The Comic Fantasy Debate: Low vs. High
Lucy and I have been pondering humor writing this week, and so I started thinking about the way many define Comic Fantasy as a genre. I've seen people refer to it as "low" fantasy--meaning it's diametrically opposed to "high," or epic, fantasy.
--edited by Nevena Georgieva on 9/6/2013, 12:48 PM--
Not really. I'm a huge Christopher Moore fan, and even though his books are often classified as absurdism, they've made me feel more than a lot of high fantasy I've read. A Dirty Job made me cry multiple times when I read it because the main character lost his wife in the opening chapter. It's also one of the books that made me laugh the hardest. (This work could also be considered urban fantasy.)
Life is about crying and laughing, not just about sorrow and hardships and heroes overcoming odds. A lot of epic/high fantasy focuses on this, and that is why I don't read a lot of it. Sometimes, you need the MC's best bud to make really bad jokes just so your protagonist cracks a smile. Perhaps they lament that they managed to find the one person in the world who was born with a complete lack of joke-telling capabilities.
A lot of epic/high fantasy focuses on this, and that is why I don't read a lot of it.
I *know* how you feel about George R.R. Martin's style of heartache. =)
Christopher Moore? I have to admit I haven't read him! But since you and Jamie are both gushing about him, I guess I have to check him out soon.
I sincerely hope not. In my experience humorless fantasy books make incredibly bland reading. All work and no play, you know.
I think 'low' fantasy is terrible terminology. To me 'low fantasy' is poorly written fan fiction
Comic fantasy is simply another take on world building. George RR Martin writes some amazingly detailed and thorough works, and like David Gemmel and Raymond E Feist I'd put firmly in 'high fantasy'.
But to put Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman and Tom Holt in 'low fantasy' would be a travesty. It implies their work has less merit, and to me that simply can't be the case.
For me, a book without any humor is an egg without salt. I don't want to eat salt by itself (well, not often anyway), but I want some in my food. (And this is anot an invitation to a lecture about high blood pressure!) The best books combine both serious stuff and humor.
It may be that humor is the opposite of grimdark, but not all epic fantasy is grimdark...grimdark is a preference in the emotional palette available, not a virtue of its own. (And whatever epic fantasy is currently most popular--right now, GRRM's--does color the public perception of epic fantasy. What makes epic fantasy "epic" isn't the choice of palette--grimdark or varied light/dark-- but the "size" of it--not just length but the complexity, the inherent scale of what's at stake, etc.) Others have mentioned Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's works as combining both epic scale and humor and I agree. There are more. How much humor depends on the writer's choice of emotional palette and also the writer's skill...good humor that works exactly as intended is hard to do. It's easiest in small doses-- a wisecrack here, a moment of silliness there.
I don't think I've written a book without some humor in it, and very few shorter works that lack that touch. Personal preference, both in reading and writing. Laughter at life's odd spots was part of my childhood and has been part of my life ever since...(what do you do when a ceiling panel falls and drenches you with icy water and a mass of insulation? After the gasp, and spitting out the insulation, you laugh...because you know how ridiculous you look, standing there in rubber stable boots in ankledeep water, wearing every warm garment you own and now covered with a layer of wet insulation like a chicken just dipped in batter and then cornflakes.)