This week, while I was perusing my reddits I noted an excellent bit of writing by author Joe Abercrombie, musings on the merit of grit in Fantasy. Here is a link, read it or skim it (I’ll wait). I am shamed to say that the only book of his that I’ve read is Best Served Cold. I can’t decide if I loved it, or thought it was merely well written but not to my tastes. I have no qualms about loudly proclaiming the value of his piece on grit, however, and will loudly encourage everyone to read it, possibly even abusing my linking privileges.
What caught me is the idea that Fantasy often swings between two opposing points, a pendulum of sorts. One point is represented by gritty fantasy, which many feel is more realistic and more dramatic. The other point is represented by a more romantic style, which deals with high morality and pure wonder. In truth most books fall far short of either pole, but the idea of a pendulum swinging between the two is an accurate description of the constant tug of war in Fantasy since the genre become commercially viable in paperback form.
Every few years it seemed while I was growing up fantasy would start to advertise how this new crop of writers was grittier and edgier, after that played out for a bit a triumphant return to good ol’ classical fantasy would be announced. This happened, in my mind at least, over and over. By the time George R.R. Martin came along I was quite tired of this dichotomy and had read enough of the genre old and new to see it as just another bit of theorycraft. As a reader I enjoyed both types of books, so long as they were well written and in-line with my current interests. I would be happy if I never had to endure another discussion about which type of fantasy was better. In fact I would like to destroy the pendulum and bury the broken remains in some remote location where only the most diligent of theorycrafters can dig it up.
You see, as mr Abercrombie notes, grit is just part of the range of modern fantasy. I agree with this wholeheartedly. The genre is big enough for any well-written book be it gritty or as bright and cheerful as it gets. The readers will decide what they want to read, and if people I know are any indication many of them will enjoy both points of the pendulum and everything in between.
Fantasy is a growing genre. It is expanding into new eras and areas. It is dealing with new ideas that older works never visitted. Industrial age fantasy explores the wonders of invention but also the grim side of urbanization and alienation. Modern and Urban fantasy, and paranormal romance explore the same issues from different angles producing wildly divergent types of fantasy that attract new readers to the genre and give old readers new playgrounds. Why would we want to hinder this?
What you like is a matter of personal taste. Any serious person comes to realize that others do not always share their tastes. Some theorycrafters try to edify their own personal tastes with grand constructs, “laws”, and long articles on how the style that they prefer is the “one true Fantasy”… As if anyone in their right mind wants to reduce the genre to the narrow paths it once trod. All these arguments can be reduced to personal preference, and all the effort wasted on them could be better spent writing more books. The readers will decide what they want to read.
The clash between gritty and classical fantasy is a false dichotomy. We can have both. Both can be good. Game of Thrones is awesome gritty fantasy. Lord of the Rings is also well regarded, I hear. Many readers enjoy both. Any arguments that say one style or another corrupts the genre are ultimately self-serving and false.
Each author and each book, and each world in Fantasy is like a lens through which the reader can peer and catch a glimpse of something new and wondrous. People will often gravitate to the lenses which work best with their own views of the world, either fortifying or challenging them in the way that they need. Since the world is full of people with different views, why would we want to limit our range of fantasy experiences? It just seems dumb to me. If I don’t like a book I don’t have to read it. Books that I don’t like won’t ruin the genre. Fantasy has outgrown this old argument. So let’s cut the pendulum down, burn it, bury the ashes and move on.
P.S: It Occurs to me what I really appreciate about the Abercrombie article is that he acknowledges that grit is an artist’s tool and that he does not even try to slam “opposing” styles of fantasy. He simply notes what grit adds to the genre without trashing anyone else. Nicely done. Proof, in my mind, that we have started to move beyond this already.
P.P.S: Apparently people are still chatting about this. My favourite new article on the whole thing comes from Sam Sykes, who seems to be the only other person out there who knows where Grimdark comes from. Points to you mr Sykes! Here is a the link.