If memory serves me, this question comes from Bowie of Young Writers Online:
In most science fiction and fantasy stories, people speak in a more formal way. Why is that? Is it to reinforce the idea that it’s a different world than we know?
Firstly, it’s not true that most SF/F resorts to formal modes of communication. A great deal of classic SF/F does, but modern derivations of the two genres have seen a remarkable, and much appreciated, shift from the trappings established by Tolkien all those years ago. And this is where we get into the unfortunate side effect of Tolkien’s brilliance.
Despite writing what most consider to be the greatest fantasy trilogy of all times, Tolkien hammered into new and past writers several unfortunate habits. You see, Tolkien was trying to recreate something in The Lord of the Rings, a certain feel, if you will. He was successful on all counts, not only in fabricating a detailed, elaborate fantasy world, but also in trying to fashion an imagined, realistic history of an England that might have been (though the fact that, as far as I can tell, Middle Earth looks nothing like England could make for a good counter argument). In doing so, Tolkien fixed into the minds of fantasy lovers everywhere what were the defining characteristics of the genre, despite his setting out to create an effective, mythologized, and complex historical novel. The language, thus, is exceptionally dated, even for his time, and the clichés were snatched up by fans without hesitation.
It has taken the fantasy genre a long time to work out of the habit of writing in absurd formal dialogue. But it has happened, and it has, in almost every instance, been to emulate Tolkien rather than to produce something truly original. There is nothing wrong with emulation, insofar as such emulation is still trying to impress upon readers an experience, despite its biased leanings. What is problematic, as is true of all tropes, clichés, etc. in fantasy, is that these sorts of staples effectively damage the genre when done poorly. Of course, to call a lot of published works “poor recreations” is somewhat unfair, particularly because readers have varying expectations, and what I want or expect in fantasy literature will almost always be at least slightly different from what other readers want. Readers do like Tolkien-esque fantasies, a lot–and that’s really an understatement. Sometimes there are reasons (they have read a lot and prefer that style) and other times it is due to ignorance (some might say that most Twilight and Eragon fans like those works because they have no read “good” fantasy yet). Invariably, it is hard to argue with how things actually are in this instance: derivations exist and will continue to do so, provided that readers are still interested in such things in the future.
There is also the healthy obsession with medieval literature that most fantasy writers have, whether they are willing to admit it or not. That contributors to the persistence of this form of dialogue.
Now the question is, are these sorts of formal dialogue stylings good or bad, in your opinion? I view them as either/or, because, in some cases, it works. But that’s me, and I want to see your opinion. Leave me a comment with your thoughts!
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