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Top 5 Wednesday – Topics I’d Like to See Explored More in Fantasy

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s a freebie so I ended up making my own prompt: topics I’d like to see explored more in fantasy.

 

1. MENTAL HEALTH

Senua

From Ninja Theory’s game, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

I can’t believe we don’t see mental health explored in fantasy more often. The genre is prime ground for it, especially in high fantasy where things like disease, war, imposed prophecies, and tyrants are commonplace.

I’d like to see princesses cancelling afternoon tea parties at the last minute out of anxiety; captains giving smiles and encouragement to their soldiers during the day and then later breaking down in the privacy of their room; Chosen Ones sobbing and saying, “I can’t do this.”

I know some people say they read fantasy to escape such heavy topics, and that’s a totally fair point. But for me, there’s something about a fantasy setting that helps me face those issues without getting too triggered. And in the case of stories like Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, where the protagonist’s dark thoughts are given physical form, there’s something unbelievably empowering about seeing someone face down their demons with a sword and a snarl.

 

2. PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIPS

inkheart

Mo and Meggie Folchart from Inkheart

I realize the “orphan protagonist” trope is a great way to add angst and loneliness to a character. But you can still get all that and more if the parent is alive, because a parent-child relationship is complex and, potentially, just as anxiety-inducing as being an orphan. You can explore all the ways that parents can be terrible and the ways they can be amazing and everything in between. And all in the complication of a fantasy setting.

“Uh but aren’t, like, 90% of your WIP protagonists orphans–?”

MOVING ON!

 

3. The Fallible Hero

This goes for pretty much all genres, but since fantasy is most often guilty of flaunting powerful, perfect protagonists, I’m adding it to the list.

Essentially, I want to see protagonists who fuck up. And I don’t mean characters who forget to pack their heirloom sword on the eve of a battle, or the ones who accidentally serve garlic bread to a vampire on a first date (there are so many conflicting vampire tropes out there–who knows which ones are actually true?) I want characters to make mistakes that have significant, lasting consequences for both character development and plot–characters who abuse their power, give into a villain’s temptation, or hurl cruel words to a loved one out of anger or jealousy.

Togashi Yoshihiro’s Hunter x Hunter does this brilliantly. It shows time and time again that being a powerful fantasy protagonist doesn’t make you immune to falling; it actually means you crash harder. And why wouldn’t you want to see that explored?

 

4. Intimate Friendships

Frodo and Sam

This is again something I would like to see in all genres, but with fantasy, there’s the added benefit of the phrase, “I will walk to hell and back for you,” being very literal. Romance in fantasy is nice, but nothing gets me going like depictions of friendships that stick a middle finger at our society’s rule book for platonic relationships (“Clasping hands at a perpendicular angle is a-okay for friends, but once you start interlacing those fingers, you’re moving into romantic territory, so watch out! And kissing is a definite no-no.”)

I could go into a rant about the arbitrary lines that society draws for various relationships and how they hinder emotional development and foster fear of intimacy. But I’ll abstain. Just please give us more Frodo and Sam, writers.

 

5. Protagonists With “Feminine” Occupations

I kind of mentioned this in my post about “Strong Female Protagonists.” Like, I love rogues–they’re my second favourite RPG class–but I’m a little tired of seeing female characters in high fantasy trotting about in assassin/thief gear. The same goes for the male characters. I want to read about men who are midwives or nurses and young girls in training to be ladies-in-waiting. Rowenna Miller’s Torn features a female protagonist who happens to be a seamstress, and it annoys me how that’s considered uncommon.

flourish

What are some things you would like to see more of in fantasy? And throw me recommendations for books that feature any of these 5 topics!

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57 comments

Tammy August 15, 2018 - 1:43 pm

This is a great topic, and I agree with your list. If you haven’t read Emma Newman, she deals with different types of mental illness in her Planetfall series.

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 21, 2018 - 2:40 am

I stuck the Planetfall books in my TBR soon after I saw your review for it! 😀

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Carolina @fictionologyst August 15, 2018 - 1:44 pm

This is such an awesome post! I definitely agree with your point number 5, I’m getting tired to see badass woman like assassin!!

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 17, 2018 - 6:07 am

Thank you, Carolina! And everyone seems to be in agreement that we need to see more dress-loving girl protagonists. 😀

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waytoofantasy August 15, 2018 - 2:45 pm

Oh, I love this post and I am with you on each of these 5. I have noticed a bit more of books dealing with mental health issues and trauma especially but we could definitely use more!

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Alex @ Alex Reads and Blogs August 15, 2018 - 3:24 pm

Ok so… what we need is a story about a Stay at Home Mom with post partum depression who has a single, childless best friend that is worried about her deteriorating mental health and introduces her to a secret group of highly powerful witches…. she makes a bad decision inadvertently sacrificing her family to gain power and has to correct it by rescuing her children from some dark magical realm. LOL I think that covers all your 5 topics (Being a stay at home mom counts as an occupation!!!!believe me!!!). Now who do we get to write that?

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 17, 2018 - 6:02 am

……Oh. My. God. *furiously scribbles down idea*
Seriously, I would kill and/or perform blood rituals for this story to be a real thing!!

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Destiny @ Howling Libraries August 15, 2018 - 3:49 pm

Yes to literally all of this! Especially parent-child relationships – I feel like I’m always harping on about how much I wish we saw more present/good/BREATHING parents in YA and/or fantasy, lol. Great list!

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 17, 2018 - 6:03 am

Thank you! And bonus points if the parent stays alive for the whole book/series! 😛

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Nicole Evans August 15, 2018 - 3:50 pm

I really loved this topic you created and definitely agree with you on those!

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PerfectlyTolerable August 15, 2018 - 4:23 pm

Ooooh great choices! I completely agree with parent/child relationships! I loved inkheart!!!! Also I didn’t know I needed more feminine occupations until you listed that!

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 17, 2018 - 5:56 am

I loved how Mo stayed alive to the end of the series and it kills me (no pun intended :P) that that’s a rare thing in fantasy stories!

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acupofcyanide August 15, 2018 - 5:33 pm

I definitely want to see more female characters in feminine occupations. I read Ace Of Shades recently and one of my remarks was that I realized how feminine the female character was and how unusual that was to read.

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 17, 2018 - 5:55 am

Ooh I’d already heard how awesome the worldbuilding and magic system in Ace of Shades is, but now I’m REALLY interested. Thank you!

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Literary Lion August 15, 2018 - 7:05 pm

I agree with all of this.

I love seeing heroes fail, especially if their greatest strength is also sort of their greatest weakness. Family relationships are so overlooked in most media, but especially in fantasy. I don’t mind an orphan hero now and then but I love stories with sibling/parental love.

Most of all though I want more heroes with feminine hobbies. If I see one more heroine who hates dresses because she’s strong I’m going to scream. When we do get them often times they end up being looked down on, like poor Sansa.

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 17, 2018 - 5:50 am

Oh boy, I’ve gotten into many ill-advised debates about Sansa vs Arya with people and I hate that the debate itself is even a thing.

“Especially if their greatest strength is also sort of their greatest weakness” And so much yes to this!!

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Literary Lion August 17, 2018 - 4:41 pm

Sansa is good. Arya is good. There’s not a right way to be strong.

I’m trying to think of a few series where strengths are also weaknesses but the only one I’ve got is Fullmetal Alchemist :/

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 18, 2018 - 4:43 pm

Have you ever read/watched Hunter x Hunter? There’s this one arc that’s specifically dedicated to showing how sometimes heroes can fall (because their strengths become weaknesses!) and the villains find…well, not quite redemption, but humanity. It’s so so brilliant.

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Literary Lion August 19, 2018 - 6:19 pm

I tried because my boyfriend LOVES it but it’s just not my style of anime I guess? You make it sound amazing though so maybe it deserves a second chance.

sjhigbee August 15, 2018 - 8:41 pm

Brilliant article and I heartily agree with all your topics – especially the one about mental health. It is still has such a stigma within society that fiction could help with.

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 17, 2018 - 5:33 am

Yes! And it can be explored it such creative ways with fantasy!

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sjhigbee August 17, 2018 - 9:09 am

Yes! That’s my feeling, too…

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jennifertarheelreader August 15, 2018 - 9:23 pm

Kathy, I love all of these ideas. Every single one. When you said WIP, does that mean YOU have a WIP? Music to my ears! We need more writers who think these particular topics and more are important. ♥️

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 17, 2018 - 5:27 am

That’s so sweet, Jennifer! I have a string of half-finished, quarter-finished, maybe-finished, 1% finished stories haunting me from my harddrive. 😉 I don’t know how all these authors have the self-discipline to finish a full length novel!

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briharmon August 16, 2018 - 12:34 am

I’m with the masses – #5 is what it’s all about. I’d love to see more focus on strong women being WOMANLY. What’s that quote about: “women have spent so much time proving they can do what a man does, that they’ve forgotten what makes them special as a woman”? Something along those lines. I love a badass heroine as much as the next reader but that doesn’t necessary mean they have to be weapon experts or know 5 ways to kill a man with their pinky finger.

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briharmon August 16, 2018 - 12:34 am

Necessarily**

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 17, 2018 - 5:21 am

This is the first time I’ve heard of the quote but now I’m going be using it all the time ’cause that’s spot on. 🙂 And that’s why I love George RR Martin’s female characters–they range from everything from stabby-stab-stab to princessy.

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Norrie August 16, 2018 - 1:48 pm

I haven’t read many fantasy stories, but you are spot on!
I’d think being surrounded by dragons, sword fighting and sorcerers would stress most people out, but they seem pretty chill about it 😀
Characters are usually evil just because… not behaving oddly because of mental illness or something.

And the amount of orphans… omg.

I read The Name of the Wind and really liked it, and I think the main character Kvothe is a good example for character who does screw things up. But then again, he’s like 14 years old, and an orphan… 😀

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 21, 2018 - 2:38 am

Oh yeah, Kvothe’s a complete disaster (and I love him for it lol)! It’s just that he’s all super cocky about it that some people don’t really notice it. 😀

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Rachana August 17, 2018 - 5:35 am

Yes, we definitely need books that explore mental health issues! I agree that it’s empowering to see characters face down their fears and I think it’s also somehow comforting to know that these are issues that everyone struggles with, whether they’re fighting dragons or in the real world.

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 21, 2018 - 2:51 am

Exactly! Just because someone has the power to level mountains, doesn’t mean they’re not also facing some dark internal issues, and seeing characters like that is incredibly validating.

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Ayunda August 17, 2018 - 9:21 am

Bromances, yesss!! Also I adored the Inkheart series, and I absolutely love the relationship between Mo and Meggie. It makes me want to reread the entire series again <3

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 19, 2018 - 5:13 pm

I wish we saw more dad-daughter relationships like theirs in YA! Thanks for stopping by, Ayunda! <3

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Dani @ Perspective of a Writer August 17, 2018 - 9:29 pm

Hahahha, hi Kathy! I didn’t realize Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is a game until I looked it up on goodreads… it sounds amazing! I also would love mental health to be incorporated more into fantasy. And it doesn’t have to be deep and dark things but just like your examples, she characters more as human with contrasts and emotions beyond falling in love and being strong. ❤

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 21, 2018 - 2:56 am

LOL I probably should have specified it was a game in the text! 😛 And you’re absolutely right–just small examples of people struggling can do wonders for the story.

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@lynnsbooks August 17, 2018 - 10:33 pm

Great post – I was like ‘yep, yep, yep, yep and yep. Win.
Lynn 😀

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 21, 2018 - 3:00 am

YAY! *Fist pumps*

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auroralibrialis August 18, 2018 - 5:12 pm

Wonderful post! I’d love to se more of all of these things in fantasy. Especially parent-child relationships and intimate friendships, I’m a sucker for romance but it makes me sad that romantic relationships are often the only ones explored with nuance and depth.

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 21, 2018 - 4:16 am

Thanks, Aurora! <3 I love romance too but I'd definitely like to see a lot more variety of relationships. I feel like there are so many unexplored territories that should, well, be explored. 😛

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notsomoderngirl August 18, 2018 - 6:03 pm

I definitely agree with these points, particularly the way in which characters often are forced to slot into familiar tropes. Particularly strong female leads. Great post 🙂

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Gerry@TheBookNookUK August 19, 2018 - 3:28 pm

I adore this post and agree with everything that you have said. For me I think the fantasy genre is ripe to talk about mental health issues, I mean c’mon… do we really think that after experiencing trolls or orcs or fairies that some people aren’t going to develop PTSD or anxiety?

You (hopefully) know my thoughts on number 5 and women in fiction especially in fantasy fiction!

Again, great post. Love it so much!

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Alyssa Grace August 20, 2018 - 11:29 am

Preach! I agree with all the topics on this list. Definitely love seeing explorations of parent-child relationships and platonic relationships in fantasy, especially YA fantasy which tends to focus on romance. Family dynamics are so underused, you can write such great interactions with them!

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 22, 2018 - 5:38 am

I’ve been seeing more of platonic relationships in YA fantasy this year (or maybe I’ve just been cherry picking them lol), so hopefully we’ll get more of them in the future!

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ashleyinwonderland August 20, 2018 - 10:54 pm

I love this post! I think everything you mentioned is really important, especially number 4. I LOVE reading about deep personal friendships. It’s almost so much more impactful than romantic relationships. Sam and Frodo are the best example of this, I’m glad they got a shoutout! 🙂

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Papertea and Bookflowers August 21, 2018 - 7:22 am

I wholeheartedly agree with everything on your list!! I’m a sucker for great, intimate friendships (especially between boys, I see that so seldom, like they can touch each other, hug etc without being in love!! Just like girls!)
Oh and as much as I love an assassin etc I agree, we need more strong female characters who are very feminine and are in occupations coded as feminine.
(Also I loved the relationship between Meggie and her father!)
And for the first point, that’s why I loved Heir of Fire so much. You could feel Celaenas struggle with depression, self doubt, guilt etc and it helped me so much to read about that in a fantasy setting. Would love to see more of that in books.
Long story short: I agree and great post!! 😁

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 22, 2018 - 5:36 am

Thank you!! And YES to intimate friendship between boys. Seeing more of it would do so much to combat toxic masculinity in society.

And oh wow, I was kind of iffy about picking up Sarah J Maas’ series, but now I’m definitely sticking it in my TBR. I didn’t know it had that kind of mental health rep!

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Papertea and Bookflowers August 30, 2018 - 8:07 pm

Exactly! It is so needed and important.

Yeah, her series isn’t perfect and has a lot of flaws, but she does emotions very well imo. It’s been a while since I read it but I remember relating a lot to Celaenas struggle and it helped me loads. So I’m a bit biased when talking about the series. I barely see that aspect talked about in reviews and I’m always a bit confused by that. Maybe because it’s not explicitly stated? I don’t remember. But it was quite obvious… at least for me.
Well, if you ever pick that series up (the first book is very cliche but it gets better after that) I hope you enjoy reading it ☺️

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Susy's Cozy World August 21, 2018 - 2:41 pm

That’s a great post and I agree with you on all of them! 🙂 Also, in fantasy I’d love to see more magical creatures who are original and not taken from the folklore (or, at least, some not so known creatures from folklore) 🙂

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 27, 2018 - 12:19 am

OOOH that’s a great one!! And I just realized we really don’t see that in fantasy often–the creatures are always from some pre-existing myth. I definitely want to see more authors get creative and wild. 😀

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Alice August 27, 2018 - 9:48 am

this is such a good topic and i agree 100% with your answers!!

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Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky August 29, 2018 - 2:53 am

Thank you, Alice!! And thanks for dropping by! <3

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snowlyramble September 11, 2018 - 1:04 pm

Oh wow, this is a fabulous post! It’s definitely got me thinking, 🙂

I think all your ideas are amazing! It’s not 100% to do with mental health, but I would love to see Chosen Ones be more vulnerable, especially where they put on an act, and suddenly break down when they’re alone (but maybe I’m a bit sadistic to the poor protagonists. I feel like some anime/manga does this particular emotion very well, but it would be great if this (and more mental health in general) was incorporated more into fantasy!

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Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky September 19, 2018 - 1:03 am

Aww thank you so much! And YES, there are so many aspects of anime storytelling that I’d love to see more of in western media, and the vulnerable Chosen One is definitely one of them. Madoka Magica is the first example that comes to mind! And I LOVE being sadistic towards protagonists. 😀

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