Ever since the first days of Papa Tolkien setting pen to paper, the fantasy genre has grown and flourished. While it’s arguable that without Tolkien there would be no fantasy genre to speak of, a sometimes unfortunate side effect of any body of literature is that it reflects the attitudes of the time period. With the written version of The Lord of the Rings, there is hardly a female presence made, but the times are changing and so is the literature. With the introduction of ground breaking new series such as A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s high time we took a look at what both writers and readers alike can do to help the progress of the universe of sword and sorcery.
Portrayal of Men and Women
Whether one is an amateur to the genre or a seasoned author, oversimplifying the desires and motives for either gender is something of a rampant problem. It’s all too easy to compartmentalize a buxom woman in a low cut dress into the oversimplified damsel-in-distress trope, or paint a muscular man into the image of a meathead warrior who only craves the carnal things in life. Take a moment and consider the character. Are any people you know personally that simple? More developed characters and accurate representations of both genders reflect a more comprehensive world view. Instead of going for the damsel-in-distress, why not weave that character into someone who uses that as a front to gain the trust of others and therefore information? Those extra developmental steps open up a whole new level of character relationship complexity, and who doesn’t love a little drama now and again?
Even though a huge percentage of fantasy is written in a more medieval setting, the conservatism of that age does not necessarily need to carry into the universe of your creation. And while some authors and readers may be uncomfortable with the idea of homosexual relationships, including sexualities all along the spectrum in character relationships can add a certain flavor to the narrative as well as opening minds. The details of what goes on behind closed doors are not necessarily what is needed – descriptions of a look, a laugh, or a term of endearment for the person in the relationship can do the trick. Trying to drive the point home with a sledgehammer may alienate a number of readers, but the light touch of delicately highlighting the differences can help the reader realize that these differences are a norm of their own. The more talked about and open these things are in literature, the more so they will become in the world.
Demonstrations of Power
In a genre that thrives on helping the reader escape from the real world for a while, the temptation to use magic as a deus ex machina is extremely tempting. But the reader wants to become personally invested in the main characters – magically solving all of their issues for them robs the reader of that experience and makes for something of a creative copout. Keep the fantastical grounded in realism. While anyone who reads fiction does so to jump into someone else’s shoes for a while, seeing that Frodo could (and did) carry the One Ring into the heart of Mordor gives the reader a sense of courage and accomplishment as well. The magic is in one person, however small, going against the odds and saying “I will do this.” Use magic as a walking stick, not a crutch.