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Welcome to the next instalment of the Fantasy in Our Society Series. Today I welcome fantasy author Charles Yallowitz.

Author Info

Location (as I am wondering if it is regional)? Long Island, NY, USA

  • Are fantasy/science-fiction seen in a more acceptable light than they used to be?

I think they’re definitely more acceptable and not as fringe as they were when I was a kid, but I can only really speak for fantasy.  Personally, I always felt science-fiction was accepted more than fantasy.  I think the rise of ‘Harry Potter’ books/movies, ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies, and ‘Game of Thrones’ have certainly helped the fantasy genre get a slight foothold with the mainstream audience.  It’s no longer a bunch of ‘nerds’ with a loose grasp of reality and delusions of chivalrous grandeur.  At least among the younger generations who are growing up with more fantasy in the culture.  You do have an entire generation that grew up with ‘Harry Potter’, which certainly brings a change to the perception of fantasy.  I still get older people saying they don’t like fantasy or they can’t suspend their disbelief enough to get into the story. I feel weird saying it’s becoming an age gap situation, but it feels that way at times.  I should mention that there are plenty of older people, myself included, who enjoy fantasy.

  • It has been argued fantasy is full of ‘tropes’ – what are your views on this?

Yes it is and so is every other genre out there such as Westerns have horses and guns.  I’ve come to have issues with the declaration of cliché and trope because it tends to be used solely because the person is simply bored with the item.  Elves, magic, and orcs seem to get this a lot.  In fact, I see it happen mostly when a fan of one series is trying to declare superiority over another series.  Meanwhile, people new to the genre won’t have any idea what’s a trope, what’s fresh, and what’s a twist on a trope.

I’ve found that you can boil nearly every story down to something else.  For example, I’m thinking of a story where feuding kingdoms/families are trying to take control of a kingdom with a lot of backstabbing, death, and brutality.  You might be thinking ‘Game of Thrones’, but I was thinking ‘Romance of the Three Kingdoms’.  Both are entirely different stories when you get into the details and settings, but they still share something that I’ve heard some people call a trope.  My point here is that we fight so much over why stories are the same that we seem to no longer pay attention to what sets them apart from each other, which can lead to a decrease in stories as time goes on.

  • Fantasy and science fiction used to be seen as very male-oriented, do you think this is still the case. Do you have any experience of this?

I’m male and it definitely has been geared more for my gender in the past.  I think that’s starting to change in terms of there being more female authors like J.K. Rowling.  As far as characters go, the female protagonist has always been fringe for some reason and that’s probably pushed many female readers away.  I remember loving a character in the Forgotten Realms books named Arilyn Moonblade and she didn’t get a lot of attention with that mythos. Not like the male characters like Drizzt and Elminster, which I always thought was a shame. All that being said, I think it’s starting to shift toward female protagonists that can hang with the males and that should bring in more female readers.  So it’s a slow evolution toward equality here that I see more progress with in the indie scene.  In traditional books, women seem to primarily be romantic interests and sidekicks/supporting cast.

From my personal experience, I have found an odd response to female heroes.  In my own series, I have two big heroines in the form of Nyx, a powerful spellcaster with confidence and a temper, and Sari, a flirty and cunning gypsy.  These two and all of the supporting female characters seem to get a lot more criticism than the male characters.  Any sign of ‘weakness’ (a.k.a. emotion) is railed at while one of the male heroes can do the same thing and nobody seems to care.  It makes me feel like the two women carry more risk and weight to the story, which is both exciting and nerve-wracking as an author.

  • How important are ‘facts’ in fantasy/science fiction – does something need to be plausible to be believable?

Being a fantasy author, I speak more for that genre.  In regards to science fiction, I will say that real facts play a big role in the story and probably more so today than in the past.  People love pouncing on a science fiction story to throw real world science into the author’s face and prove why something is impossible or simply wrong.  Best way to explain it is that many vocal readers are more focused on the ‘science’ part of the genre than the ‘fiction’ part.

Now for fantasy, it’s both easier and a little more awkward.  You can explain the bending or removal of certain laws of physics if you’re on a different world and have a high level magic system.  Readers that refuse to suspend disbelief will still complain and you can’t do anything about that, but if it fits within the structure of your world then it’s right.  The easy part is that you make the rules.  The awkwardness comes from the same source because you need to religiously stick to your own establishment.  For example, if you claim teleportation is impossible and explain why then you can’t have everyone doing it in a later book without there being a lengthy reason.  Consistency is where a fantasy author will gain their facts and help pull willing readers into their world.

  • Fairy-tales, anthropomorphic personifications, mythical beasts and cultural fantastical persons are all about us – such as Santa Claus, St George, dragons and fairies – how vital are these for our identity? Are we who we are because of the myths our cultures hold?

I’ll admit that when I saw anthropomorphic personification, I was thinking of furries and anime catgirls.  It’s interesting how every culture seems to have this at certain levels of acceptability. I see a lot of this in Japanese mediums while I rarely see it in American mediums.  There are a few comic book characters that fall into this category, but they tend to start as humans that transform due to a mutation (Beast from X-Men) or accidents (Lizard from Spider-Man). I’m kind of harping on this one thing, but it certainly demonstrates a person’s mindset when it comes up in conversation.  I’ve had conversations about this specific topic and someone inevitably brings up the idea of bestiality.  This is definitely more of an individual identity topic with a touch on the overall culture.

To answer the second question: YES.  Our fairy tales, mythical beasts, and culture mythos are a foundation of our culture.  There are symbols within them and lessons to be learned even if they aren’t the same for each person.  Being in the United States, it’s a hard thing to really wrap my head around because there is a national mythos (i.e. Washington cutting down a cherry tree) and a religious/bloodline mythos (i.e. I’m Jewish, so I have the Golem story).  So these two areas mold a person to some extent either to learn lessons or rail against them because one finds them to be nothing more than useless folklore.  Our sense of good/evil, heroes, right/wrong, and other basic foundations of behavior can be shaped by these things. Popular fantasy can fall into this too because it builds off some aspects of fairy tales and mythology and shows characters who are influenced by these stories.