World Building and Never Ending Stories

It seems today that fantasy has been hijacked by “world builders”—writers so enamored by Tolkien, that their No. #1 priority is to build convincing worlds. While I am all for the establishment of a good setting, I am not all for it if it hinders the telling of a story or takes the place of one. I won’t mention names, but many of today’s most popular fantasists seem to be writing textbooks for their daydreams. I am often left asking myself, what’s the point of this book? Tolkien was less of a storyteller and more a professor of history and linguistics. He translated Old English classics like Beowulf and Sir Gawain & the Green Knight into the modern vernacular—while this brought a unique perspective and a level of expertise to his writing, it did not bode well for the future of writers wanting to emulate him. As much as we may want, none of us can be Tolkien, nor can we hope to achieve the same kind of success. We would have to live Tolkien’s life and study everything he did to match his style, and even then, why would anybody want to? Writers must draw from their own lives and experiences. And most importantly, we must make story telling no. #1. True storytellers, I sometimes feel, are more often found in Sci-Fi. Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke were true storytellers. In the fantasy realm, Ursula K. Leguin and JK Rowling are true storytellers. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, by the way, also builds a convincing world, but it is done in a subtle fashion that services the story.   

Despite my love of fantasy, I more often find enjoyment in a good classic or even in modern fiction; I adored “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaleed Hosseini and I wonder whether I can capture the same emotion in the fantasy genre.

I also hate it when books do not conclude or do not conclude in meaningful ways. What is it about this new trend of books that doesn’t give an ending to a story? How can you tell if a writer is any good if he doesn’t even end it? I may be old fashioned, but a story for me must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. George Martin’s “Game of Thrones” has no ending at all. Bakker’s “The Darkness that Comes Before” does the same. It is for that reason that I have recently started to appreciate Salvatore’s “Dark Elf Trilogy” and the Margaret Weis’ “Dragonlance” series. While they may cater a bit more to the youth, at least they actually tell a story; at least they know how to end in a way that feels satisfactory while leaving enough mystery and intrigue to make a reader want to pick up the next in the series. 

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