Opinion: Why Do Fantasy Authors Screw Up Their Own Work?
It’s not a new concept these days. Authors of popular books have notoriously been bad at maintaining either the consistent quality of the books or ruining their personal reputations. Granted, this is not always the case among authors, but it has become more frequent of late.
But why? What is it about these popular fantasy series and trilogies that seem to ignite nothing but issues between fans and the authors? There’s definitely a lot of reasons as to why, so we’re going to examine different examples of this. From mob mentality to individual issues, let’s dive right into it.
Waiting Too Long, And Paying the Price
George R.R. Martin a name that is both synonymous with Fantasy at it’s very best, and a name that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Known the world around for his excellent Dark Fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. Better known to casual audiences for its pop culture phenomenon show, Game of Thrones.
A Song of Ice and Fire became a sensation over the course of the last twenty years. Initially, people were hesitant to jump into the book due to its massive amounts of informational reading as well as the dense world building. Martin tries to establish his worlds very methodically and carefully. Ensuring that readers know every detail of the people, the city and the government that controls them.
Arguably that’s also been one of his biggest downfalls, but that was nothing compared to the mistake he made with licensing the show rights. See, Game of Thrones started off so impeccably strong, that everyone assumed there was no way it could falter. Every minute of seasons 1 and 2 were near perfect filmmaking from start to finish.
Didn’t hurt the show that it followed the books closely enough to satisfy long term fans, but also appealed to newcomers alike. Establishing a mature, thematic and dangerous fantasy world full of morally reprehensible characters.
Should go without saying that it turned off a lot of people in one fell swoop. Viewers went from chewing on their fingernails in anticipation of what was going to happen to not even caring that there was a new episode. Game of Thrones was no longer a golden child, but it was still extremely popular and millions tuned in for the final season. Season 8 is also where we start to see the issue with Martin holding back and not delivering anything.
Now, in 2020, Martin has said that he plans to release the final book sometime in 2021. And the response has been very quiet and meandering. Nobody really cares about the release of the final book because their expectations have been set so low from the show.
He spent too long trying to write the ending
George got so high on his own success that he actually had to tell the viewers and HBO to stop copying off his books. But then when it got rough and the show started to fall from grace, he gave interviews where he was confused that they stopped following the books. Apparently not realizing, or not caring, that his delay and demands were keeping the showrunners from capitalizing on that success.
He spent too long trying to write the ending, and then took too long to try and course correct the show. All of which led to one conclusion; nobody cares about the book finale because everyone hated the HBO finale. Only way Martin comes out on top and wins back some love is if the book ending blows everyone away. Considering how the showrunners said they were told the ending, seems unlikely at this point.
Normally, the movies would be mentioned as the more popular due to the attraction they have on the more casual audiences. In the case of Harry Potter however, it actually might be evenly split across both audiences.
Before we go any further, it is true that Harry Potter still has arguably the largest ingrained fantasy community in the entire genre. Even though she lost millions of dollars and fans over the years, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the remnants that are left.
She’s also made a lot of mistakes on social media
What exactly happened? Well, it all started when JK Rowling started going back to her earlier books and changing lore and retconning the characters in ways just to appease her own self entitlement. She changed Dumbledore to be a gay character, which didn’t really bother too many people as it was never explicitly confirmed he wasn’t.
Uncle Vernon apparently supported Brexit despite it taking place years earlier and fans being uncomfortable with Rowling using her books as a political platform. How about the recent disgusting revelation that magicians don’t use toilets. They just pop a squat and then use a spell to ferry it away, thank you for that one Rowling. Mad that there were no explicit mentions of Jewish magicians? Well according to Rowling there were several, you just didn’t pay attention at all.
Back to Miss Rowling. She’s also made a lot of mistakes on social media when conversing with her fans about changes she made to the books. Whenever she’s been accused of just trying to score easy inclusion points, she just gives a half assed answer about how it was always meant to be that way.
she segregated everyone into groups based on their popularity
Whereas Martin ruined Game of Thrones due to his absence and safeguarding his notes, Rowling blew it by being too open and changing whatever she wanted. Sure, she may not have alienated the majority of her fanbase with a series, but she segregated everyone into groups based on their popularity. Either you love the books, love the movies, hate the books but love the movies, love the books but hate the movies etc. There is no majority group that just enjoys whatever Rowling does.
His debut book called The Name of the Wind instantly turned heads and built a pretty sizable following who were hanging on every word. He followed it up a few years later with the second book called The Wise Man’s Fear. Once again proving his veracity and prose to be unlike anything that fantasy fans had experienced.
Rothfuss was elegant, deep, philosophical, hilarious, engrossing and absolutely mesmerizing. Were there ever an author whose work could be likened to that of Beethoven in his prime, it would be Rothfuss. Which, leads us to his biggest downfall at the same time, he takes forever to do anything at all.
Fans have been foaming at the mouth for his third and final book The Doors of Stone for over nine years now. Whereas Martin is struggling to create something that only a few fans want, Rothfuss is struggling to create something that millions crave. How do you follow up that level of success?
He knows that Doors of Stone might disappoint a lot of people
Patience is a virtue, isn’t that what they say? Even then, Rothfuss even actively admits to his inability to solidify a course of action and stick to it. He’s constantly going back and rewriting entire chapters. Recently he was approached by Lionsgate for a movie and TV adaptation of his books, and he spent 18 months just negotiating that much.
You might be wondering why this is even in this article. As it seems like Rothfuss isn’t really an ideal example of ruining fantasy or causing schisms. You’d be correct, we’re not using him as an example of what to do wrong. Rather we’re using him as an example of someone in similar enough circumstances who’s made the smarter decisions.
He knows that Doors of Stone might disappoint a lot of people and not satisfy everyone. Better make sure that everything that leads up to it is as close to his version of perfect that he can get. Secondly, he doesn’t just immediately sign onto a TV deal that will start production while he’s writing. If he’s going to be heavily involved in both, negotiate it to where you can reliably do both. Thirdly, he knows that his fans want updates and answers to questions. But he doesn’t have those answers yet and he doesn’t want to spoil the fun for everyone else. He’s keeping his mouth shut, until he’s ready to really say something, something that Rowling never learned.
Ultimately it comes down to one simple truth, how do you acknowledge the success without partially tearing down what you worked so hard on. Do you sign on with a prestigious film company without an endgame in sight and just hope that it doesn’t overshadow the original source material? Or do you write and release films hand in hand but retroactively go back and change things because you feel bad about them?
Funnily enough, despite the controversy around the topic, the answer is right in front of us and it’s pretty simple. You don’t let the community dictate the answers, you don’t compromise and you negotiate with others to ensure the quality of your work. Certainly seems easy, but if you peruse through Rothfuss’ blog, maybe we have it all wrong.
Maybe, we have no idea what to support. From where we’re sitting, it seems like that sentiment is shared across the fantasy genre.