Yes and no. Castles are cultural too. While fortresses built to withstand attack are fairly widespread, not every culture has used them. And the particular use of the word castle, from Old English and Old French, is relevant largely to European cultures. Thus, the use of castles is a fairly "stereotypical" use of European culture that's not particularly more imaginative than using European mythology. If the objection is that European cultures are overused in fantasy, then castles and armor -- depending on its type -- would be things that you wanted to avoid as emblematic, highly overused bits of European centered culture. Elves, which as we discussed further up the thread, were a catch-all synonym for fae mythologies, have numerous uses as symbols and expression of cultural beliefs and circumstances, just as djinn do. In a fantasy novel, they can certainly be as useful as castles. Djinn are used less in English language fantasy fiction than various forms of elves and wider fairy, but that's to be expected -- English Western writers are going to raid most often the cultures with which they have the most familiarity, education and descent from, which most of the time are the European cultures. In Asian fantasy, other mythologies are more likely to come into play. Often, in secondary world fantasy, they'll mix them, having both elves and djinn and Asian mythology as well. (Oddly enough, unicorns are much less prominent in fantasy fiction than many other major European mythical creatures; they are very popular in fantasy art though.) I do think that if a writer does not like/finds tired European mythology, he should avoid it -- why pursue a line of story one has no interest in? However, the reality is that there is still an enormous amount there culturally to be mined if you have the hankering.
Originally Posted by Vinegar Tom
Actually, Catholicism converted their elves. They turned them into lesser forms of cherubs sometimes, they coopted the elvic and pagan holidays, for instance mixing the story of an elf with the story of bishop St. Nickolaus to form Santa Klaus, the stories of the Selkie seal brides who could become human and stay on land in part because they convert to Christianity, etc. Religions adjust and absorb.
Which is more than Catholicism ever did for the elves.
It's interesting that one, not particularly dominant branch of science fiction that was developed mainly in the 1930's-early 1960's, predominantly only in North America, remains the cultural icon invoked when ragging on science fiction.It's clearly movie related.
niche formerly occupied by sci-fi in which square-jawed men with ray-guns saved screaming ladies in space bikinis from bug-eyed monsters,
Fantasy is not supposed to be all about imagination. The only type of story that is all about imagination is science fiction, which imagines what could be scientifically discovered. Fantasy is under no obligation to look at discovery, and its principle focus is folklore. The idea that fantasy is about imagination seems to have come from the association with children, who are considered to be engaging in imagination when playing make believe, which often does involve magic, swords, princesses and castles. Also pirates.
a market that's supposedly all about imagination.
Well I'm afraid that you will have to come up with another word for it. You may criticize others' writings here and published books all you like, though we ask that you keep it constructive for stories in progress, but personal criticisms of authors or members here as lazy, retarded, bottom-scrappers and other pejoratives are not allowed under the guidelines you agreed to follow while you are participating here. (Unless you are joking around with another member who knows you are joking and is okay with it.) There will be writers here who are writing about elves. However much you dislike such works, lets try to keep it friendly. They're just going to snort derisively back at you anyway. Your disdain for European folklore has been duly noted.
there's no word to describe that except "lazy"
In any other type of story, it's not even an issue. Originality and stereotypes are of little to no importance as an issue to be discussed in every other area of fiction, save for the occasional comment by the occasional cranky book reviewer. Mystery continues to produce stories about cats and hard boiled private eyes, thrillers produce stories of lawyers, spies and lantern jawed cops. Romance does the romance thing. Westerns write about the old west and historical fiction produces endless stories about famous wars. Contemporary drama has its procession of white middle aged men cheating on their wives and worrying about their careers, and winning awards for it. Screwball comedies produce plucky but hapless men and women who fall into comical disasters, family sagas trot out the usual stories of black sheep, struggling hardship, betrayal and reunion, "ethnic" fiction continues its interest in assimilation and exile in immigrants, horror (much of which is fantasy based,) keeps its obsessions with monsters and dark places, and remarkably the dominant discussion of all of these types of fiction has nothing to do with stereotypes and originality. Even in science fiction, it only occasionally comes up, and then mostly in the frame that hard SF has been eclipsed by real world science and thus is dead (which is false on all counts.) Only in fantasy is this an obsession in some of the field, though it's not in the actual marketplace.
In any other genre, this would be a joke.
And that, I'm afraid, is almost all due to D&D. In the early 1980's, D&D and the various RPG's, video games and following tie-in books, were considered a big threat to the still young fantasy category market and SF as well. It was assumed that the games would swallow up fiction reading audiences, and then with the tie-in books with their built-in audiences that they would take over and blot out original fiction on the shelves. This of course was not at all what happened, but that was the fear. And D&D, which drew from Lord of the Rings, from pulp fiction of earlier times and from every folklore mythology they could raid, was the centerpiece of that ire. That was coupled with the fact that secondary world fantasy greatly expanded and the number of titles in the category market also expanded, so there was more to pick at. And so in the 1980's, sword & sorcery -- a term proposed by Fritz Lieber long ago for his fiction -- started to become a dirty word to parts of the field. To those parts of the field, it became essential to distinguish their works from Lord of the Rings, from anything that might be labeled D&D-like, and to start ragging on most of the reading audience as immature dolts who should stop liking dragons. And over time this became an actual useful marketing technique. It did not, however, diminish interest in playing with dragons by fantasy writers. It did not diminish the opportunities for those not writing about dragons either. The market holds it all, the dragons and the dragonless.
YA stories feature teens and nearly all of their audience used to be kids aged 10-17. Adults didn't care about those stories at all until Harry Potter, among other things, blew up the YA sector of the kids market from sleepy teen niche to children's powerhouse -- and brought us tons of new, young readers. Now, eighty percent of the audience for all YA novels is still kids aged 10-17. They have no impact whatsoever on adult fiction. (Paranormal romance was well under way long before Harry Potter came out and all the rest of the YA that followed.) YA novels have had a slight impact on television in recent years because teen girls watch t.v., and are having a similar somewhat impact on movies because movies for teens make income, but for adult written fantasy, YA is mostly incidental at best. And yet critiques of the adult fantasy field obsess over books featuring teens written for young teens, particularly girls, as if that was the adult fantasy field, and not, say George Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. It's getting a little bit weird. (This is not to discourage the YA authors among us from talking about their work, however. I just think adult fans might want to concentrate on the books they actually read.)
if it happens to be feisty teenage girls learning important life-lessons through their relationship with a unicorn
So maybe, as has come up before, we need to start talking about what's actually in the market, as titles, so that we move beyond the there's a teen fantasy romance in YA and everything is elves in imaginary worlds philosophy. Because that isn't the fantasy market. But we'll see about another thread for that.