Thursday 13 March 2008

Comment: Worlds of Fantasy (episode 3)

Last night's final Worlds of Fantasy episode was easily the best of the three. For a start it was more interesting, and arguably more relevant than the previous two episodes (given that it focused on fantasy in recent years). The programme traced the evolution of fantasy, thankfully glossing over the terrible Lord of the Rings clones that saturated the genre in the 70s, instead looking at the importance of Pratchett's Discworld series. I mentioned earlier that I was concerned that Pratchett and Pullman would perhaps get too much emphasis, but the episode managed to give Pratchett the respect he deserves without neglecting other important authors such as Gaiman and MiƩville. It was cool to see Pratchett wondering around his (huge) house and garden, as well as typing away in front of his six - yes, six - monitors. He looked almost like some kind of scary evil mastermind. It was great to hear him talking about the genre and his own work.

The best thing about the episode was the fact that it finally hammered home the point that I - and many others I think - were anxiously hoping that it would: that fantasy is not just about escapism, but about a diverse range of issues that are totally valid to modern life. Sure, escapism is one reason why people love fantasy, but the fact that fantasy deals with real-life human issues (loss of faith, loss of innocence, nature of evil, redemption, etc) is another reason why fantasy is so popular and relevant to modern society. Thankfully the programme enforced this point; it even opened with such a statement, which was great to see.

There were minor flaws: modern epic fantasy was completely ignored, giving the impression to the non-genre watcher that this sub-genre has died a death (which would be totally false) and the episode went off on a bit of a tangent when it started looking at video games, however relevant they might be. I wasn't keen on the idea that video games were the future in that you can choose the narrative, rather than just reading what's on a page. This wasn't the main message of the programme but was hinted it at by one of the guest speakers. Personally I think it would be a sad day indeed if games ever did signal the death of the fantasy book (which I doubt will ever happen, regardless of changing technology).

Overall, a decent show that finally gives fantasy some much-deserved credit. If it made just one former sceptic realise that there is far more to fantasy than elves and dragons, then it was worth it.


Todd Newton said...

I hope the BBC publishes the series on DVD or something so I can get it via Netflix. It sounds interesting and Fantasy doesn't get enough TV coverage.

Fantasy in Video Games is not a new concept, in relation to how "new" video games are, so it kind of boggles the mind how they could make the distinction that they're somehow "the future." Yes, it's great that graphics are improving to such a high quality but video game storylines are usually immensely flawed. This is the exact same problem that anime features have in relation to their manga counterparts (usually lacking a bit of plot structure and only strung together by their entertainment value, leaving the otaku to fill-in-the-blanks with their own imagination).

I certainly don't believe that Epic Fantasy has died some kind of death, otherwise the 120,000+ words I've written in my novel project have been an incredible waste of time. We'll just have to see what happens, I suppose.

James said...

I've no idea what the BBC plans to do in that department, but perhaps you'll be able to view some of it on youtube at some point...

Like I said, that wasn't the main message of the programme but it was hinted at by one interviewee that gaming is the future on the basis that you can create your own narrative. But yeah, generally the story in games are crap anyway. I've played a lot of Guild Wars, and while it's a great game the story is pretty poor.

I don't believe that epic fantasy has died either (certainly hard to believe when authors like Martin and Erikson are selling in the hundreds of thousands).

I'm sure your work won't be wasted. You've done well just to get to 120k!