True Greatness Can’t Be Copied

What makes great fantasy novels? Many examples come to mind but compared to the sheer volume of fantasies on the market, the number is actually very small. I have a personal tendency to dismiss many of them simply for being too derivative, almost mass produced, not just as individual books but in series of four, five or ten books which a rambling plot that goes on and on going nowhere. Clearly there is a huge market for these novels and the sheer volume makes it difficult for someone in the library looking for one that is truly great.

I’ve already telegraphed my opinion that to be truly great, a novel can’t be too derivative. Imagine thirty or forty books about good little British boys isolated on an island who over time turn savage. Yet at some point you run into the same problem with trolls, elves, dwarfs and wizards all searching for a treasure hoard or trying to defeat an evil lord. Beyond a certain point there are no more possibilities or surprises; only the names are changed and then it goes on the shelf with the rest of the crowd of derivative fantasies.

The simple secret is that truly great fantasy novels can’t be imitated and that’s why you will never see forty books derived from Gahan Hanmer’s The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality. The style and the characters and the humor are handled with such originality that to try to copy it is a hopeless task. You can’t just change the names and alter the sequence and come up with a great book with a new author’s name. Like The Last Unicorn, it is in a class by itself; it is one of a kind. Another novel might be compared with it for marketing purpose as so many are compared with The Lord of the Rings, but that all you can do.