One thing that those of us who have been around a while cannot escape noticing is that terms and classifications change and develop. This is true in music as well as book categories. Once upon a time there was rock n’ roll. Then the category got split between hard rock and soft rock. Soon more specific terms like Metal came into common use and in a few decades time there was a list of categories like Ska, Grunge, Black metal, House, Cybergoth etc.
I’ve watched a similar phenomena grow within reading categories. Once upon a time, people knew what you meant when you said you wanted a Fantasy story. The Fantasy genre has endured and grown in its own ways, but it has also been infiltrated by other genres that use the word ‘Fantasy’ to classify sub-genres within Young Adult and Romance books. This can be frustrating for old school Fantasy fans when perusing the books on Amazon under the Fantasy category where one has to slush through rather a lot of material that ‘our kind’ would not classify as Fantasy at all, despite the stories containing what is commonly referred to as ‘fantasy elements’.
These include YA stories like Buffy that may have witches and magic within the story, yet clearly don’t appeal to the same audience as what we refer to as ‘Fantasy genre’.
I had, let’s call it an exchange of messages, with someone recently who sought to convince me that they read Fantasy because they had read Game of Thrones (a fair choice) after which they cited a list of YA/Romance selections including a Romance series where the characters are half human half fey. This has become a common element in much of the newer Paranormal and Urban “fantasy” genre books that have crossed their classification with Fantasy genre. They are the bane of readers of what we call Fantasy genre who have to read descriptions of books more extensively than was once necessary to make sure we aren’t accidentally picking up Romance books listed under a genre which was once clearly distinct from a very different genre directed at the young women who enjoy reading that sort of thing.
That’s the primary difference. Target audience largely defines one genre from another. Sometimes the exact details of why these young Romance books are a different species from what has traditionally been called Fantasy genre is hard to explain to the uninitiated but like in many things, we know it when we see it.
If I were to say to you; qaStah nug? My fire lizard bristles under the red sun when the denizens of R’lyeh rise and Corwin passes through shadow to lead the Uruk-Hai forth to Melnibone… how many references would you recognise without resorting to Google? I expect that the person putting forth Romance stories as Fantasy will catch the LOTR reference, maybe a few would get one more, but Fantasy geeks are likely to catch all or at least most of them without having to give it much thought.
Wikipedia has a half-decent article on the subject once you get past the first sentence that is no help at all: “Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting.”
All true, but general enough that misconceptions can seep in. The article goes on: “Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common. Fantasy is generally distinguished from the genre of science fiction by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific themes, though there is a great deal of overlap between the two, both of which are subgenres of speculative fiction.
In popular culture, the genre of fantasy is dominated by its medievalist form, especially since the worldwide success of The Lord of the Rings and related books by J. R. R. Tolkien. Fantasy has also included wizards, sorcerers, witchcraft, etc., in events which avoid horror. In its broadest sense, however, fantasy comprises works by many writers, artists, filmmakers, and musicians, from ancient myths and legends to many recent works embraced by a wide audience today.
Fantasy is a vibrant area of academic study in a number of disciplines (English, cultural studies, comparative literature, history, medieval studies). Work in this area ranges widely, from the structuralist theory of Tzvetan Todorov, which emphasizes the fantastic as a liminal space, to work on the connections (political, historical, literary) between medievalism and popular culture.”
There is quite a lot of relevant information later in the article as well, which can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasy
My Goblin Series is Fantasy Genre. It is not Romance. You will not find a goblin equivalent of sparkly vampire Edward or hunky werewolf Jacob within the pages of my stories. In Fantasy genre, goblins are typically opposed to humans and with variations from one story or series to another, largely animal-like while being organised to one extent or another as warriors to be feared.
Fantasy readers who have read my series recognise these elements. The goblins are depicted from their own point of view, yet maintain the elements that make them animalistic goblins as well as offering explanations as to why some of their cultural elements are as they are.
For example, anyone who has lived on a farm or has any knowledge of animals in any way knows that animals don’t behave like heroes in Romance novels when mating. They mate for progeny. Cats don’t bring their mates flowers, they gang rape them. Chickens are similarly bestial in sneaking up on their target mates. The goblins are not quite so crass and have the intellect that allows them to recognise the importance of their scarce females as well as a physiology that is close enough to human that it is possible for the two species to mate, but they are essentially animals. There are no romantic hunky green men ready to live happily ever after with a swooning human female. They mate to produce young as any animal will do and there are a few different species of goblins who have odd physiological traits that one would see in the animal kingdom. Nature is a rough place. Most of us know that some spider species actually eat their partners after mating. Can you imagine translating that aspect into a Romance story?
Ironically, there is a young girl in the second book of my Goblin Series that finds herself attracted to a particularly humanoid male goblin (most of them are traditionally ugly), but the fact that it could never work out is part of her story line that carries on into the third book. No goblin from my world is going to magically transform into a sparkly green construction worker named Cliff who falls wildly in love with the heroine and fall to his knees to propose marriage. Goblins do not have relationships like humans.
The goblins don’t waste meat either. In nature, when a creature dies it often becomes meat for another creature. Make of that what you will, I’m not going to write spoilers into my own blog.
I do know people who read Fantasy genre as well as Romance, but they do know the difference. Adding a few fantasy elements to a Romance story does not make it a Fantasy genre story. It is still Romance. The fact that a few newer Fantasy stories like Game of Thrones is being read by younger readers is a good thing in my opinion and may well be the introduction to an old genre for many new readers, but not all of them will develop into Fantasy Geeks. There is a particular mindset that defines the Fantasy fan. We have been pushed into a corner where we have to label our kind of Fantasy as Epic or Sword and Sorcery or even as ‘speculative fiction’ to help weed it out from the new breed of YA with fantasy elements even when the exact categories don’t quite fit and we would rather maintain our ‘General Fantasy’ classification, but we will endure as a species apart.
The trouble this makes for writers of Fantasy is that we have to somehow convey to potential readers that might mistake ‘our’ Fantasy for the fantasy Romance stories that some may seek. Romance readers won’t find what they are looking for in my books. Everyone is entitled to enjoy whatever genre they choose, but I do not write YA or Romance books. I write for the Fantasy geeks, or in the case of my Steampunk for the Adventure reader. While most stories have some form of love interest somewhere in the plot, it is incidental in Fantasy and Adventure and while I never say never, I don’t see it becoming the primary focus of anything I write in the foreseeable future. I write the kind of books I like to read. I write for others of my species, and that means the Fantasy geeks that go to the conventions and recognise the references I scribbled earlier in this post.
So step through the mirror if you dare. Enter the world of the goblins, but beware. People die here. Happy endings are not guaranteed. The goblin world is dark and primal. If the sound of the drums moves you, perhaps you can grok why ecstatic dance is a part of the goblin culture. Bring your sword, but watch your manners. In the goblin caverns, all men are meat.