On Biases

I have a deep respect for writers who can tackle what I’ve heard referred to as “high fantasy”; to be able to conquer an epic world filled with magic and sorcery and its own cosmology has always been something I’ve been highly envious of, especially those that have done it well.
And yet, it’s never been something that I’ve been able to really sink my teeth into.
That isn’t to say there aren’t examples out there that I’ve enjoyed, but it seems to take me a lot of effort, and I don’t understand why. A dear friend of mine once began raving about Tolkien – before the movies, even! – telling me that I had to read the Lord of the Rings, it would be one of the most spellbinding things I had ever read, and so on.
So I tried it. And I got a hundred pages in, and set it aside, and have not picked it up since.
I’m not sure what it was. I know Tolkien has his detractors, and I can see their point in a lot of places, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that the story just wasn’t written for me. There are people that enjoy it, and that’s fine. Likewise, most high fantasy has been the same; I don’t think I have the constitution to be able to truly appreciate it. I end up starting series or novels and usually end up setting them aside. I’ve done the same for some sci-fi greats as well; this may be blasphemy, but Asimov tends to be someone I can take in small quantities. Again it’s not that I think the stories are not well-written, but in reading them, I get the sense that they are not written for me.
The ones that do grab me – the Neil Gaimans and the David Eddings and the Jasper Ffordes of the world – well, I can’t really think of what they truly have in common, apart from a healthy dash of humour. There is something in my heart’s core that really jumps at the thought of a good sense of humour in a work, even if it’s a very, very dark one, such as that of Gaiman or Stephen King, another writer whose books have long been friends of mine.
So I look back on my list and wonder if I’m okay for having that bias, because it means that I’ll probably never pick up much Tolkien ever, or I wonder if the humour is there and just too subtle and I’m suffering from preconceived notions about what will reach my sensibilities. Am I being unfair? Am I missing something?
I’d love to hear from other people about how their biases affect what they read – and even better, how that bleeds into our writing.

3 responses on “On Biases

  1. Frank Morin


    I think what might be the factor you have trouble with in a lot of epic fantasy is the ‘milieu’. That’s the fancy term for the world building. All fantasy has world building to some degree, but some authors, Tolkien in particular, really deep dive into their worlds. Tolkien’s work is full of obscure facts, poems, songs, etc that make the milieu, or world itself, a driving aspect of the work, a character almost. Many of the people who get the most hooked with Tolkien fall in love with the world and long to be a part of that fantasy world.

    Authors like David Eddings certainly have world building, but it plays a lesser part. Eddings’ books are also favorites of mine, but not because of the world: it’s because of the characters, the humor, their interaction together.

    I tend to like both types of books, but there is definitely a difference. And different readers gravitate to the various concentration on milieu.

  2. Colette Vernon

    I think it’s wonderful that each of us is part of a discriminating audience. What one person likes will often overlap with another person, while others may hate every type of author and work we adore. Sometimes opinions are shared about some author or another not deserving their fame, because that person disliked their book; thought it was horrid. But if they’re published, and they’ve sold a reasonable amount of books then they’re writing, voice, milieu or whatever appealed to people. They told their story and found an audience who enjoyed it. Isn’t that what all writers are trying to do? So dislike away. I loved Lord of the Rings, but couldn’t make it through the Hobbit. We’re all unique in what appeals to us because we’re each unique. Isn’t it great!

  3. Raymond Rose


    I have the same problem with a lot of fantasy. I, like you, love Gaiman and Fforde, but ask me to sit down and read Jordan’s Eye of the World and I have a big problem. Then again, I loved Lord of The Rings. George R. R. Martin’s no problem either. I can’t make head or tales of why some fantasy books are accessible for me and others aren’t. I just take a whack at them and see what sticks.

    I don’t actually hit them with a bat against a wall covered in tape, if that’s what you’re wondering.

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