“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
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
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–?”
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
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.
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!