I miss that old style sword and sorcery.
I grew up in the Nineties, right on the cusp of fantasy’s initial breakthrough into the mainstream. I remember when it was still very much and underground things, when there was still hysteria about Dunegon’s & Dragons being a gateway drug into Satanism and suicide (though given some of the DM’s I’ve known over the years, one or the other seemed quite attractive at various points during badly run campaigns…) Fantasy was for losers back then, geeks, dorks, dweebs, and that was just in high school. Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons made flesh.
The thing about being beneath the cultural radar though is that no one cares what you do. Which means you can do what you want. You can say what you want, write what you want, lose yourself in a world that doesn’t exist except on paper, and no one cares. There is an entire universe inside your head and by God and all His Saints it’s ten thousand times better than the dead end existence that constitutes The Real World.
For me the drug of choice was sword and sorcery. Conan, Elric, Dragonlance Chronicles…ordinary men swinging swords against the orcish hordes, wizards standing on mountaintops calling down the fire on the world. Witch Queens wearing jewels and not much else, dwarves with beards that dragged on the ground, elves and barbarians facing off against the dark denizens of the Seventeenth Abyss. I’d read them in Robert E. Howard, imagine myself as John Carter striding across the wastelands of Barsoom, try and recreate it around the gaming table to the rattle of d20’s and accompanied by the smell of cold pizza, truly the food of the gods to the hungry gamer. There was no ambiguity, no second guessing, none of that bloody angst and irony which permeated the 90’s like cheap cologne, for which my fellow Gen X’ers will have to spend the rest of their lives atoning for. The heroes were heroes, the villains were villains. The damsels were in distress, the fiends of the Pit were there to be cut down, and if your heroes had a Dark Side driving them onward, it only them made all the more bad ass. It was simple, straightforward. High octane fuel for the imagination.
I miss it.
Now it’s different (though isn’t it always?) Fantasy has entered the mainstream. And given that we live in a repressed post-modernist post-feminist post-whathaveyou age where Certain Things Are Not To Be Said, so too is the genre hobbled. Every story must have a point, every plot line an allegory for something related t owhat’s happening in the world, and if the old tropes are dusted off and brought in, it’s only so they can be deconstructed for the greater purpose of showing how everything is Inherently Oppressive. There are no more heroes and the villains are merely misunderstood. Evil is just another version of Good, and Good doesn’t really exist as such, since it’s all subjective and nothing is absolute. Everything is a metaphor – the barbarian invasion from the North is meant to be an allegory for the War on Terror, the Dark Plague sweeping the land a stand-in for Obamacare. No more simply telling a story, no more Art for Art’s sake. Art is political and the political is personal…even if the personal is pure crap.
Nostalgia is a dangerous thing to indulge, and I know there’s plenty of stuff coming out today that exceeds by a length too great to measure the works of the past remembered in such a golden haze (and let’s be honest, a lot of that stuff was second-rate hackwork, only highly prized because there was nothing else available.) But am I the only one who feels that something unique has been lost? That the genre gained the world and lost its soul, or at least its sense of humor?
Thus endeth the rant.