The Disturbing Subtexts Of Fantasy Novels

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Fantasy novels are supposed to take you into magical realms far from everyday life. But are there creepy messages about the real world beneath the imaginary kingdoms and impossible creatures? Fantasy writer N.K. Jemisin thinks there may be.

Jemisin is author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and she writes over at the Orbit Books blog:

When you really think about it, a lot of fantasy has kind of creepy subtext. All those stories about restoring a deposed king to a usurped throne, for example - well, what makes the deposed king any better than the usurper? Why must power be kept in the hands of the people who originally had it (and weren't competent enough to hold it) as opposed to someone new, with better organizing skills and possibly fresh ideas? The message in these fantasies seems to be support the status quo! Don't question it! Change is bad! What does it mean that we readers find such comfort in these fantasies that we've made quite a few of them bestsellers?

And what about all those fantasies which feature magic-users with inheritable, as opposed to learned, skills? I'm all for the idea of talent running in families; I'm a writer who's the daughter of a painter/sculptor who's the son of a jazz pianist. And I'm all for the fantasy of being "special". Special people are exciting; I completely understand why those kinds of stories are so popular. But a creative bent is not the same as the ability to blow up a mountain, summon a dragon, etc. - and whenever the "specialness" transcends humanity in this way, it takes on an unpleasant whiff of eugenics.


Of course Jemisin has just written a novel about many of these themes. What's really interesting about this post is how she goes on to explain what it means to write a novel where you want be entertaining, but also encourage readers to question the status quo.

Read the rest via Orbit Books Blog

Image by Charles Keegan.