is a subjective term. Good Fantasy addresses real world problems such as war, hatred, segregation, and religious persecution, to name a few, through a fictional lens. Perhaps werewolves symbolize outcasts from a society, perhaps elves are segregated from the world of men, these are real issues but with Fantasy it can be subtler and digestible for an audience if done right.
I believe this sort of fantasy isn’t for those who wish to escape reality, but wish to refine in and mold it for the better. Fantasy leads the reader to consider different perspectives and ideas. I do not feel that quality fantasy should be about shock and awe. Throwing in sexual or torture porn for the sake of “realism” is less realistic and more about pandering to a certain audience. Simply shocking the audience with gore and sensuality is not really a goal that should be pursued. Sadly, these are trends that have occurred more recently and thus I feel adds fuel to the belief that speculative fiction is about escaping reality.
Yes, sex and violence are realities in our world. I do not deny that for a moment. However, heavily lacing a book with such material, I feel potentially harms the other messages and themes the author may try to convey. I write about warfare, and thus violence is inevitable. I write about awful things that happen, but there is a way to do it that doesn’t involve being over the top. Perhaps that standard makes me a prude in some people’s eyes. That is fine. What is important to me are the themes in my books, not going for cheap attention grabs.