I’m on vacation from work this week, trying to Do Stuff Around The House, so here… have a rare (possibly my very first) GUEST POST for my blog! The amazing Australian writer Tansy Rayner Roberts is doing a blog tour to promote the worldwide Kindle release of her award-winning Creature Court trilogy.
WHAT EPIC FANTASY COULD LEARN FROM BATMAN, by Tansy Rayner Roberts
I like to write stories set indoors, about people who don’t travel much. You would think this was a bit of a problem when it comes to writing epic fantasy, which is all about sturdy shoes, long horse rides in the bracken and maps, right?
Well, no, not necessarily. I like to think that a fantasy story can be epic while staying in the one place. You can still have massive, world-changing stakes, and Huge Drama within, say, a single city.
After all, superheroes do it.
Gotham City is the perfect example of a setting for epic stories which don’t move about much. In fact, many superheroes have a city of Epic Proportions, even if for many of them that city is New York. But Gotham is perhaps the best example simply because the city has itself taken on such heroic and dastardly traditions over the years.
Everything happens in cities. Some of the best sieges, invasions, tragic love stories and disasters have occurred in urban environments, going right back to the Trojan War. The only reason that fantasy writers generally get hung up about all that mountain trekking is because of being imprinted with Tolkien at an early age. And I’m not saying that wading through all the bracken with your questing party of dwarves is an invalid approach…
But CITIES. Where you can have your crazy magical invasions, your prophets of doom, your dark lords and battles and deadly, world-coming-to-an-end high stakes, and still be able to order dumplings at 2 in the morning.
I’ve been reading the first volume of the newly released everything-and-the-kitchen-sink edition of Batman: No Man’s Land, and right there is the perfect example of how you can write a huge, epic storyline that doesn’t move from your back doorstep. Gotham City has suffered earthquakes and political upheaval, and it gets to the point of no return… quite literally. The US government evacuates the city, and blows the bridges, declaring Gotham a No Man’s Land.
But of course, not everyone can afford to leave, not everyone accepts the rules, and by the way, when the chap in charge of Arkham Asylum evacuated, he thought it might be a good idea to open the doors and let the super villains out on the streets instead of, you know, EVACUATING THEM TOO.
The story is imperfect, it has parts I don’t like. The levels of grim, humourless violence are sometimes hard to take. But I’m sold on it, not because of the epic scale of the disaster and the plot, but because of the small human stories that take place because of that epic storyline.
I’m interested in the gender issues raised by the new Batgirl who manages with a straight face to convince a bunch of street thugs that actually the Bat was always a girl, it’s just that none of “his” victims ever confessed who had really beaten them. I’m interested in Barbara Gordon’s wheelchair-using Oracle, and how the lack of technology in the city (not to mention the rubble in the streets) makes her feel her disability in ways that her wealth and privilege had previously shielded her from.
I’m interested in the portrayal of ordinary people and their devastated lives, and how graffiti can be a code and a lifeline and a survival mechanism.
It occurs to me that yes, you can tell epic, massive, world changing stories in a single location, especially when there are plenty of people living there with something to lose. But if you do this, you also have the opportunity to tell the story of the people that epic fantasy rarely looks at: the families defending their homes, the priests protecting their congregations, the children trying to survive, the everyday lunacy of keeping your head above water when there’s a war on your doorstep.
And maybe it’s this that epic fantasy could most benefit from including, regardless of where the stories are set, or whether the heroes have to pack their trudging boots. You can tell a huge story without necessarily only shining a light on the path of the Lone Hero and His Mates.
We’ve had epic fantasy stories for a very long time. Maybe we’re due a look at how those epic events affect the more ordinary people…
This post was written by Tansy Rayner Roberts for her Flappers with Swords Blog Tour.
Tansy’s award-winning Creature Court trilogy: Power and Majesty, The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts, featuring flappers with swords, shape changers, half-naked men and bloodthirsty court politics, have been released worldwide on the Kindle, and should be available soon across other e-book platforms. If you prefer your books solid and papery, they can also be found in all good Australian and New Zealand bookshops.
You can also check out Tansy’s work through the Hugo-nominated crunchy feminist science fiction podcast Galactic Suburbia, Tansy’s short story collection Love and Romanpunk (Twelfth Planet Press). You can find her on the internet at her blog, or on Twitter as @tansyrr.
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I’d never thought of No Man’s Land through the lens of Epic Fantasy before. Certainly it has preferable stakes – the intimate attachment to this island rather than the amorphous country or planet – but it follows many of the conventions, right down to remixing some brilliant villains and plugging them into different vulnerabilities. I completely agree with you on the story’s brilliance; it’s my favorite comic in many years. Fantasy-proper could use more Oracles.
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