Postmodern fantasy is a genre that can be complicated and difficult to understand. There are many small nuances and particular quirks that make it a very interesting genre, but one that is hard for many readers.
Because of the great depth of postmodernism, it is difficult to define it in a clear and concise way. The best way to understand postmodernism is to dive into it and begin reading. However, this article should give you a good starting point to help you understand what postmodern fantasy is and how to identify it.
Postmodernism as a concept is a rejection of modernism and a rejection of the idea that there is certainty of knowledge or truth. It came about in the mid-twentieth century and has remained popular since. Postmodernism is essentially a deconstruction of the things we know.
If you are confused, don’t worry, you are not alone. Postmodernism is not an easy concept to understand. It is defined by skepticism and it opposes certainty.
Brandon Sanderson wrote that postmodernism is, “when you point out that a story is relyin’ on the same thing it’s denyin’.” This may be an oversimplification of the movement, but it is a good starting point.
Of course, postmodernism as a movement is beyond the scope of this article, so we will focus on postmodern literature. Postmodern literature itself is highly ironic. It plays on the existing tropes and traits of a genre and, essentially, mocks them. This is the deconstruction of a genre.
The irony of postmodern literature is that the success of a postmodern novel is completely reliant on the tropes and traits that it is mocking. Without the success of other genres, postmodern literature wouldn’t have anything to mock.
The deconstruction of the fantasy genre is generally considered to have begun with the publication of The Lord of the Rings. Obviously, this series is incredibly popular and successful, so it makes sense that the deconstruction of the genre would begin here. Tolkien essentially created many of the tropes that we expect in a high fantasy novel. He is a pioneer of the genre, without a doubt.
As soon as Tolkien’s books gained popularity, the deconstruction began. Countless fantasy authors cite Tolkien as being a source of inspiration for their writing. And some of these authors weave postmodern concepts into their writing.
Authors since Tolkien are on a mission to take the genre a step further. They want to do the next big thing and become the next Tolkien. This has led to the creation of plenty of amazing works of fantasy, as well as many postmodern fantasies.
Authors of postmodern fantasy novels are aware of the tropes and common elements of fantasy. They then over exaggerate these elements and make them dramatic and often comedic. Parody is very common in the postmodern genre.
Postmodern literature is much more nuanced and complicated than what I have described, but hopefully, it gives you a good understanding of the general idea of the genre. After reading a few postmodern fantasy novels, your understanding will certainly grow and become much deeper.
Examples of Postmodern Fantasy
As we know, postmodern fantasy is hard to define. Many people argue about the true definition of postmodernism, so finding a novel that most agree is postmodern fantasy is almost impossible to do. That said, I’ll do my best to provide a couple of examples of books that many consider postmodern.
Regardless of whether you agree with the categorization of the following examples as true postmodern fantasy, these books are still great to consider reading!
Discworld is a comic fantasy series (not to be confused with fantasy comics) by Terry Pratchett. There are 41 novels in the series, and they continue to remain popular with readers around the world. This series is generally accepted as an example of postmodern fantasy, though some also categorize it as science fiction and parody.
This series takes place on a flat planet that balances on the backs of four elephants. And these elephants are standing on the back of a giant turtle. Before opening the first book, the reader already knows that comedy and postmodernism are going to be at the forefront of the series.
Throughout the series, many fantastic creatures make an appearance. Some of these creatures include witches and wizards, ghosts, and vampires. This series is largely satirical, so it exaggerates the common fantasy tropes that we see throughout the genre.
If you are looking to dive head-first into the world of postmodern fantasy, Discworld is a good place to start. Throughout its 41 novels, you will encounter many elements of postmodernism and fantasy in a way that will hopefully keep you engaged and laughing. It deconstructs most of what we know about the fantasy genre.
House of Leaves
House of Leaves is a 2000 novel by author Mark Z. Danielewski, and it is generally accepted as a postmodern fantasy novel. This novel is many things; complicated, satirical, and interesting to name a few. Some of the unique features of this novel are the way the print is laid out on the page. It is not just a solid wall of text like you would expect in most novels. There are pages with just one or two words, text that requires turning the book to read, and pictures.
There are large amounts of footnotes in this novel, and the footnotes often reference other footnotes. It is an endless cycle of finding the footnote you are looking for and getting lost along the way. Danielewski has stated that the novel is a satirical take on the traditional academic novel, which is definitely apparent throughout.
The main premise of this novel is a documentary about a home that is larger on the inside than it is on the outside. This is where the novel becomes a postmodern fantasy. There is clearly magic or something supernatural happening for a house to be bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Other readers may categorize this novel as horror or romance, but I think a case could be made for placing it in the fantasy genre.
Postmodern Fantasy: Conclusion
I hope this article has helped you better understand this unique genre!
And if you want to read more about fantasy subgenres on this blog, check out:
Lastly, if you have more questions about this or another fiction literature-related topic, feel free to leave a message in the comments below!