Today I wanted to try a new type of blog, one that’s based off some fun videos some of my favorite YouTubers have posted. Primarily, I got the idea from Fantasy News host Daniel Greene, who asks his viewers for some hot takes that he reacts to.
So I went on Reddit, looked up some fantasy hot takes, and tried to bypass the more popular ones for ones that are actually somewhat controversial. In order to keep the blog family friendly, there were a few curse words I had to take out, but those are the only things I edited. All of these hot takes are in response to a post asking for them, so links will take you to the commnenter’s thread.
By commenter Vaeh: “I am really saddened by the lack of actually fantastical worlds. Too many stories take place on Earth, or an equivalent with redrawn borders, changed names, or shuffled continents.”
I am on the middle ground for this one. On the one hand, I do agree that fantasy settings tend to draw from the same old sources, and that considering what the genre is, authors aren’t taking advantage of the fullest extent of what fantasy can bring to the table. On the other hand, readers still need something familiar to ground themselves in, and I think Vaeh takes that a little too far. Someone made the response that I think a lot of people were thinking: If reshuffling continents isn’t enough, then what is?
Besides, that line of thinking is something of a direct attack against urban fantasy as a sub-genre. There are so many fantastical elements that can be beautifully woven into a setting placed on earth. That doesn’t mean the story cannot be fully appreciated as fantasy, or that the author was too lazy to come up with something more extensive. Some stories can only be told in certain genres. The Raven Cycle wouldn’t be the same as a high fantasy novel, just as Wheel of Time could not be told as a low fantasy story.
By commentor AuntieKittie: “I would like to add to your first point that ‘flawed’ doesn’t mean ‘total [jerk]’. A character can be a decent person who actually cares about people and still be more than superficially flawed. I’m sick of ‘morally grey’ protagonists who are actually just loathsome twats… Especially when this flaw is only used to make them more stoic and ‘[tough]’ rather than actually complex. Oh, your brooding and troubled fighter has developed a cold attitude that causes him to be a [jerk] to people for no good reason and is no longer affected by the sight of violence? How terrible for him. It must be so hard for somebody desensitised to violence to be put in a situation where they have to commit lots of violence. That poor, poor [jerk].”
Basically, the commentor is pushing back against the idea that a lot of the time, when a character is “realistically” flawed, they become absolutely horrible and impossible to sympathize with. And I agree. There is more than one way to be morally gray, and it can involve more than just being violent. With wars so prevalent in the genre, whether they be between nations or magicians or random bands of mercenaries, it’s really not surprising that fantasy is rife with characters who either start off violent or become desensitized to it. And I’m not saying we have to turn fantasy away from climactic last stands, but it would be nice if we had more characters who felt revolted by violence and murder. But I don’t know, maybe that’s just my own personal hot take.
From TheFoolishDog: “Magic healing is too much of an easy cop-out”
I guess this probably is a pretty hefty hot take, as I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of people express this sentiment. Recently, I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Let people get injured. Let them get seriously injured.’ But healing magic as a cop-out? I disagree. Mostly. I think it’s easy to set hard and fast rules as to how far healing can be taken, and quite frequently, magic healing cannot bring people back from the dead, and it can’t restore any lost limbs or anything like that. Personally, I think as long as the healing sets down rules like those, it still very much makes the fight scenes high stakes…. as long as the author sticks to it.
I can see how bringing people from the brink of death could be seen as toeing the line, but I honestly think that healing has just become so entwined in the concept of magic that it would be weird not to have it included in part of the magic system. Of course, if you feel so inclined, you could make healing even more restricted, but I honestly don’t think it’s a cop-out, especially if the author is very clear that there are limitations to the magical healing.
From Authortenner: “Magic can be overly unimportant reality of a fantasy world that all accept as reality. It doesn’t need a wiki dedicated to understanding its rules. ‘A wizard did it!’ won’t make most people put down a book, unless it is handled very badly.”
Okay, maybe not… But a unique magic system is part of the allure of fantasy novels. Not just in how the quote/unquote wizard does it, but in how the magic system connects to the rest of the setting. And honestly, while I do enjoy the idea of a soft magic system, I will also say that to do as Authortenner suggests, magic will have to be either weak or utterly unimportant to the plot. If it plays a huge role in the plot, you need to have rules or else magic will wind up acting as a deus ex machina. But, then again, if it plays little to no role in the plot, why have it in the first place? And you can have fantasy without magic…. It’s just less fun.
By commentor RunnerPakhet: “Fantasy has a big problem with colonial philosophy being very common within the worlds build. Be it a very weirdly completely white “european middle ages”. Be it “races”. Be it variations of the “white savior” trope. And it is honestly just very annoying to me. Especially as so many fantasy readers and writers are not willing to think about how they also help to mantain[sic] a colonialist mindset.”
Yeah. It’s weird, because I’ve seen a growing number of people say that they want more diversity in their fantasy, whether it’s like what we discussed before with geography. So much fantasy, at least what is published in America, maybe even in the UK, is hyper-focused on the European dark ages. It focuses on monarchies, on either political intrigue or peasants rising up against their kings and queens or maybe even both. The setting is ancient woods. The weapons are swords or bows. It’s always the same, always on Europe. But the culture back then was more diverse than we give it credit for, and it is true, books these days like to throw in characters with different physical appearances for the sake of being diverse, but the one calling the shots is almost always white.
And honestly I think a large part of that ties into the fact that BIPOC authors don’t get paid as much and don’t have their books as promoted as much as white authors tend to. That’s why it’s so important to make an effort to find BIPOC authors, to show the publishing industry that their own vision of fantasy is wanted and appreciated, because not only is it just the right thing to do, but it also diversifies the genre and paves the way for something other than just the same old stuff.
And, finally, from NovelFondant:”…Predictable endings are better than a half baked plot twist. A good story is more important than “surprising the audience”. See GoT ending?”
You know, I don’t know how I feel about this. Nothing is more irritating than a plot twist that is not set up properly, something that is shoe-horned in and so is not believable in any sense of the word. I hesitate to say, too, that endings have to be unpredictable. I think there are some stories where it’s not really the end that matters, but the journey and character growth, and of course there’s plenty of stories that start in medias res, where you already know at least some of the ending, because you’ve already seen it.
At the same time, a predictable ending tends not to be very satisfying. I want that big finale. I want to be on the edge of my seat. And if it’s a good book, one that I wind up rereading, well… I only get to be surprised once, so if the ending is predictable, the author kind of dropped the ball on that. So, basically, authors should just be aware that if they want to change the ending, they can’t just start in the middle of the story and change things from there. It has to be set up from page one or chapter one, as early as feasible.
And those are my own hot takes! I’m sure some of you disagree with my opinions, so I’d love to see your opinions on them in the comments. Hash it out in the comments. Just keep it polite.