Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees is a remarkable story, full of magic, mystery and intricate detail. It centres around the fictional country of Dorimare and its neighbour, Fairyland, and the way Mirrlees blends dream and reality is incredible to read. What’s more, Lud-in-the-Mist was published in 1926, decades before fairies because sexy, possessive creatures of angst and YA.
Part of what I find so fascinating about Lud-in-the-Mist is that although it is undeniably fantasy, it takes so many different turns along the way. It twists from politics to crime to ghosts and back, and I wasn’t able to recognise any of the familiar fantasy tropes in it. Perhaps I simply haven’t read any similar books, but it got me thinking.
Genre. Why is it so… tricky?
Lud-in-the-Mist sits on the edge of multiple genres and, for me at least, that made it a fun and refreshing read. A lot of my favourite works of fiction blend genres, such as Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library and Mizuho Kusanagi’s Yona of the Dawn. While these definitely follow established tropes of their main genres, their extra flavours of scifi/weird and historical/fantasy make the works that more exciting to read.
Breaking out of a strict genre gives an author more creative freedom and more chances to surprise the reader. Personally, I love books that mix genres, but there are many, many more books I adore that are very definitely only a single genre.
Genres exist as a way for an author to tell a reader what to expect from their work. If you pick up a romance novel you expect a happy ending, and if you pick up a horror film it’s because you want to feel scared. In this way, genre is an incredibly useful tool.
However, a problem begins to arise when authors write to a genre rather than in it; in other words, when they chase a trend. The Hunger Games spawned a slew of YA dystopian novels, each of them following exactly the same patterns, but most of them never had that same impact The Hunger Games did.
Recently, I watched the first episode of Fire Force by David Production. From the first five minutes, I knew it was going to be a disaster, but I thought I might still enjoy watching it ironically. Spoiler alert: I didn’t even finish the first episode.
My issue with Fire Force was that I felt I’d seen it too many times before. It followed all the stereotypical shounen trends: a special protagonist with a tragic backstory, shots of the female characters in the shower for absolutely no reason, and fiery monsters; all in the first episode, I might add. While it had a unique enough concept, the delivery was done extremely poorly and I got bored very quickly.
It felt very much like the studio set out to create a shounen anime rather than to tell a story, and I think that’s where the issue arises with genres. A genre exists to inform the reader about your story, but that genre shouldn’t be what your story is. A plot should fall into a genre; a genre should not be the plot.
I don’t know if I’m making any sense here, but I hope my ramble was interesting to read. Thanks for making it all the way to the end!