10 reasons why fantasy is the greatest literary genre

10, no, 12 reasons why fantasy is the greatest literary genre

Fantasy is a genre unique, because it’s a massively selfish act on the part of the author, but is simultaneously entirely about the reader. Fantasy is and always has been the genre I enjoy reading the most. Why? Read on. Then leave a comment telling me why I’m wrong. Or, you know, being nice.


1. Freedom. What is it that possesses people to search out books set in the normal world about crappy relationships, or walking dogs, or someone’s family? How can any of those scenarios be better than a book about crappy relationships between dragon riders, or someone’s family when Dad just happens to be ensorcelled by the Demon Azgaroth? Or walking trolls?

OK, I’m not sure the last one has much scope, but really, why limit yourself?

2. Language. I’ll admit, the Demon Azgaroth isn’t the most exciting use of the English language ever, but the wonders created by Tolkien, or Rowling (please forgive me for the unintentional comparison. (I know, I know, but how good a word is ‘muggle’? It’s just perfect)) are glorious. Without Fantasy these words and languages might never have come into being.

3. Worlds. This is as much for writers as readers. How exciting is it to plunge into a new world, a place never before walked by one of your own kind? You can write about London until the cows come home, but unless it’s being invaded by sloth aliens from the planets Shnoo, it’s still London. I love London, but when I sit down to read, I’d rather go to Daruhjistan, or Dros Delnoch.

4. Contrast. In direct competition with the one above, if, like me, you write the awkwardly titled Contemporary fantasy, it may be the glorious contrast of the terrible Schnoo aliens with the Houses of Parliament that particularly excite you.  (I’ll admit it now, Schnoo is the worst name for an alien race ever conceived. Ever).  This contrast, the ability to skew what is normal and expected is, sometimes, what makes fantasy so compelling.

5. Characters. I’m back to the questions with this one. You have two choices. You’re going to read about a terrible moral dilemma , possibly involving theft and even death. Would you like the person going through this dilemma to be a) Dave, computer engineer and father of three or b)Drake Hardsack, gifted swordsman, wench magnet and all round, well, hardsack? You just look at that and think, ‘well, Dave, I’m sure your story is compelling and deeply moving, but me, I’m going for the swords and shit’.

6. Rules. When is a story ever going to be made worse by the main character having the ability to fly? Wuthering Heights, Heart of Darkness, Catch 22. All great books (except for Wuthering Heights. Honestly, that just bored the hell out of me), but can you truly stand up and say they wouldn’t have been more fun with some simple levitation or maybe a death ray in there somewhere? Fantasy has rules, don’t get me wrong. If it’s written well, the rules are the same as for any other story. You must care about the characters, they must do what people would do in any given situation and so on. But, and this is the important bit, you always have to follow those rules (unless the Schnoos are around, in which case you can probably just throw it all out the window), so why not get rid of the dull ones at least, like gravity, or not hitting people with big spiky bits of metal?

7. Variety. If you like to read fiction, you’re likely to hit some pretty similar themes, places and so on fairly quickly. There is of course nothing wrong with this. Fiction so often resonates for that precise reason. But I love knowing that when you open a fantasy book, anything could happen. Swords, magic, fair maidens, evil wenches, fiends and demons, superheroes, star cruisers, aliens, talking animals and so…hang on, sorry scratch the talking animals, some things just shouldn’t be allowed. You get the idea. If it’s written well enough, you can still get the emotion and the Schnoos, all in one place. OK, I’ll stop with them now. Promise.

8. Your own mind. This may seem a little obtuse, but I think it bears saying. As I mentioned earlier, London will always look like London. A good author may help you to see it in a different light, but it’s still pretty much as is. I’m fairly certain that no one in the world sees the Discworld quite the same way as me. That’s not because Mr. Pratchett doesn’t describe things well, quite the opposite in fact, but because it only exists in my head. It exists in millions of other’s as well, but my version is the only one that counts, because it’s my experience of it that matters.

9. Swords

10. Chicks with swords.

11. Chicks with swords riding dragons at the head of a huge army, hell behind them and victory or death in front.

12. Schnoos.





The conventions (clichés) of the Heroic Fantasy Genre

As with all good genres, Fantasy has a few conventions that simply must be followed. I am of course generalising massively, but it’s good fun, so there.

  1. Weapons are never simple. Why have a sword, when you can have the enchanted sword of Ashkerah, home to the demon Myshogoth? Why have an axe when you can have the Axe of the Great Beard, handed down through a hundred generations of great beard wearers? Even a simple knife is the dagger of Plenty, taken from the tomb of the mighty Skoloth and bearing the jewel of Lyanna, ancient priestess and wearer of diaphanous gowns. In a world where everyone is almost certainly involved in violent actions at some point, weapons become the car and house and smart phone all in one, the ultimate status symbol. What kind of a hero would you be if you simply carried ‘a sword’? hah, I spit on your simple piece of pointy metal. No, when it comes to fantasy, weapons are never simple.
  2. People don’t swear. Picture the scene. Your blood brother has just lost his hand fighting the Dragon Master of Elleth. Simultaneously, you have watched the woman you’ve spent the last 200 pages trying desperately to find whisked away by said Dragon Master just seconds before you would have grabbed her. On top of that, you’re out of arrows and the Orcs are closing in. Put in that situation, I would probably be saying ‘fuck’ quite a lot, or at the very least ‘shit’ or ‘bollocks’. However, it turns out that in these times of blood, violence and no table manners, our heroes are impeccable with their language, muttering perhaps a God’s name under their breath, at a real push. I should mention that this isn’t true if you read George R R Martin, or Joe Abercrombie. Their characters are far ruder and as such cannot qualify as bona fide heroes, merely dudes and chicks with swords. Sorry, them’s the brakes.
  3. Magic users are wusses. Sometimes there’s an excuse and sometimes there isn’t. Perhaps we could blame the lack of cheap gyms on fantasy worlds, but the fact is, the life of a magic user is clearly entirely incompatible with a regular workout. You wouldn’t need much, just an hour on the treadmill every few days. But no, it’s pretty much the law. No magic and muscles. I blame the magic schools for not educating their students properly. Any good place of learning would ensure that their students understood the importance of physical fitness and health in a busy lifestyle. Particularly when so many of their pupils are destined for a life on the road, adventuring, being threatened regularly with a painful death and so on. Ho hum.
  4. Dwarves are grumpy. Whether this the ultimate manifestation of short man syndrome or something more sinister, I’ve never figured it out, but it’s safe to say that the people known as dwarves are a bunch of miserable sods. Not only are they miserable, but they are normally all-too-happy to spread the misery around some. Of course, they use that grump to hide their heart of gold, lest they be viewed as big girls’ blouses by their tough guy adventuring pals. However, were I adventuring with said grumpy bastard, I think I would find it all too tempting to knife the moany sod in the middle of the night and run the risk of missing out on the soft squishy bit that should emerge at some point near the end of the book.
  5. Fantasy guys don’t like to share. Whether it’s women, swords or emotions, Fantasy characters just don’t enjoy sharing their stuff with anyone. I imagine their round the fire chats to be much like that of the Wiggum lad from Simpsons.

“So, do you like, umm, stuff?”

“What stuff?”

“Umm, like swords and stuff?”

“Ahhh, therein lies a tale, let me tell how I came upon “hoarfrost thunderfuck”, my trusty blade”

(2 hours later)

“So, ummm, how about other stuff?”


And so on… not much in the way of exploring their inner feelings I’m afraid.

  1. Don’t go underground. Despite what their brain should be screaming at them and indeed what everyone else is actually screaming at them, your average heroic hero will happily plunge deep into the earth in search of a good adventure. Of course, he probably hasn’t read many fantasy books and is therefore ignorant of the inevitable horde of goblins/giant spider/huge scary monster thing/ghosts/evil termites (delete as applicable, unless you really hate your character, in which case just throw everything at the stupid bastard) that dwell in the deep. Nonetheless, this feels like a feeble excuse when facing a deep tunnel, lined with webs and general ‘really? You really wanna go down there?’ vibes.


So there you have it, a few of the choicer gems from the wonderful world of fantasy. Have I missed any? Are you even now readying your mighty pen of Zenthrax to smite me for my impertinence? Let me know.


Your starting point for discovering the wonderful world of fantasy novels

Perhaps you’ve watched A Game of Thrones (ace), or read a lot of comics (also ace), and now fancy delving more into the written world of fantasy. Or maybe you love horror but are branching out. Whatever it may be, this blog is your starting point to discovering the wonderful world of fantasy novels. If you think of any other stories I’ve missed, do comment and let us know.

I should point out that all classifications are mine as being the best way I can think of to describe them. Amazon may disagree!

  1. Magician by Raymond E Feist

This wondrous book begins as a classic tale of one boys’ ascent from average Joe, to magician extraordinaire. His journey underpins the entire novel and gives it resonance and depth. However, where it stands head and shoulders above so many others is in the scope and depth that Feist brings to it. From the humble beginnings the world soon becomes much bigger as a raft of characters are introduced, war begins and aliens invade. The world is beautifully realised, the characters thoroughly likeable and the action thrilling. Feist is also unafraid to take his people to unexpected places. The key relationship between our hero Pug and his best friend Tomas is never simple or comfortable.

I could rave about this for days, but to keep it short, if you want to try some swords and sorcery, epic scale fantasy that won’t tax your brain too much, start here.

Like this? Try: the rest of the series from the same author, known as the Riftwar saga.

  1. The Elenium by David Eddings

David Eddings is one of the great masters of the quest fantasy. What Tolkien started many, many authors have run with, though few as successfully or just generally as satisfyingly as Eddings.

The three book series that is The Elenium focuses on a Knight called Sparhawk and his travels to save his young and very beautiful queen, who is encased in diamond to keep her alive. Of course, Sparhawk is joined on his voyage by a number of others, all possessing severe likeability (my blog, my words, nur) and suitable heroism. They are wonderfully easy to read and contain enough cynicism to keep them from spilling over into cheese.

So, the short version is, if you like quests and swords and magic and knights, read this.

Like this? Try: Any of Eddings’ other series, the Belgariad, the Mallorean and the Tamuli.

  1. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

This series lasted for an eye-watering 14 books. Don’t panic, I know, it sounds daunting, but let me explain.

This was a top notch update of the quest fantasy as described above. Taking the, at the time more current approach of throwing some relatively innocent types into the firing line, Jordan did a cracking job of really humanising the action while keeping it exciting. The first three or four books in the series really deliver and are well worth the read.

As to whether to read the entire series, it’s up to you. I would argue that there are enough great books out there that you may not need to feel compelled to churn through the lot, but it’s your call.

In short, innocents in danger, beasties, fights and so forth.

Like this? Try: Well, there are a few more of them to go. Also, the Shannara books, by Terry Brooks

  1. The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

You may have noticed by now that fantasy authors don’t like to stop at only one. Call them greedy, whatever, I must admit I rather like it.

Coming bang up to date now, I would describe this as being character driven epic fantasy. It follows multiple characters across different settings, some of whom cross paths, often painfully, but always comes back to the characters. Following the exploits of three fairly unsavoury, yet oddly endearing types, plus a heap of others, the books slowly weave a number of interlocking webs. The overall message? Don’t trust anyone, they’re all out to get you. I would describe them as being a little more mature than the previous books and they’re certainly harder hitting. Be prepared for some fairly unpleasant happenings.

In short, nasty things happening to mostly nasty people, whom you can’t help rooting for, all in a fantastically realised world. With swords.

Like this? Try: Abercrombie has released three other standalone novels all within the same world, which are just as good.

  1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Just the one. No trilogy or series here, no sir. This brings Fantasy into our world, so I think you could call it contemporary fantasy. Telling the tale of one mans’ journey through the America one only sees in Gaiman’s imagination, the book explores mythology both old and new as the ancient gods, dying out as belief in them runs out, must fight the new gods of the modern world. Told through the eyes of ex-convict Shadow, the book is a classic example of Gaimans’ magical ability to infuse every word with mystery and wonder.

In short, very cool, mesmerising and atmospheric, with a cracking concept.

Like this? Try: Anansi boys, also by Neil Gaiman.

  1. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

I’m not sure whether to call this contemporary fantasy or science fiction. It’s very much real worldly, but sometime in the future. I guess I still think that science fiction has to have space somewhere in it, an opinion for which I would probably get laughed at for, but there it is. So, sitting somewhere between the two, Snow crash is a wonderful tale of Avatars with swords, crazy whale hunters and so much more than I can paraphrase here. Based, essentially, around a computer virus, which is a big deal when half of your life is spent in the Metaverse, the successor to the internet, the characters travel around the world in search of the necessary answers.

In short, crazy futuristic fantasy, crammed with ideas and action.

Like this? Try: Maul by Tricia Sullivan

  1. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Based in the real world, this is a wonderful example of contemporary fantasy. Mixing up Pratchett’s absurd humour with Gaiman’s love of legend, the books focus around an angel and demon, best friends and rather attached to their lives on earth. As the time of reckoning approaches, they, along with an assortment of others attempt to find the Antichrist, prophesied to bring about the end of days. It’s great fun and a wonderful introduction to both authors.

In short, hilarious, poignant and a little silly.

Like this? Try: Anything by either author (see above and below). Also, Robert Rankin

  1. Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Discworld series is, to my mind, one of the greatest fantasy creations of modern times. Behind the humour and impressively human characters, lies a brilliantly conceived world, complete in every way. Having created this amazing place, Pratchett takes great pleasure in this, the first of many books in the series, in throwing his luckless hero Rincewind from one side of it to the other. Rincewind, the eternal pessimist and (anti)hero of the book spends his time stumbling from one life threatening situation to the next, spurred on by the most positive tourist the Discworld has ever seen.

In short, lots of running, screaming and complaining and about a thousand times more funny than that makes it sound.

Like This? Try: There are 39 Discworld novels out there, what’s keeping you?

  1. Legend by David Gemmell

The late David Gemmell was a master of what I would describe as Heroic Fiction. Although his heroes are often unwilling, they posses the morals that we should demand of our muscley fighty types. In Legend, his hero is an old man, past his fighting prime, apparently. Of course, he still manages to defend a castle single handedly whilst being really cool and really, really hard. Gemmell succeeds so well in this because although the plot isn’t the deepest, the characters are just great, and you cannot help but root for them every time.

In short, heroes with swords and axes fighting and being heroic, but not cheesy. A difficult balance to strike.

Like this? Try: Waylander, the King Beyond the Gate and assorted others, all by Gemmell.