‘Game of Thones,’ ‘Harry Potter,’ ‘Chronicles of Narnia': Where Are All The American Fantasy Characters?

'Game of Thones,' 'Harry Potter,' 'Chronicles of Narnia': Where Are All The American Fantasy Characters?

Guest blog: The Fantasy novel realm is lacking American stories and American characters

With the well-hyped beginning of the third season of HBO's "Game of Thrones" series, America will once again return to Westeros, the universe created by American fantasy writer George R.R. Martin. Americans have embraced this world of kings and dragons in much the same way J.R.R. Tolkien's Fantasy series "The Lord of the Rings" has been loved since being released in the U.S. in the 1960s.

Fantasy series like Tolkien's have become ingrained in American culture. The characters of Fantasy books are well known, even to those who never read the genre. The heroes and villains, their stories and the lessons learned from them, are common knowledge. And the reason for this is that in the modern world, particularly in the West and the United States, Fantasy has become our mythology.

Mythology: a collection of fables, legends, and myths that tell stories about the culture, about its values, and how the people living in that culture are supposed to act, and what type of person they should strive to be.

Yet if Fantasy books make up much of our mythology, and I think strongly that that is true, then I also think that we, in America, have a problem. The problem is that most of our Fantasy isn't written by Americans about American culture and values.

The most famous books of Fantasy are arguably "The Lord of the Rings," "The Chronicles of Narnia" and "Harry Potter." And they were all written by British authors, about-essentially-British characters, and discussing British values.

My father gave me the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy when I was in fifth grade, and I burned through them in two weeks. Even before those books I started reading about three young wizards named Harry, Ron and Hermione, and was captivated by that world as well. Even my mother, not a Fantasy reader at all, has strong memories of reading and loving "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," perhaps the most famous of the books in C.S. Lewis’ "The Chronicles of Narnia."

English values are similar to ours, but they're still not American. And if mythology is supposed to teach a culture how to act and behave, what type of person you should strive to be, then we have a serious problem, because all our mythology is teaching us how to be good Brits, not good Americans.

If we're going to teach American culture and beliefs to generation after generation, then we need powerful stories and characters that will remain with us for decades. We need more American Fantasy that speaks to our culture and our values.

Yet we don't have that American Fantasy. Even American Fantasy writers write like they're British. George R.R. Martin is hailed as the American version of Tolkien, yet his series takes place in a mythical world styled after medieval Europe, and has characters that usually seem pretty British to me. When HBO went and turned his popular books into an even more popular TV show, they filmed it mostly in Wales and Ireland, and used a cast of mostly British actors who all speak and look and talk like Brits.

American Fantasy authors don't write about America. We don't have anyone writing stories set in the lush Mississippi delta, or the Rocky Mountains, or the forests on the East coast, or among the redwoods on the West coast. There aren't Fantasy books discussing and questioning American social issues or our notions of heroism, like our obsession with vigilantly justice so prevalent in our westerns and action films. We don't have Fantasy characters that are symbols of what to strive for as Americans.

All hope is not lost, though. We do seem to be making some progress. As bad as Stephanie Meyers’ "Twilight" books are, they still mostly take place in Washington State, and in small town America. As poorly as the characters and scenes are written-I truly hope we won't be talking about Bella Swan or Edward Cullen in a decade-the books are about Americans, in America.

Another popular series is "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins. It's more Science Fiction than Fantasy, but the two genres are close enough. Collins’ books take place in a dystopian future America, so the characters are American, or at least a fictional version of future Americans. The main character, Katniss Everdeen, does seem like the type of character that can teach readers how they should act and strive to be as Americans, not as Brits.

But I don't think we have any truly American Fantasy yet, or at least not any that could become part of our mythology. But perhaps it's only a matter of time until we get some American mythology from our Fantasy books.

I really hope this comes true, because I'm rather tired of listening to British accents and reading about British characters. That won't stop me from watching the third season of "Game of Thrones," or from rereading "Harry Potter" for the umpteenth time. But hopefully the next generation will have an American series to reread over and over again with American characters to fall in love with. And perhaps the next HBO Fantasy series won't have actors that all talk like they just stepped out of the mists of an English moor. Why can't people with New York or Southern or Californian accents ride dragons and cast spells?

  • exelopresti

    so… you haven't yet realized that “The Hunger Games” universe is actually America?

  • Anonymous

    Do you know where America was in the Middle Ages? Nonexistent. There were the various tribes and cultures of Natives (which everybody seems to ignore) and there was that Viking that had been there before, but that was it. In case you hadn't noticed, there are no castles in America (that weren't put there within the last 2-300 years and I know that's not counting the Mayan cultures of Central America). Can you imagine a Fantasy-Story without castles? Or horses for that matter?

    There may not be that much Fantasy going on in America, but the Urban Fantasy section has a strong American department. I always liked the Southern vibe Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series brought to my mind. And she isn't the only one. ^^

    And what do you have against the Brits?
    I prefer cast decisions to be made on acting ability and not on citizenship.

    As a Beefeater at the Tower of London remarked recently:
    Any Americans here today? *gestures at the Tower* A thousand years of history… If you'd paid your taxes, all of this could have been yours.

    • Johnson

      Could not have said it better myself! All types of fiction, be it fantasy, be it sci-fi, or whatever, is basically based on real life and human history as it is. And as you said, there is no such thing as Medieval America (except for Indians of course) and that's why there is no fantasy set it Middle Ages America. Kind of obvious actually.

  • Amperialist

    Larson Scott card the “Alvin Maker” series, and Neil Gaimon “American Gods”

    • Amperialist

      Sorry, auto correct…… Orson Scott Card

  • Josh

    I'm surprised you don't mention the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series, which is very similar (almost plagiaristically similar) to the “Harry Potter” books, but centering around American teens who find out they are descendants of the gods of Mount Olympus.

  • dg101

    It doesn't tend to do well, because it's hard to believe because we know our history. We know where we came from and how this country was founded. If you want to do an LOTR style story, you're essentially going to be making it about Native Americans. Which is cool, but it's hard to white-wash that. Instead we get movies like Twilight, Mortal Instruments and the like. YA books are the only ones tackling that. The best Fantasy borrows a bit from history to give it a grounding somewhat in reality. With America…we don't have that as much. And I wouldn't say those series mentioned in the article tell you how to be a good “insert nationality here”. It's more about how to be a good person (You know…aside from Game of Thrones, which is about what NOT to do to be a good person.) There's not really a period in American history you can borrow from and still have it be believable as another world.

  • MovieBuff

    Why the hell would anyone (except the dumb author) want a fantasy book discussing American values? The whole point of Fantasy is that its basis is European chivalry!

    I don't want to EVER see a Fantasy series discuss the Constitution, gay rights, abortion, Freedom of Press, or transgenderism.

    British morals for me thanks!

    P.S. I am American.

  • EuropeanAmerican

    I disagree that literature about medieval Europe is not American mythology. American culture as it exists today is essentially a product of European culture. We did not have no culture before the founding of the US, our culture continues in an unbroken line into the past. It just jumps across the ocean in the 300-400 year ago. For those of us of European genetic heritage, European history is most certainly our history. For those who are not genetically European but culturally American, it is their adopted history because medieval Europe (and the classical world of Greece and Rome before that) is the foundation upon which our civilization is built. It is entirely appropriate for us to enjoy that world and to create stories in that setting. Those stories are just as applicable to us as they are to modern Brits, French, Germans, etc…

  • BedazzledCrone

    Breaking Bad is the great American fantasy. Someone below mentioned Hunger Games

    So sad

    some of the post below are great rejoinders

  • ml

    I have to agree, Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series would fit as American fantasy/mythology. I hope he finishes it one of these years.
    I haven't read any but would Steven King's Dark Tower fit this category??

  • Janet Georgiou

    This is just a bit of evening out, after the Disneyfication of old European fairy tales, giving tragedies happy endings and sugar-coated stories on the way. What about Neil Gaiman's American Gods? Anyone in Hollywood sniffing that yet?

  • No Place Like Home

    The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

    And that's the heartland: Dorothy hails from “the great Kansas prairies” and the Wizard is from Omaha, Nebraska.