I finished reading Sailor on the Seas of Fate last night. Book two of Michael Moorcock’s Elric of Melniboné series. It’s very atmospheric and, in many ways, romantic. As I lay in bed this morning, resisting the necessity of getting ready for work, it suddenly struck me: Sword and Sorcery fantasy is to men what romance-novel fantasies are to women. They are a way of escaping from the real world, where jobs are boring, relationships require effort and we have to eat our vegetables.
These novels require swords, rather than guns and/or lasers, because they are a return to the “good old days,” when men didn’t go to offices to push paper around. Back in the day when women were perceived more as chattel than as people and didn’t need to be consulted much [hence Elric running off on these numerous adventures, leaving Cymoril at home to tend the castle]. When male bonding consisted of drawing swords and fighting together, rather than trying to co-operate and negotiate to clinch a contract. When emotions could be ignored or just expressed as moodiness and/or anger, with no need to verbally express what’s wrong or consider how to fix it. The same impulses that make the TV show Mad Men so popular these days.
These books are the antimatter to women’s romance novels, where emotions are acknowledged and celebrated, where men and women are partners in life and everyone lives happily ever after. [I’m probably not being fair to this genre, as I haven’t read any of these novels since I was in my teens and things have probably moved along since then].
To the extent that I can, I get it. The world has changed, drastically. Women have many more options in life now and aren’t as easily corralled in a “permanent” relationship. And even if they do choose to marry, they are expecting their spouse to pull his weight in house work and child care. The days of returning home after a day’s work to read the paper in the living room are long gone. And the days of easily finding a job which would give a person both financial security and status are gone too. Young men today will spend a long time in junior positions, waiting for the old guard to finally get out of their way and, surprise, there are women there competing for those positions with them. So I understand the nostalgia for the past, even though, as a woman, I don’t share it to the same degree.
It’s no surprise to me that this genre emerged in the late 1960s and the 1970s when the feminist movement was getting underway. I haven’t read a lot of current fantasy literature, as I’m working my way forward in time through a long reading list [where I’ve been mired in the 1970s for some time now]. I’ll be very interested to see the changes in this genre over time. And I think I understand why male gamers and fantasy readers have been so hostile to feminist critique of their corner of the geekiverse. It’s the last bastion of this fantasy world and we’re raining on their parade—the last place where they could conceive of themselves as Masters of the Universe and women have shoved their way in and said, “Move over, make room for me and my way of seeing the world.” No wonder they’re hostile. Sorry guys, but as you’ve been telling us for hundreds of years, that’s just the way the world is now.