Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Romance Vs Fantasy

I didn't realize how long this blog is until I posted it on the V a few minutes ago. Comments count, so let me hear your views on this subject.

Speculative fiction is enjoying a lot of attention at the present time. Harry Potter and the Twilight series have seen mega success. Legions of lesser lights have become household names as well. Romance is the top selling genre almost everywhere. During times of uncertainty there’s always an upsurge in extreme escapism fiction, so it is to be expected that in today’s uncertain times Fantasy and Romance are the top sellers. Sometimes the genres even overlap to become Romantic Fantasies. When life gets really discouraging, then we’ll see an upswing in comedy. Don’t ask me why; that’s just the way it is.

Many people wrap themselves in a self-righteous mantel to poke fun at those who enjoy Romance or view FAntasy with disdain. This is a silly attitude since a touch of romance improves almost any book and being members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we profess to believe in strong marriages and eternal relationships. That kind of marriage doesn’t occur without a little romance. And those who never get too old to believe in Santa have a happy outlook on life.

As a former public library romance novel buyer, I still have a soft spot for an excellent love story and find something worthwhile in most LDS romance novels. Whether buying or reviewing, I divide romance novels into three categories; 1) Boo Hoos – These are stories weak in research and plot, while being strong in sentiment. Characters tend toward stereotypes. The stories are mainly designed to elicit tears and are particularly popular around Christmas, but can appear any time, and they are written by both men and women. Not all are man/woman relationship stories. 2)Formula – In these boy meets girl, an obstacle arises to keep them apart, obstacle is resolved, ends in commitment. These are almost always written by women for women and usually include a strong physical attraction element. 3) Love stories – These follow no formula, touch the heart, but are not calculated to be tear jerkers. Both plot and characters are strong. The love story is based on a realistic friendship, the relationship enhances and expands the life and sensitivity of the major characters. They grow as their feelings for each other grow. They demonstrate a willingness to make meaningful sacrifices for each other and are often committed to a cause grander than their personal relationship. Unlike 1) and 2) the ending of this third type leaves the reader feeling warm and uplifted.I’ll admit there are a lot of bad romance novels available at the present time, many have more to do with sex than love, but occasionally a jewel appears. A truly good romance novel is a treat to savor.

Comparing Romance and Fantasy novels may seem a little strange, but they actually have a great deal in common besides their popularity in the current market and their extreme escapism value. Both stretch the bands of imagination and both have almost an addictive pull on their fans. Neither deserves to be lumped into a single mold and whether or not fans of one genre respect the other, some of today’s best writing is appearing in these books---some of the worst too.

I’m one of those who usually find Fantasy novels as absurd and useless as many readers find romance novels. I consider all the blood, gore, and absence of moral values in Fantasy novels as offensive as some find the kissing, sex, and bawling in Romances. Bloodthirsty violence is no improvement over lust. Please don’t confuse graphic sex or violence with “realism.” When either become the dominating factor in the story or even in just a scene, the plot is interrupted and realism is out the window.

Because I’ve been somewhat vocal concerning my dislike for most speculative fiction, I decided to attempt an open minded look at what I like and dislike in this popular genre. I acknowledge that readers of this genre, like readers of romance, may feel a need to escape from the pressures of their all-too-real lives. Face it, all fiction is escapism, but the two genres I’m discussing here are more extreme than other forms of escape fiction. Females who are less than pleased with the reality of their love lives may seek the blissful illusion of a dream lover found in a Romance novel, but this doesn’t explain all fans allegiance to the genre. Males who see themselves as leading less-than-heroic lives with little opportunity to be powerful hunters, explorers, or warriors can be the superheroes of their dreams in a fantasy novel. Here again, this theory doesn’t cover all fans of this genre either. There is something in the nature of these two genres that appeals to dreamers, both those who indulge in an occasional daydream to relax and those who continually live in an "other world" fog.

Speculative fiction generally falls into three broad areas just as Romance does; 1)Cinderella Stories - these are the light, fun fairy tale stories that are the stuff of daydreams, wishful thinking, and a means of reconnecting with the tales of childhood, 2)Alternative Reality – these stories involve a different world from the one we know, generally a dangerous one. They usually include strange creatures, magic, potions, war of some kind, and lots of hunts or chases. The hero or heroine has tremendous courage and skills beyond what is considered normal among humans. 3) Futuristic Last Days – These are plausible, realistic stories based on the author’s concept of what the future of the earth and humans may be like at some climatic point beyond the present. They are often based on scientific or religious concepts.I recently read several very popular fantasy novels; some of those written for younger teens such as The Thirteenth Reality and Sun and Moon; Ice and Snow were fun; some were just silly. I thoroughly enjoyed Chris Stewart’s Great and the Terrible. I wasn’t impressed with any of the Alternative Reality novels I read until I read Servant of a Dark God.

Servant of a Dark God (due to be released in September) by John Brown sat on my desk for weeks before I picked it up. I’ll admit I wasn’t interested. Most novels in this genre have left me with a dark, annoyed feeling, but it was a review copy of a soon-to-be released TOR novel and I’d never received an ARC from Tor before. I received it because I review “Mormon” fiction for Meridian Magazine and the author happens to be LDS. Though I started as a reluctant reader, I soon found myself reading late at night, stealing moments when I should be doing something else, and just plain having difficulty putting the book down.

The novel has a medieval-like setting with a “cast of compelling characters and monsters.” But the monsters aren’t always distinguishable from the other characters. In fact one monster is so well-developed and multi-faceted, readers will have difficulty not identifying with him or feeling compassion for him. There’s a large cast of characters, but much of the story revolves around a young man called Talen, who is impulsive, selfish, arrogant and a little cowardly. He is torn between obedience to the Divine rulers and the promptings of his own heart in a “land where the days of a person’s life can be harvested, bought, or stolen.”

TOR’s press information describes the story as “The Clans muster a massive hunt, and Talen finds himself a target. Thinking his struggle is against both soul-eaters and their hunters, Talen actually has far larger problems. A being of awesome power has arisen, one whose diet consists of the days of man. Her Mothers once ranched human subjects like cattle. She has emerged to take back what is rightfully hers.
“Trapped in a web of lies and ancient secrets, Talen must struggle to identify his true enemy before the Mother finds the one whom she will transform into the lord of the human harvest.”

It sounds gory and brutal, not at all what I would care for, but those distasteful elements are handled well and within a framework of right and wrong; they don’t intrude on the real story. I also liked the fact that the hero learns that he has the power within himself to conquer his enemies without resorting to drugs or an infusion of some kind of magical stimulant. At first I thought the story was some kind of anti-God/anti religion book, but it isn’t. Instead it says a lot about all humans in the beginning being given equal great powers, but through the corruption and greed of those who wish to exert power over others, false gods and religions are invented to control those who aren’t aware of their own power or who are afraid to defend what is rightfully theirs.

Servant of a Dark God is a compelling, complicated novel written in a misleadingly simple style. As in the highest quality literary writing, there are lines and references that bring other great works to mind without actually quoting them. There are moments of cliffhanger suspense and scenes of tender compassion. Terrible things happen, but powerful good rises to meet the challenge, though this is no "and they all lived happily ever after" kind of story. Face it, a fantasy novel that pulled me in so thoroughly, has to be good.

Now for a challenge to all those who mock romance: Pick up one of the really good ones. A couple of recent ones come to mind, The Last Waltz by GG Vandagriff , or All the Stars in Heaven by Michele Paige Holmes. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was by my foray into Fantasy. And Romance readers, try a few Fantasy novels; you may have only tried the wrong type.


Kirk L. Shaw said...

I'm glad to hear you're giving fantasy and its extensive list of subgenres a chance. The creativity and expansiveness of the genre and of speculative fiction in general is what keeps me coming back. I believe that speculative fiction breaks the stereotypical and formulaic fiction mold more than any other genre just by nature. Speculative fiction also allows every other genre to grace its pages: everything from western to romance to mystery to suspense.

Kirk L. Shaw said...

Essentially it's the Renaissance genre: possessing all genres as a whole.

Jennie said...

Strange, I view Romance as the most encompassing genre with the other genres including fantasy usually playing the subgenre roll. Too often both fantasy and romance follow a set, predictable formula, yet each is also capable of being stretched to the greatest heights of heart and/or mind.

Kelsi Rose said...

I really like to read youth fantasy, but I am picky about it. For some reason, the setting has to be here on earth with believable things being mixed into the story (Harry Potter lives on Privet Drive and normal things happen to him there, in Fablehaven the kids travel in cars) I don't really like other planet stuff with way weird things happening, for some reason I get bored.

I am also very picky about romance books too. I hate when romance scenes go to far (Breaking Dawn pushes, in my opinion) which is why I stay with LDS romance or teen romance, although even then those can be iffy. I also like when the characters develop (I believe it was your 3rd type of romance). In good healthy relationships, both people should become better people, not digress, so lovey-dovey up-down books kind of annoy me.

Sorry this is so long, but you wanted my opinion.

Melanie Goldmund said...

I like fantasy more than I like romance, and if given a choice of books, I'd always take the fantasy, hands down. That's not to say I've never read a romance; I have. I've even been pleasantly surprised by some of them, most recently by the Michelle Paige Holmes book that you mentioned. In general, however, I tend to be one of the snobby romance haters who lifts a sneering eyebrow at other people's choice of reading matter and silently thinks, "Is that one of those bodice-rippers that will curdle your brain? Ugh!" But if anybody dared to criticize my choice of book, I'd be tempted to whip out my communicator and say, "Beam me up, Scotty, I find no sign of intelligent life on this planet."

But I'm also a hypocrite, I guess, because I can enjoy a good romance story if it's deftly woven into a sci fi or fantasy background and isn't the main focus of the book. I find it very satisfying indeed when a man and a woman have all kinds of adventures in space and/or time, and get together at the end. As long as it's not too sappy, that is.

I don't know why I like fantasy more than romance. I think I must have been born that way, because although I watched plenty of Star Trek re-runs when I was growing up, I also watched many other shows that weren't sci fi or fantasy.

Well, as I once read in Reader's Digest, "It don't take all kinds to make a world, we just got all kinds." You've got me, dear romance readers, and I've got you, babe.

AzGirl in TX said...

I always thought I was a strictly romance kind of gal... but then I got picky - it has to be a CLEAN Romance, because no one needs to "pass the bedroom door" that's just for the 2 involved in my opinion.
However, I have read and enjoyed many fantasies that have romance woven in, The Host being one of those - I just love it!
I have read other fantasy novels also...
I think at least for me it depends on my mood, and whether or not the books description catches my attention and then the book itself keeps my attention before I decide to put it down...

TRIBE'S said...

I really appreciate your insight. I am a romance fan. I have given fantasy a try, but nope can't do it, didn't like Harry Potter, didn't like Twilight. I just don't like it. I appreciate the good writing and have read Harry Potter to my kids. Just not for me. I did love Goose Girl, but that is more Fairy Tale than fantasy. I try to read other genres, just not fantasy.

David G. Woolley said...

I was going to leave a comment, but you don't allow anonymous comments, so I will refrain.