Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Geek TV: On Earthsea

The last two nights, I've made a point to be home by 9 p.m. to watch the two-part Sci-Fi Channel Earthsea miniseries. While I enjoyed it, I kind of miss having friends around who also freak to the geek TV to talk about the program with -- and I felt a little let down at the end of last night's completion.

I mean, come on, the Nameless Ones were let loose on Earthsea five minutes before the program ended. That meant that the final solution to the age-old problem -- the entire quest -- was arrived at and realized in less than five minutes. Amulet (wham), key (bam), thank you, ma'am. A little too clean for my tastes. I may have even liked another two-hour segment in which some aftermath had to be managed.

That said, the predominant feeling I came away with is that I'm not so sure that the newfound mainstream appreciation for all things epic, wizards, and trolls is a positive for the fantasy genre -- in print or visual media. Why? Because when so widely disseminated and distributed, when so largely in the popular discourse, the very mechanics and methods of the genre become overly transparent and, well, trite.

Thanks to the Lord of the Rings, we've got hairy people wearing capes. There's a jocular, chubby comrade. Always a boat at some point. A ring, an amulet, or a key. The ancient, long-buried evil. The self-test. The horrid-voiced evil being who may or may not be related to the hero. And thanks to Harry Potter, we've now got the jealous rival. The esteemed magical university. The hoary, heroic wizard instructor (a tweak on Gandalf's hoary, heroic wizard mentor).

A challenge: Make an epic fantasy not involving hairy people, capes, chubbiness, boats, rings, amulets, keys, tombs, quests, jealousy, and magic camp. Can it be done? I think it can be.


Joe said...

C'mon, now: LeGuin beat Rowling to "magical university" by 30 or 40 years -- they didn't leave that out of the miniseries did they? Oh, wait -- maybe I parsed you wrong.

Can you have an epic fantasy without a quest of some sort? I'm not so sure.

I'm pretty sure we've talked about Pullman's "His Dark Materials" books -- no rival, no magical university, not really a heroic wizard instructor. Boats, quests, and items imbued with magic, yes...

Heath said...

Regardless of whether LeGuin's writing predates Rowling, I'm talking about the impact of new fantasy work -- even if it's a retooling of the old. Do all of the elements of traditional fantasy work as well today, if in mainstream overabundance?

(Yes, epic fantasies probably do require quests. I got a little snarky.)