The Passing (Gas) of the Elves, and Other Fantasy Punchlines
While I was editing out a few typos from the previous post, I noticed that Chris offered the opinion that “Fantasy has a tendency to take itself (far) too seriously.” Current research suggests the time between “meeting Ben” and “Ben lecturing on genre” hovers at around the hour-mark, because I love arguing genre; and I also love defending various genres. I’m like the Mighty Mouse of genre: Wherever there is danger of a genre being denigrated, I’ll be there.
So when someone says that fantasy has a tendency to take itself too seriously, I have to respond, especially when I’m working on a fantasy with a comedic edge. Because, yes, there is a lot of terribly serious fantasy out there, whether we’re talking about Granddaddy Tolkien’s impossibly emo Passing of the Elves or the Super-mopery found in grim and gritty ’90s comics. (“Can’t you tell by the shadows on my face that I’m tormented?” said every ’90s superhero ever.)
But there is a tradition of comedic fantasy (and speculative fiction more broadly) that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Some of that is genre parody that remains within the genre, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld or Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; some of that comic fantasy is focused on being funny, as with Thorne Smith’s Topper or E. Nesbit’s children’s fantasy; and some of it is not focused on comedy, but gets a few good laughs all the same, like Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser tales and Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories.
(Sidenote: Vance has the best description for prose ever printed in the New York Times: “barbed, velvety, arch and mandarin.” Shit, that’s the name of the evil law firm in my next work.)
I often like a little lightness and joy in my fantasy, so I see our work as being very much within the comic fantasy tradition. That’s my take on comedy in fantasy and hopefully gives you some idea about what we’re going for here.
Also–fair warning–if you say “Voyages transcends its genre,” I will cut you.