I find this Brandon Sanderson quote from Shaken and Stirred’s Thursday Hangovers somewhat fascinating, about “how SFF YA might have influenced epic or high fantasy”:
“I think it made the genre better. I think we’ve had to look at our sluggish beginnings in epic, and realize that two hundred pages of wandering around a castle before conflict appears may not be the best way to begin a story. We’ve had to become more creative in our worldbuilding, partially (I think) to compete with the elegance of YA competition. Probably, most epic authors don’t even think about this, though I bet many of them have read Potter and the others. You can’t help but react to, incorporate, and learn from what you read.”
Just a few thoughts based on this quote that I’d like to throw out there for comment. I’m not wedded to them, but they’re a starting point for further discussion, I think….
(1) The bloated qualities of Harry Potter starting around book four shouldn’t be a blueprint for anyone. The good qualities of the first three have as much to do with following classic tropes of traditional Agatha Christie mysteries as any fantasy element, YA or otherwise.
(2) “Two hundred pages of wandering around a castle before conflict appears” would be a damn good description of a fantasy masterpiece: the first book of the Gormenghast trilogy. It could also describe the best parts of Stephenson’s Anathem–sections in which not much happens in a conventional plot sense but those sections are still fascinating, alive, and interesting. You want to read more.
(3) Epic fantasy has cast off its echoes of Tolkien and its wholesale commercialization by getting grimmer and more adult and complex. Which has, paradoxically, worked just fine in the marketplace. (See: Joe Abercrombie and a host of others.) Although YA can be grim and deal with adult themes, I don’t see much influence of specific YA authors on the best epic fantasy.
(4) I don’t buy that there is a separate “elegance” to YA world-building. As always, there are individual authors in every genre or publisher category who do things well, including world-building (should we need to separate out this element at all). This monolithic approach to ascribing influence or derivation doesn’t truly identify source.
(5) He’s more useful when he cites Pullman and His Dark Materials later in the blog entry. That’s a legitimate, brilliant example of a good source for influence. However, the qualities of that book when it comes to world-building–good but not amazing–are not, for me, the highlights. The importance of His Dark Materials is primarily that it features an extraordinary female lead character. Without that, none of the rest (except my fondness for the bears) really works in the sense of being classic. This is perhaps the hazard of talking about worldbuilding separate from other elements. In other words, the main character in HDM makes the “worldbuilding” come alive.
(6) I’d argue there’s no real “progress” in literature–i.e., we are not making better machines now. We are making different machines. Some of which will stand the test of time and some of which won’t, just like in any era. So the idea of something being made better seems odd to me. An infusion of new ideas creates different kinds of hybrids, some of which survive and thrive through this cross-pollination. But this doesn’t necessarily make them better than what went before, in the context of what becomes classic. (Acknowledging that some classics do over time become unreadable.)
Agree? Disagree? Why?