• Emily N. King

Stop Rehashing Lord of the Rings, Please, I Beg You

Growing up, I was always the kid who got caught reading books under my desk. My teachers didn't know what to do with me--how could they tell this anxious child to pay attention without discouraging her from reading altogether? Pulling me aside after class didn't seem to work, and my smart-mouthed retorts about how my grades were just fine certainly didn't help. Why couldn't they understand that math was so boring in comparison to the magical adventures of Harry Potter?

If anything, high school was even harder. I no longer read during class, but the all-consuming love I had for fantasy and science fiction made me an anomaly among my peers. I was lucky to find a close-knit group of pals who also shared my fascination with swords, dragons, and magical tomfoolery--many of whom I'm still in touch with today.

In grade school, the best part of reading was being able to do so with little to no critical thinking. I devoured Christopher Paolini, Tamora Pierce, and Rick Riordan books without applying any of the skills my English teachers taught me (surely those skills were only meant for old books), and it was only once I started college and began my path as a literary analyst that I would begin to realize how cliché the fantasy genre was.

The farm boy turned Chosen One. The wise, aging mentor (who is probably secretly related to the Chosen One and also dies). Revenge as the ultimate motivator. The evil ruler, or...dare I speak it? Dark Lord.

Now, I'm not necessarily here to rip apart these tropes and claim they have no value, because that just isn't true (well, some of them are problematic, i.e. the Totally Evil Race/Villain by Default trope, but that's a topic worthy of its own conversation). I simply believe that we can do better.

The fantasy genre is just that: fantasy. There are no limitations beyond that which we place ourselves. Fantasy is the perfect venue for escapism because the worlds within have the potential to be wildly different from the one we inhabit. Thus, it's always surprised and frustrated me that so many authors rehash the same tropes that have already been used a hundred times over.

Black-and-white morality. The pseudo-European setting. The ancient, powerful artifact. I could go on, but at a certain point I'd just be writing Lord of the Rings.

There's a lot of comfort in using these tropes, and I still list Eragon amongst my favorite books, but as we push into the next decade, I want to encourage all fantasy writers to challenge our idea of what a fantasy book looks like.

Let's subvert and even defy expectations. Let's create an environment of equal representation for all identity groups. Let's devise stories we wish our younger selves would've read.

And please, for the love of all things magical, let's allow ancient wizards to retire in peace.

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