31 Days of Post (2) Day 5: Struggling with Contemporary Fantasy
I’m in a bind. The creative monster tempts me to revise my plans again. For some time now, I had two clear contemporary fantasy projects. One of those ideas, a former serial, appears to be desirous of a change back. And I’m not certain how I feel about that.
Even though I’m a modern history guy, I’m not entirely convinced that contemporary fantasy is entirely workable. Yes, yes, Harry Potter, Twilight, Mortal Instruments, Percy Jackson, The Magicians, Newford, etc. all prove me wrong. But for me, I’m extremely leery.
In part, I think, there is the problem of fantasy literature in text. There was a very interesting essay in The Atlantic Monthly that explores this issue with an eye to the comparative failure of YA fantasy after Potter and Twilight in film. The problem, the writer asserts, is the repetitiveness of the protagonist’s reaction to being introduced to the supernatural element.
It is the same problem in The Walking Dead, to be honest. What I mean is that a lot of these works assume that fantasy literature doesn’t exist in those worlds (baring, I think, only The Magicians). And that bugs the hell out of me (and, arguably, other readers).
So, if I’m going to write a fantasy set on our Earth using the traditional fantasy tropes and relating back to previous fantasies, why the hell wouldn’t at least some characters have a knowing smirk? Or, more likely, a Young Avengers fanboy explosion.
Or reverse things and explore how a character raised in a possible supernatural subculture relates to mainstream mundane culture? While an interesting idea, I’m not sure there is enough to make a series out of.
Because there are other elements in our modern world that put me off using it for anything more than standalone novels.
For one thing, freedom of movement in our contemporary world is a lot more regulated. I can’t have my heroes globetrotting about with ease. The monitoring technology is too good.
And there, I think, is the issue. Modern technology is an effective counter to magic. Depending on what type of magic (and from where), I think modern technology is largely more effective. And, to be honest, I’m interested in this conflict between magic and science (even if magic often takes the role of science in fantasy).
But there is a strong incentive to explore the possibilities of using this period in history for fantasy stories. (So things aren’t totally in the negative).
I want to have a gay protagonist. And, while not impossible, our period in history presents, I think, the easiest incorporation. Especially if I want to explore contemporary LGBT issues. In some of my idea work for my Mythologies Project, I know damn well that I’m imposing our modern understanding of homosexuality onto (at least) Ancient Greek Mythology. And I’m not comfortable with that. Yes, I could have an easier time using the early twentieth century as an inspiration. But, again, the understanding of homosexuality in the 1920s or 1930s are (still) radically different than our understanding of homosexuality today. And again, I’m not comfortable imposing a modern perspective on the past.
Another argument in favor of using the modern world is that I can explore and research other kinds of magic, other occults. At heart, I’m an internationalist. I don’t want to limit myself to a Hogwarts. I want my protagonists to travel, to have a strong sense of wanderlust. If there is an epic waiting to happen, I want my protagonists to get involved because they want to, either because they want to do good or for personal gain. What I don’t want is the hero to be dragged into it (though that can be fun, too).
Now comes the problem with my international approach, though. As much as I don’t want to impose my modern sensibilities (even if that is, ultimately, unavoidable) on the past, I also don’t want to fucking appropriate other cultures and butcher them for the sake of my fiction. I want to use other cultures, but I want to get them right. Or at least more right .
No matter what, though, I want to be respectful. If I’m going to have shapeshifting wizards based on Native American and Mexican inspirations, I want to do a better job than tagging them with the appellation “werewolf.”
Perhaps the best option is to create a secondary world based around our contemporary world? I don’t think such a world has ever been used before, though. Which does argue for it, in my opinion.
In the end, though, I haven’t really come to a satisfactory conclusion. I need to think about this more. I need to experiment with and challenge these ideas. Only then will I be able to make the best decision.
PS. I forgot The Spy Who Loved. Which sucks so much I actually forgot it. Needless to say, It’s tied with Die Another Day for (in my opinion) the worst Bond film.
Posted on October 5, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged Contemporary Fantasy, Diversity in SF, Getting it Right, LGBT in SF, Mythology, Secondary World Construction, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.