Back in the late seventies and throughout the eighties, fantasy was dominated by stories written in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien. Some darker stories were certainly published, but what I loved most about the genre were the endless permutations of the struggle between good and evil. Personally, I find that fertile ground for an infinite variety of tales, and I never had any desire to read or watch anything that wallowed in or glorified the darker urges of humanity.
But other writers disagreed. They found their audience, and the subgenre of grimdark came to be. It rose to such dominance that when I began writing it was with a sort of desperate hope, that the genre of Tolkien and Lewis might still support new stories about characters who struggle to uphold some form of goodness.
Fantasy is awash with classifications and subgenres, possibly because readers who like one form might be appalled by another. I’ve struggled to find one that would describe my work. I dislike the term light fantasy, even though I think it’s a fair designation for my some of my shorter works, much of which could be described, in the words of Tolkien’s character Treebeard, as “…lighthearted, quick-worded, and soon over.”
But I write more than flash fiction, even in my short story collections. And while light is the opposite of dark, it also has connotations of shallowness, which does bother me. I strive to make my stories meaningful–even the short, funny ones have an underlying deeper theme.
The best description I could come up with was “fantasy in the tradition of Tolkien and Lewis,” but I had a couple problems with that. It’s clunky and wordy for one, and it also seemed like I was comparing my own work to those two great masters, which is not for me to do. The last thing I want is to project as a writer is arrogance.
It turns out there is a term for the stories I love–noblebright fantasy (you can even Google it). And while the word itself is new, as an obvious antonym of grimdark, the type of stories, if not their name, have been around for centuries.
Noblebright stories don’t have to feature perfect Mary Sues as characters, not do they presume a Pollyanna approach where everything is sweetness and light. It doesn’t mean that matters don’t get dark or scary, or that violence isn’t part of the narrative. They do have characters who believe in a moral imperative, and who will do anything to uphold it, whatever the cost.
I love the premise that evil can be conquered, however temporarily, even if it’s only the evil within. That’s why I read, going all the way back to childhood. I want to see characters who triumph over ignorance, poverty, disease, neglect, and the sheer malignant spirit that can grow unchecked in some people. Real life gave me real heroes–some of mine as a child were Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Corrie ten Boom, and Helen Keller. I want fictional characters to inspire me in the same way, or there doesn’t seem to be much point in spending time with them. If I can’t find my heroes in fiction, I’ll find them in history. Life is too short to read stuff that drags me down and makes my world a more sorrowful place. I’ve spoken more extensively on this subject in my post Why I Write.
Noblebright fantasy–it’s really a thing. And it’s what I write.
How about you? Do you have stories (of any kind, they don’t have to be fantasy) that you love that could be considered noblebright?