My Experience with the Fantasy Genre
I've said that I prefer science-fiction and that remains true. Share with me all the settings in the world, but give me space and I'll be a happy little reader all day long. Teach me all about magical worlds and spells, but just remember I'd be okay with a spaceship and an android. Yet, science-fiction and fantasy seem to go hand-in-hand. I find this strange. Fantasy isn't really a sub-genre of science-fiction, nor the other way around. They're both individual genres with hundreds of variations. Though, we know that we have to allow some fantasy in order to let science-fiction work, and fantasy without the rules of science can lead to insanity. Even so, while both genres are shelved together at Barnes and Noble, they're very different to me.
For a long time, I wouldn't read fantasy. When I was in high school, I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings back to back. That experience almost killed me. I don't remember how I got through it, though I do recall liking The Hobbit more than the trilogy. My love for the saga comes from the movies and, Lord save me, I prefer the films over the books. Before that, I read the first four Harry Potter books and I loved them. But something happened between the fourth and the fifth book. I discovered the world of comic books and, in particularly, the X-Men. The X-Men did a lot of what I read in Harry Potter; people born different, school to control powers, scary villains roaming the halls, but what the X-Men did was give me that adventure on a regular basis while years went by between the Harry Potter books. So, I lost interest and moved on.
And that was my fantasy experience for years. I played Dungeons and Dragons, and played video games set in fantasy realms, such as Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, but I stayed away from reading fantasy. In my teenage self-righteousness, I let everyone know what I thought about it, all fantasy books were trying to be The Lord of the Rings and I barely made it through those. Why would I want to go through an entire genre like that?
I don't know what changed. After two failed attempts to sneak around the matter with books like American Gods and The Gunslinger, I slowly grew a strange and foreign desire to read something non-Crichton. Something with magic. I remember I was reading the web comic RealLife and there was a review for the book The Name of the Wind. I hadn't heard of it before, but the review was gushing with praise and mentioned subjects I like such as a long-lived hero and frame-storytelling. So I went to my local bookstore and found a copy to read for the summer. Only the book didn't last me the summer; tore through it in less than a week. I couldn't put it down. There were moments that scared me, made me teary-eyed, and after reading the ending, left me starving for more.
The same summer, I found a copy of Neverwhere for a few dollars. I loved Neil Gaiman's comic book work, devouring his Sandman when I was younger, but I was hesitant about his book work. I only "liked" American Gods and was a little tired of Gaiman's obsession with weird sex. But Neverwhere looked interesting enough and I gave Gaiman the benefit of the doubt. I finished the book in a few days and it quickly became one of my favorite books ever.
The thing about both of these books is that neither one reads like The Lord of the Rings. In fact, they make my teenage statements look pathetic. These books were game changers for me. They told me that fantasy was much more interesting and exciting than what I had thought. Suddenly, I was filled with guilt for judging the genre wrong and regretful that I had avoided it for so long.
The next summer, I went to town. I read C.S. Lewis' excellent Till We Have Faces and couldn't believe how wonderful it was. I left that book questioning my own idols and felt it was one of the most important books I've ever read. Also, I had started listening the podcast Writing Excuses and decided to give Brandon Sanderson a try. His first book written was my first read and Elantris was one of the best books I had ever read. I found it almost impossible to put down but always satisfying. The mystery was great and avoided spoilers like the plague. I read his first Mistborn as well and, though I didn't love it as much as Elantris, it was still a great read.
My real test came when I picked up The Eye of the World. If there was a book that made a case for my Tolkein comparisons, this was it. Eight hundred pages of epic fantasy, written with a love for Tolkein, and without the relief of urban or steam-punk to save me. You know what? I'm an idiot for not reading Robert Jordan sooner. I would have loved this book as a teenager. The darkness, the heroism, the cool factor that blankets the characters, the feeling that all is lost while not giving up hope, it's everything I loved about The Lord of the Rings movies and more. It's a heavy read, one that takes time and patience, but it was worth it. This is my first large series attempt, and I'm only reading the second book now. If I keep enjoying it as much as I did the first book, I may finish the whole series.
Which Fantasy Book Should I Read Next?
Since then, I've read The Game of Thrones and enjoyed it, worked through the first collected volume of Robert Howard's Conan stories and, while not loving it, enjoyed the pulp feel and trip through fantasy's early roots. I even tried the first book in The Clan Wars based in the Legend of the Five Rings universe. My to-read list includes The Heroes, The Icewind Dale trilogy, Sanderson's The Way of Kings and a book a found at a closing Borders called Empire in Black and Gold. Considering the fantasy genre used to be the but of my (poor) jokes, this is exciting. I don't feel like the fantasy genre has many "important" books like science-fiction has, but I might be wrong. If anyone has any suggestions, I'll take them. I may be a young when it comes to science-fiction, but I'm still a newborn with fantasy.