The infestation has grown to enormous scope; they have made great inroads. You can’t go into a bookstore without encountering the filthy reek of them in print. They have invaded movie houses with increasing frequency. The Internet is awash with their writings, their kitschy art, and their mindless, tinsel-jewelry-wearing followers.
I am, of course, speaking about the hacks that are continually held up to Tolkien. The book jackets crow. “Compares to Lord of the Rings.” “Like Tolkien at his best.” “Fantasy that Elron would Enjoy!” “Our publisher thought that mentioning FRODO on the dust jacket would increase sales, even though the only fantasies this book contains are our hopes that it will not wind up in the remainder bin.”
I am sick to death of:
- Elves. Any size, shape or color, creed, alignment, nation, race, sexual orientation, phylum or unprouncable relationship my human experience has left me unprepared for. I can deal with evil gay gun-toting gold-eschewing gutter elves who double-park greyhounds full of goblins. That would be an exciting twist. Another high-elven maid bestowing a crystal / phial / maglite of Light upon a Quest and I’m going to lose it, I really am.
- Dwarves who pull precious metals and gems from the earth, and who apparently never heard of toxic mine tailings or (indeed) water tables and pumps. Sic the EPA upon them. Better yet, it’s a wonder that the fisherfolk downstream from all this waste haven’t dynamited the Dwarves in.
- “Little people” who wind up saving the world, despite being ignorant, backwards, parochial and often just plain clumsy and stupid. Send ’em someplace that is used to handling despicable, creeping, backstabbing and sabotaging creatures … say, Washington D.C.
- Maps covered with stupid, unprounceable place-names, like “Losa Ngeles” and “Tol Edo.” If middle-earth had GPS and accurate maps, quests would last a chapter or two.
- Plots so full of Deus-Ex-Machina twists (“Oooooh, okay, so a Singing Sword of Evil-Guy-Killing does trump my Ring of Sketchy-But-Significant-Ancestry.”) that you might expect Nostradamus to appear from behind the curtain, pulling his beard and waving his cell phone with the answer to the latest riddle from the 1-800 customer support number (“After thirty minutes on hold, they said to reinstall Windows and reboot the dragon, didn’t we do that already?”).
Ralph Bakshi had it right, we need to enslave the elves and whip some good honest Industry on the Fair Lands of Fairy. Time to put some highways through the boles of those ancient oaks. Balrog burgers should compete across the stream from Galadriel’s Falafel Drive-In and Gandalf’s House of Pancakes. Frodo should be hawking brass copies of the One Ring for fifty bucks (“We coat the inside with oil of wormwood, to give ’em a shock after they put it on.”) And goodness knows what Strider’s doing with all those No-Doze, but I’m pretty sure it’s legal.
Things are bad enough in the land of Fairy, and it’d be hard to make them much worse without being truly blatant, so why not just pack it in. Instead of a coy 12-book series, just pave Mirkwood, run a six-lane from Mordor (“Smoking Mountains Majesty”) to the Shire, run a funicular up to the goblin caves, drain the dead marshes and stick in rows of retirement condos along Bag-End.
Oh wait, the fantasy industry already did that.
* * *
The last honest fantasy I read:
- Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry (starts with The Summer Tree).
- Emma Bull’s Finder, Bone Dance and the classic War for the Oaks. Maybe lump John M. Ford’s The Last Hot Time in here, too.
* * *
Wups, someone pointed out that Bone Dance isn’t fantasy.
Well, if Robert Jordan can transport half his characters from the left side of the map to the right side in one poorly written paragraph starring a thinly disguised whirlwind (“…and your little, dog, too!”), then the above gaff stays until someone pays me a couple megabucks to write a LISP-based story generator to compete with RJ.
It can’t be that hard.