This won’t be the first time I’ve said I love fantasy and have since I was a kid. During the ’80’s, I read scores of fantasy novels, but the day finally came when I couldn’t anymore. One too many recycled plots, wise wizards, crusty dwarves, plucky youths, heroic thieves, feisty tavern wenches, and so on. I developed acute genre indigestion and have only recently started reading adult fantasy again.
History repeats itself.
A dozen years ago, I discovered young adult fantasy and delighted in some of the characters and stories. Inspired by these, I even wrote my own first novel in just six months, in 2005. Recently, however, YA fantasy has been “discovered.” Now I find I can’t read this genre either; bandwagons and the perception of money and names to be made don’t lead to books with much imagination or heart.
A glut of vampire romance was followed by a glut of stories of Faerie and zombies. After the success of The Hunger Games, “dystopian” tales became the theme du jour. Now stories of were-beasts are all the rage. I sometimes wonder if I am a snob or too harsh in my judgements, so I yesterday I took a look at the YA fantasy titles featured on Amazon. Here are some descriptions I found in the blurbs:
“A lyrical tale of werewolves and first love.” – I gotta say it, “Awwww!”
“explodes onto the YA scene with a brilliant nail-biter of a dystopian adventure.” – Think about the phrase, “YA scene.”
“A kidnapped wolf pup with a rare strain of canine parvovirus tuns regular kids into a crime solving pack.” – I’m a sucker for dog stories, and I like wacky superheroes, so this one sounds like the best of the bunch.
“Can a prim young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?” – I would have said “dashing zombie” is an oxymoron.
“A timeless love story with a unique mythology that captivates the imagination.” – The blurb didn’t say what this unique mythology might be, so you have to take the publicist’s word.
This book is “generating a Twilight-level buzz.” I’ve never heard of it.
OK, I guess I’m being a little snarky. It seems that today’s YA represents a successful move by writers and publishers to attract a new demographic of younger readers to what is essentially, romance. On one hand, this largely excludes me as a reader and writer, because while I think romance is fine, it’s not my thing. I also find it sad to think that over the near term, we’re going to have zombie love instead of books like A Wrinkle in Time, The Earthsea Trilogy, and The Golden Compass.
So what am I doing about it? Kicking back with literary comfort food, otherwise known as light detective stories, stories with fun characters you just want to trail along with as they bring justice into the world. In the past, I’ve devoured stories by Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Tony Hillerman, and Elizabeth Peters. Now, thanks to my wife, I have a new main-man – Hamish MacBeth, the constable of the village of Lochdubh, Scotland, who, with his dog, Lugs, and his cat, Sonsie – and wee dram now and again – excels at solving murders. Hamish is the creation of M.C. Beaton, the pseudonym used by author, Marion Chesney, for her mystery stories. Born in Glasgow in 1936, she has also written 100 historical romances under a different names.
My wife has collected a bookshelf full of MacBeth stories, and I’ve only started. My current read is, Death of a Chimney Sweep. In one passage, Hamish is driving an author to meet her publisher. He says to her, “Angela, you’re taking this all to seriously.”
“What would you know? You haven’t a single ambitious bone in your body.”
“Aye, and I like it that way.” Hamish suddenly wished the evening was over.
I love these stories! I will have more to say about Hamish MacBeth in my next post.