New poll - Gritty Fantasy

Monday, February 13, 2012

In my last poll, I humbly asked you, faithful readers, if you were reading anthologies.  The results are in and it was a close call.  55% of the respondent said that they were doing so.  With a margin that short, the conclusion write itself naturally, you either love them or you're indifferent to them...  As I said, I'm among the non readers but judging by the comments you posted on the topic, there's several anthologies that seem worth our time, whether we read the whole thing or only a couple of short stories from it. Interesting...


As the title of my post evidently stated, this time I'm interested in your opinion on a new "style" or trend affecting many young and not so young authors of epic Fantasy in the last years, gritty, violent, morally ambiguous, full of anti-heroes or even to a certain degree dystopian Fantasy novels (although I know from past discussions that this last term should not be used slightly...). Gritty may not be the perfect term to encompass all these concepts but I'll still use it to summarize this particular fashion of Fantasy.  The complete list of these elements can't be applied to the usual gritty Fantasy book but in the end, I think that they are all aspects of a more realistic Fantasy sub-genre.

When I say realistic, it's not simply in comparison with the real world we're living in or that we can learn about in history books when reading about the medieval era.  I'm speaking of the feeling of authenticity that should come with the kind of worlds the authors create.  The settings I'm relating to are characterized by warfare at the point of swords, nasty magic powers, political agenda where the greater good is not at the heart of concerns and harsh futures for the protagonists and their people.  In these worlds, sex is not always seen as an act of passionate love, the prophetic or prodigal farm boy doesn't become Prince Charming the savior who surprisingly master magic, blasphemes are not censored, a sword thrust can lead to a graphic depiction of an organ being pulled out of a body and death is around the corner.

Hopefully, the characters living in these environments are usually anti-heroes becoming heroes despite themselves where the whole spectrum of morale finds its home (this is the best part for me without question). There's still a good share of pure good or pure evil individuals but they fit in more laboriously. What they experience, their actions and how they interact with each other within a gritty framework is more representative of a complex world centered on survival or personal needs and justification.

This sub-genre, in its modern age, certainly took its roots in series like the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donalson, Michael Moorcock's Elric, Glen Cook's Black Company and George R.R. Martin's aSoIaF.  Then came Steven Erikson, Brian Ruckley and R. Scott Bakker, to name a few, who incorporated this trait into their epic tales, also adding, to a different degree, some philosophical thinking to the pattern.  More recently, Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan, Mark Lawrence or Stephen Deas joined the group.

I read Fantasy mostly because I want to escape into another fantastical reality. Consequently, am I interested in that reality if I find it to be gritty?  Yes I am, it's an interesting mix of imaginary creation and realistic interpretation, but I have to admit that I could never read only this kind of novel.  What's important about this gritty wrapping found so often in epic Fantasy these days is the dose and the line that the author has to trace to avoid going too far. That's where a good gritty novel can really bring something to the genre.

You may dispute some of the names I have mentioned or the complete list of elements associated in general with gritty fiction that I chose to talk about but I'm sure you get my point and I'd love to hear you on the subject.

Do you like your Fantasy gritty?

- Yes
- No


Cursed Armada said...

I love "Gritty" Fantasy. Martin, Erickson, Bakker, Parker, are all my favorite authors. So my vote goes to Yes I'm a fan!

S.M. Muse said...

Like you I too enjoy the works of such authors, Joe Abercrombie to be exact. However, I hope we do not lose focus on the true 'quest'... the world has never been a kind place, let us not lose sight that it will always take a 'hero' to restore another vision to it, one in which the down trodden are raised high, the poor victorious.

Grit is good, overcoming the obstacles placed before us better.

beccabooklover said...

I do love gritty fantasy, and Martin springs to mind straight away. Everything just seemed so real? ( if that is the correct word). It was alot more authentic than other fantasy novels but I do enjoy (mostly) all fantasy.

Doug M. said...

Something has to balance out all those Elves, unicorns, rainbows, kitchen-boys and wise (yet stingy with that knowledge), old wizards. I'm all for anything that tries to avoid "that which has gone before." ;)

Steely J said...

Gritty fantasy definitely tickles my fancy. Or should I say hacks it up into little pieces and sets it on fire.

I'm also a fan of the more old school, typical quest-based fantasy, but the gritty is a lot more varied and fun. I started reading Wheel of Time when I was young, and the first book reminded me so much of Lord of the Rings. Yes, Lord of the Rings is great, it's classic, and it was pretty much the first big fantasy. I don't want to keep reading rehashes of it though. Give me gritty. Give me a series where everyone is morally ambiguous and interesting. Give me a series that's bloody, that keeps me second guessing who's going to live and who's going to die. Give me gritty any day.

Dom said...

Being a cynical myself, I always find it hard to believe in a character that is never doubts his moral choices and is righteous in every action he takes (Terry Goodkind). There's good and bad in everyone. Some people may act like a goody little two shoes but in the face of danger they turn into selfish bastards. I'm not saying every character should be dastards but in a "realistic" world, there should be people from every part of the moral specter.

Having "grey" characters makes the story much more immersive and believable. And I do love those ambiguous personae. I'm up there with TheMoose65 when it comes to gritty.

Hélène said...

TheMoose65 says "give me gritty any day" ; yes, but not every day. Variety is good. I'm tired of the old black and white characters but it doesn't mean I can read only about violence, fear and suffering days after days.

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