Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Modernizing Language in modern Fantasy

Let me start by saying that throughout this post, when I say, "modern fantasy" I'm talking about fantasy stories written after the year 2000.

So I picked up a novel at the book store the other day, read all the way through the first chapter and about half way through the second.  I really liked it: the characters and story were both VERY engaging and enough questions were posed that I wanted to know the answers.  But something kept me from wanting to read more: the language.  It felt stiff and archaic.  Not so much the word choices as the patterns of speech.  I didn't find it difficult to understand or annoying, but at the same time I couldn't find a "rhythm" that truly pulled me into the narrative.  As far as I could tell, everything was grammatically correct, just an older style of speech that forced me to concentrate too much on the actual sentence and distracting me from the story overall.

I'm going to go back to the book at some point because I had a pretty bad headache at the time.  I'm sure that influenced my decision not to buy the book, and I REALLY want to know what happens next, but it got me thinking:

How important is it to have older speech styles and patterns in fantasy?  Never mind urban fantasy, I'm talking about the classic settings.  Should the archaic styles be prevalent?  Should only a few characters use those styles?  Should those characters be major or minor characters?

Personally, I'd like to see more fantasy move forward with language.  I'm not saying a modern dialect should show up in the pages.  In fact, I hope that never happens.  But I love finding authors who use language in a way that is setting appropriate without making me, the reader, feel as though I'm trying to listen to an English professor from the 1880's.

That's my thought.  What do all of you think?  I'd love to hear other opinions AND suggestions for great fantasy novels!  I'm looking for a good book to read.

Also, go enter my contest!


  1. Not sure if you've heard of this author, but Will Greenway writes some pretty good fantasy. There are some sci-fi elements involved in his stories but he's got several to choose from, like Reality's Plaything.

    As for language, well, with fantasy, I think my suspension of disbelief is set to auto-pilot. I have the expectation of something different, something other-ly. So I'm expecting the language to be different as well. I only have a problem if each page is filled with so much unknown made up language that I'm stuck in the index trying to translate it.

  2. It definitely takes me more energy to read books that are written with an older form of speech/vernacular. It can work well, with certain books, but others it seems that they're only writing that way because somewhere they figured that was the "standard" for fantasy. I think that's what bothers me about it--the language should fit with the story, and when it's forced in some way to fit in with a mode of speech that it doesn't naturally work with, then it's harder to read and enjoy. My $0.02 at least :)

  3. I think you said it best. It would be great if that archaic language could change just enough to make it more reader friendly without resorting to Valley Girl colloquialisms.