There was an interesting convo in the comments of the last post about how a writer’s background impacts writing — specifically re epic fantasy, but by extension pretty much everything. Foz Meadows summed it up best, I think:
Prior to doing this, I might never have stopped to consider whether a white author’s race were impacting their storytelling, but the more I read, the more relevant a question it becomes: not because there’s some obvious stylistic contrast between white and POC authors or anything like that, but because there’s something meaningful in asking why we authors choose to tell the stories we do – at the very least, we’ve cared enough to write them, and some of the reason why must necessarily be connected to who *we* are – and the more widely I read in terms of authors, the more diffuse and interesting those whys start to seem.
Emphasis mine. Anyway, I thought about this again thanks to playlist coincidence. For various reasons yesterday I was briefly stuck listening to a Totally Eighties! radio station — yes, I know, thanks for your concern, I’m okay really — and by chance this song came on, immediately followed by this song. OK, it probably wasn’t chance; either some playlist-assembler somewhere was having fun, or the playlist was put together by keyword. Anyway, then it hit me: A white woman yearns for heroes; a black woman says no thanks. (With the added nuance of the black woman saying it to Mel Gibson, figuratively, who’s since let his bigot flag fly.) I couldn’t help applying Foz’s analysis here, and wondering what each woman’s background — not just racial; consider Turner’s history as an abuse survivor, and also Tyler’s childhood as the daughter of a Welsh coal miner — contributed to these songs. More specifically, I wondered what those backgrounds contrib’d to why they chose these songs. It makes perfect sense to me that a black woman, given the usual patterns of racism and sexism in this country, would sing about the unreliability of heroes and the need to look elsewhere for rescue… but then, it also makes seems to me that another woman who grew up literally dirt-poor in a society with its own history of oppression would sing that same song. Instead Tyler chose the opposite.
‘Course, that’s the problem with trying to understand an individual choice in the context of broad cultural assumptions: you can’t. Backgrounds matter, but people are not their backgrounds. Gonna paraphrase Nahadoth here: we are certainly what our pasts and societies have made us, but the future is ours to create.
Anyway, then I thought about fantasy, and binaries — but not the Christian good/evil binary of Tolkienesque fantasy, which we discussed in the last post. I started thinking in terms of “we need a hero” fantasy versus “we don’t need another hero” fantasy. The pro-heroic stuff is easy to find; it calls itself heroic, for one thing, and it’s been around for quite some time (note that HFQ hopes to “hearken an older age of storytelling”). But there’s been a lot of attention paid lately to a newer, “gritty” sort of fantasy, a la Joe Abercrombie and Brent Weeks, both of whose works seem to start with the presumption that there are no heroes and roll from there. There’s been some discussion already about what all this gritty stuff means, and whether it’s just the latest iteration of sword and sorcery or something actually new. But I haven’t seen much discussion about why it’s so popular, and why so many readers seem to love it. I suspect a generational difference at work. The gritty writers I’ve met all tend to be my age or so — Gen X, supposedly a generation of ex-latchkey-kids who view the future with a distinct cynicism. I also suspect the biggest fans of gritty fantasy are in this age range or younger, too, though I have no empirical proof to support this belief. If it’s true, though, I wonder whether attitudes like this are the “why” behind gritty fans’ embrace of the “we don’t need another hero” theme. (Again, let’s try not to apply the broad brush too thickly: I’ve met two of the guys behind Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, and they’re my age or younger too.)
So anyway, here’s your question for the day. “We need a hero” fantasy vs. “We don’t need another hero” fantasy — which is your preference? Or do you like both — and if so, are there times/situations in which you prefer one over the other? And why do you like one or the other, if you do?