There is so much more to Fantasy than Harry Potter

Book One of The Belgariad: a gateway to wonderful new worlds that don’t have Hogwarts or Muggles.

There is no doubt that J. K. Rowling‘s book series is definitely a wonderful phenomenon: the number of children (and adults!) who now know the value of reading a book has increased, for instance. And the whole “fantasy” genre now has substantially more visibility in the mind of the average person-in-the-street. And that’s without remembering that Twilight is fantasy. And so is Pirates Of The Carribean. And so is Star Wars.

Stories that invoke or are set in fantastical worlds have been with us for centuries. And the rise of the novel in more recent ones has been inextricably linked to Fantasy as a genre.

So I am somewhat annoyed to see that high-school students when faced with a fantasy element in their daily lives (such as me wearing a cloak on the train) fall back on Harry Potter to call it out.

When I was in high school, Harry Potter was not around. For me, the three big authors in that realm were Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings and Raymond E. Feist. The first two have now left this mortal coil, but Feist is still writing and publishing novels set in his fantasy world of Midkemia. At last count, there are more than twenty five novels, published across thirty years. Eddings also wrote more than twenty novels across a similar timeframe in at least four distinct worlds. His Belgariad is so well written and accessable it has been held up as revitalising the fantasy genre, which I find to be a not unfair comment. And McCaffrey wrote and published many many books and stories in many settings. So many in fact, that she started merging settings together (for example, did you know the Crystal Singer series is actually in the same universe as the Brain Ship books?).

And that’s just three writers. A brief discussion on Twitter the other day resulted in another four or five, most of whom published in just the last forty years: Ursula Le Guin. C. J. Cherryh. Mervyn Peake. Sheri S. Tepper. Lloyd Alexander. So why do we need to get stuck on Harry Potter? Because we shouldn’t.

There is so much more to fantasy than Harry Potter. So much more. Given a chance, who would you teach to a high-school class?

7 Comments

Filed under Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, publishing, Raymond E. Feist

7 responses to “There is so much more to Fantasy than Harry Potter

  1. I can hear a league of Star Wars-ing sci-fi fans screaming from here. Apparently sci-fi is similar to but different from fantasy. Hence the invention of the “crossover” concept for works where the distinction is not apparent. Nice work calling that out. Even nicer work with the train cloak-wearing.
    I would teach Diana Wynne Jones. Or Neil Gaiman. Or maybe I would steer away from novels and just stuff as many short stories from as many brilliant and diverse fantasy writers as there was time to cover.

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  3. TommyTopHat

    Thank you for writing this post! 😀 I agree, it seems that everybody just thinks that all fantasy is exactly like Harry Potter, and people are always comparing other fantasy novels to the series, even if they’re nothing alike. Also, I hate it how everybody assumes that all fantasy is just sword-and-sorcery stuff. Not that that subgenre isn’t good, but there’s so much more types out there. And it gets aggravating how elitist critics will call some fantasy novels “magic realism” because they refuse to believe that fantasy can be deep and meaningful.
    I would teach China Mieville, Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, Jasper Fforde, Cameron Rogers, K.J. Bishop, Angela Carter, Michael Ajvaz and other such authors.
    By the way, I had been planning to write a similar blog post to this for quite a while. Is it okay with you if I do so? 🙂

    • If you rummage back earlier in my blog you’ll find I like writing what I call “hard fantasy”. This is where the world is like the typical fantasy scenario (often medieval Europe) with a lot of its attendant problems and the magic is rare.

      And I have no concern with you writing a blog post on the same topic! 🙂

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