Thoughtful Thursday: What’s Your Biggest Fantasy Sin?

Welcome to a new weekly column!

Thoughtful Thursday is dedicated to getting all of our readers talking. Each week I (that’s Ruth) will pose a question for all of us to discuss together, so pull up your favorite chair, get your beverage of choice, and join us for a little fireside chat each week. Remember, we’re all real people behind the screens, so while we may disagree with each other, we don’t need to be disagreeable.

If you have a topic you’d like to discuss, please contact me with the subject “Thoughtful.”

For this firWizard of Earthseast week, I’d like to start off with a light topic: sin. No, not murder or covetousness or anything like that; I want you to fess up to your biggest fantasy literature sin. What is your secret vice? Do you break the spines on paperbacks? Do you dog-ear pages in library books? Do you think Tolkien was a hack?

I’ll start out by confessing my sin: I don’t like Ursula Le Guin. When I admitted this to the other reviewers at Fantasy Literature, a few virtual shoes were lobbed in my direction, as she is widely considered a Mistress of the Genre, but I just don’t like reading Le Guin. While I understand why she is considered good, I just feel like she takes forever to get anywhere. When I read A Wizard of Earthsea, I yelled out, “Stop rowing the boat!”

It’s your turn now to confess: What is your fantasy literature sin?


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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. Robert /

    I’m sure I’ll get a lot of ridicule over this, but I like Terry Goodkind. A lot. In fact, I feel that Wizard’s First Rule and Stone of Tears are two of the best fantasy novels I’ve read. Ever. True, the series has gone downhill from there and the author hasn’t done any favors for himself with his comments, attitude and whatnot, but from a purely reading standpoint, I like Terry Goodkind. So there it is. My big ‘sin’. At least for a fantasy reader. And yes, I do plan on reading the new Terry Goodkind book, The Law of Nines. I may even buy a copy ;)

  2. Do you think Tolkien was a hack? —I’m dying a little inside that you could even mention this.

    j/k…sort of

  3. I like Terry Goodkind as well and I really liked the first two books in the series…the latest book was sort of a drag but I still read it

  4. I don’t think Tolkien was a hack. The Hobbit is an amazing children’s book, and was designed to be read aloud. There is such a cadence to his writing that it is lovely to listen to. As opposed to Harry Potter, which really struggles as an audio text. I will admit that I’ve never finished Lord of the Rings, though. It’s really good, but I can never get past Tom Bombadil. :D

  5. No, I know it was just to prompt discussion. :)

    I advocate that you pick up Lord of the Rings again, though, because you’re just missing so much!

  6. Well, Ruth, I’m going to the same Fantasy Hell as you are, because I finally tried to read LeGuin this year and found it beautifully written in terms of diction, yet somehow dry.

    I had a friend tell me a while back that I was committing a fantasy “sin” by not wanting to see the Eragon movie. His theory was that I should watch it in order to support the genre in general. My theory was that fantasy is big enough now that I don’t have to hold all of it up by myself. ;)

    My other sin is that there are umpteen “classic” books, both in fantasy and in literature in general, that I’ve always meant to read yet somehow never get around to. I have read LOTR, but I didn’t read it till I was about 22, when for many readers it was a preteen rite of passage. And like I said above, it took me till this year to read LeGuin, and what I read wasn’t her classic series but her historical fiction.

  7. We may be going to hell, but at least we’ll have good company! :D

    That is a great way of describing Le Guin, beautifully written, but dry. And I didn’t feel any compulsion to watch the Eragon movie either. I’m still trying to figure out how to get back the two hours of my life I wasted watching the Dungeons and Dragons movie. In the theater. :P

  8. Robert, I loved the first few Goodkind books, as I mention in my review. But, the series took a complete nosedive and that’s what’s made me mad. He dragged it out, made me pay $25 a pop for his hardbacks and then preached at me ad nauseam. I can’t forgive that.

  9. Kat, a lot of people I’ve talked to lately feel the same way about Goodkind. Those first books were so good and then the preaching just got too much to handle

  10. I think my fantasy sin is that I will not try new authors until they’ve been “approved” by others. I may miss some good ones this way, and I’m unlikely to “discover” anyone, but because my reading time is so limited, I don’t want to waste it on an unknown.

  11. Okay, prepare to open fire, guys:

    While I don’t think Tolkien is a “hack”, I also don’t think he’s a very good storyteller. His books feel, to me, like reading in isometric view. For you non-gamers out there, this means basically about three quarters above and three quarters to the side of the action, rather than right in the middle of it. With the exception of a few scattered scenes, I feel no connection with his characters at all, and the utter lack of tension in the books drives me up a wall.

    I have other issues too, but I’m not sure how much lynching I’m up for. :) Simply put: When we were reading Tolkien in my fantasy literature class, I could never shake the feeling that Tolkien the Storyteller was at constant war with Tolkien the Scholar–and Tolkien the Scholar won out more often than not.

  12. Also: I don’t really see why this should be considered a “sin”. No author has ever been or ever will be universally loved.

  13. But the word “sin” is more provocative. Also, perhaps Ruth has some issues…

  14. I think I’ve been reading too much medieval political theory. Sin was big back then. :) Or, maybe I just have issues. :D

    And yes, sin is more provocative than other words. I was considering using secret, but then was fearing what kind of googlers we would get with “fantasy secret” as a search term.

  15. I’m sure I’m guilty of a lot of “fantasy sins”. The first one that comes to mind is Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn. It seems like everyone thinks its one of the greatest, but to me, it two-diminsional and down-right cheesy.

    When so many seem to love a book and I don’t, it always makes me wonder what the heck am I missing?

    I just thought of another one, Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy; It was very well written and, at least for it, I can understand why so many people like it, but to me, it was just depressing, and a little too far-out at the end of the 3rd book.

  16. Well other than Earthsea which is not ULG’s best work, I think of her as a SciFi mistress.

    I like Goodkind, have read Tolkien at least 26 times and even like SHannara (big sin I know), but think Robert Jordan is the worst fantasy author who’s made it.

    Another ‘sin’ is that I consider Star Wars HARD SciFi!! ⁂ [QED]

    My final sin is reading white test on a dark background – hard on these aging eyes (actually that is YOUR sin)

  17. Robert /

    Well when I first started FBC, one of the things that most surprised me was how much hate and ridicule fantasy-related blogs directed towards Goodkind. In fact, it almost seemed like the ‘cool’ thing to do. And apart from David Craddock who occasionally reviewed for me, I never heard anyone actually admit that they still read or liked the author. So that’s why I considered it my ‘sin’.

    Kat, I always bought Goodkind’s new book hoping that it would return to his earlier magic. And while that never happened, there were some really special moments along the way. I still need to read the last one though…

  18. My sin: I keep buying D&D and Star Wars novels. Not because they’re any good (although some of them are at least entertaining) but because they’re exactly the sort of thing I’d like to read if they _were_ any good.

  19. Robert /

    Hmm, good leadoff question. I suppose mine would be that, every so often, I’ll pick up a novel based on a Dungeons & Dragons world, just to have the junk/comfort food of a fast-paced, action-heavy yarn, even though the characters, dialogue, etc. are almost always cringe-worthy. I also think that, while LOTR is not overrated and Tolkien is most certainly not a hack, its pacing just doesn’t allow it to engage me the way so many other books do. Oh yeah, I also think fantasy literature shouldn’t get an exemption from providing enlightenment as well as entertainment; and I’m hard-pressed to give a book 5 stars if it doesn’t have a purpose beyond entertaining. (And no, I wouldn’t give any D&D-based novels 5 stars, which is why I only pick them up rarely.)

  20. I know exactly what you mean Joe and Robert. I miss the old school sword & sorcery type fantasy. Its like reading pop-corn. I think stuff like the D&D books have that same kinda draw.
    Either of you ever try any of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K books? There’s boo-coos of them and it takes a lot of wading through to find good ones, but they do have some that are really enjoyable.

  21. Don’t feel bad, Greg. I share those sins. Except I haven’t read Mistborn because I read the blurb on the back and thought it sounded awfully familiar, so I put it back down.

    And the end of the Farseer Trilogy offended my writer sensibilities. So you’re not alone. We can do Hail Marys together.

    (Hail Tolkiens? Hail Lewises? What would be the appropriate way to repent a fantasy sin, anyway?)

  22. I repented my sins by increasing the font size on the blog. Kernos, is it it fine?

  23. Hey I got one; I know I can’t be the only one who bought a book just for the cover?
    I got the Dragonlance Chronicles Gift Box because of the beautiful tree-top villiage wrap-around on the box.. It was an OK read, one I’d like more when I was a kid, but if it hadn’t been for the covers, I probably wouldn’t have bought ’em.

  24. And here I was wondering what button my kid had pushed to change the font size on the blog.

    I think I have broken my habit of buying books based on the cover art. Though I must admit a well designed cover will make me pick up a book off the shelf. And I can spot a Jody A Lee cover at twenty paces.

  25. I can definitely still be tricked by a nice cover…. Midwinter comes to mind….

  26. Ooooh, that is a pretty cover. I probably would have picked that up off the shelf as well.

  27. I am hopelessly tricked by nice covers! And I know it, but it still doesn’t stop me from buying the book.
    I’m not sure if it’s a “sin” but I if I like one book by an author, I will go out and buy everything they’ve ever done and every new book of theirs that comes out – I’ll buy that too. Even if none of the books are ever as good as that first one, I still buy and read them because I can’t help thinking “what if…”
    I also can’t stop reading the book…even if it’s bad or really bad, I just have to keep reading because what if it get’s better? I just can’t set a book down and not finish. I might think about it and I might complain about it later and think I should have just put it down, but when I’m in the middle of the book I have a hard time putting it down.

  28. I also can’t stop reading the book…even if it’s bad

    I have overcome that one in the past couple of years. I am proud to say that I can be a quitter!

  29. Now that I’ve thought about it. I think the cover illustrations is one of the things that got me started reading fantasy. I still remember the first time I went in a bookstore. It was a B. Dalton Bookseller in a mall and I was with my mom. I was a huge fan of comics and it I was drawn right to the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section because of the cover illustrations.

  30. rebecca /

    Hi guys,

    My “sin” is that…I hate epic fantasy. I go to the bookstore and I see hundreds of books that are about the size of bricks, and I just “know” that they’re all about the same thing. There’s evil in the land, and a stalwart band of heroes, and mystical old wizards talking about destiny, and a fiesty love interest, and grumpy dwarfs and snobbish elves…there’s never anything that Tolkien didn’t do first, and better.

    Plus the story itself takes place over at least twelve books, so that it takes at years to get the complete story (and even then, there’s a chance that it’s so bloated that the author will actually die before ever finishing their work).

    I think that’s why I stick with YA fantasy: because the authors know that their audience expect a beginning, middle and an end (perhaps with a little bit of room for a sequel), knowing that they won’t be 90 years old before they get to the end of the story. It might make me sound impatient, for wanting to get to the end of a story quicker, but I can appreciate style and pacing…just not when it’s describing the way the sunlight gleams on golden stitching, or the way a blade of grass bends in the wind, or the fact that moss apparently feels just like mouse fur (thanks, Christopher Paolini).

    In short, “epic fantasy” is just not my cup of tea, and it actually feels like a sin because within the genre of fantasy, the “Tolkien-prototype” probably considered the highest and most important form of fantasy literature. But to me, it’s all the same thing. I’d rather re-read “The Chronicles of Prydain” – it’s epic fantasy, only shorter.

  31. Hi all –

    My sins are many and very embarrassing. The first is that I am male and like Urban Fantasy. Most of my friends give me lots of crap for that.
    My other sin is that I can’t stand books that are preachy. I don’t care if I agree with the authors moral standpoint, don’t put it in my Fantasy Literature. I know that we are all supposed to look for great moral statements in books about acceptance and kindness and diversity and and and and…..not for me. I want the books fun, dramatic, whatever, just don’t throw in an underlying theme to try and help me understand. Modesitt, who is another of my sins, is just horrible with all his eco-friendly, gender-reversal dogma. I don’t want it in my Fantasy Literature.

  32. Sarah /

    I will buy multiple copies of my favorite books just so I have the different artwork of the covers and hardback and paper copies. I have 3 copies of Blue Sword, at least 3 of Sorcery and Cecelia, I can’t tell you how many sets of the Narnia books, and various incarnations of The Time Quartet. And just so it doesn’t look like I only do this with YA books, I have at least 5 different versions of Dune.

  33. I like Dragonlance — the original Chronicles. I read the Legends too, but I didn’t like it enough to reread it. (Caramon a drunk? Come on!) I haven’t liked much else that Weis and Hickman have collaborated upon.

    And yeah, the first two Goodkind novels weren’t bad, even if they were a bit heavy on the s&m for my taste. After book 2, however, I decided that if you’ve read one Goodkind novel, you’ve read them all.

    My other sin — I rarely read short fiction. I do enjoy short fiction, but I think too many short fiction magazines are too busy publishing stories with the objective of winning awards rather than to simply entertain. Give me a rollicking adventure, not something that you think will make me think. I am quite capable of thinking on my own, thank you very much.

  34. I’m right there with both John and Rebecca–I hate preachiness with a violent passion, and I have little to no interest in endless series. (I give GRRM a special dispensation here just because I’m addicted, and I give Jacqueline Carey a pass because she actually ends each trilogy even if she does write again in the same universe.)

    Yeah, if I read a cover blurb in the store and it’s “O’verly Hy’phen’ated Under’dog is the only one who can journey to Mount-Doom-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off and defeat the Dark Lord,” back on the shelf it goes.

    I adored the Chronicles of Prydain, Rebecca! And I didn’t even read that series till I was in my twenties.

  35. rebecca /

    I could gush forever about the Chronicles of Prydain – actually, that’s another sin that I share with Sarah. I had various copies of the Prydain books with different cover art (in a sort of mish-mashed collection). But the very latest publication has cover-art by David Wyatt – one of my favourite illustrators: he’s also done cover-art for Philip Reeves and Alan Garner – and I just HAD to get the whole set, even if it meant doubling up on books I already had (though I just gave those ones away!) So now I have a complete, matching set of Prydain on my shelf…and it looks great!

  36. Preachiness isn’t good…but I also can’t stand books that are like that line from the song Runaround by Blues Traveler. The one that goes “…like a bad play where the heroes are right/And nobody thinks or expects too much”. Books that never challenge our views at all, never make us think at all, are just as bad as books that get up on a soapbox and try to shove their point of view down our throats.

    Here’s one: I have no patience whatsoever with book blurbs lately. I dunno, is it just me? They all seem to spend a paragraph or so going “Whateverania is the land where blah-blah-blah, full of blah-blah-blah. Threatened by the evil horde of Noonereallycares, they blah-blah-blah and blah-blah-blah”, etc. etc. etc. And then eventually they bother to tell you what the story is about. Fantasy books just aren’t hooking me in very well these days, in terms of blurbs.

  37. I’m another one who will buy favorite books with different artwork just because it is so pretty. I get this honestly though, because my sister is the same way. For Christmas she specified the version of the Narnia books she wanted based on the cover art, not withstanding that she owns several editions already.

  38. liam nolosco /

    I probably have a couple of fantasy sins. I don’t like Robert Jordan. He
    seems to have some good ideas, but his dialogue is terrible, as is his
    pacing. Rand Al’thor is also a fairly bland character.
    I don’t like Terry Goodkind either. I think he should have stopped after
    book one and worked on something else. The first book had merit, everything else was downhill after that. It’s also fairly obvious where he borrowed a lot of his ideas from.

  39. The cover art sins made me laugh! I really pay attention to the art, but I didn’t know that people collected multiple editions because of it! That’s enlightening!

    John, the thought of you carrying around those books makes me laugh, too. (For those of you who don’t know, John is an army sergeant!)

  40. Sarah /

    I really hate it when they change artists in the middle of a series though. I like having matched sets of books. There are times when I will replace a book or set when a cover I like better comes out. It was interesting to see how many different covers there have been for the Prydain series.

  41. MommaJ /

    I am going to go on the Terry Goodkind books. I like the Sword of Truth series, or at least the idea and premise.. but.. here’s the but.. he word pads. A lot of word padding. There isn’t any need and The Wizard’s First Rule could have been cut by at least 100 pages and not hurt a bit.

    I am going to have to admit… I think the reason I started reading Fantasy literature was the cover art. Of course, the stories were the line and sinker but damn those covers are AWESOME and those are the hook.

  42. Tammy Moshar Moshar /

    ok…well,my sin is the worst ever. I cannot believe that I actually did this, but, and I would cerrtainly never mentioni to anyone that I’d like to think well of me. ok. I’d better just say it and be done with it.
    last year, when there was this whole fuss over the twilight books, I got really interested and bought the first book. At that time I was reading A Clash of Kings By George RR Martin. When I brought the book home i briefly scetchedthrough them, and started even reading a couple of the first pages. that inocent checking out turned into reading the whole series (!!!!) of all four books, IN MIDDLE OF A CLASH OF KINGS!!!!!! I cannot believe I actually did that!!! now i hate twilight!

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