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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Reader Question: Video Game Plots and Successful Fantasy Novels

(This question is yet another whose questioner I forgot to write down. Please, if you asked this, let me know in the comments so you can get credit. My apologies for not putting your name in the post as I was working on it.)

The full question was:
Has there ever been a fantasy book series to pull off the "save the world by collecting a group of shiny things" plot, or is that an exclusive video game schtick?
This is a tough one primarily because I have not read enough fantasy novels (as in non-graphic books) to be able to say yes or no with enough certainty to be completely comfortable. My guess is that there has yet to be a fantasy book series that uses a video game plot successfully. I could be wrong, but it seems like those sorts of plots are unfortunately the domain of more visually-based mediums (video games, TV shows, movies, graphic novels, etc.). You could, perhaps, count Harry Potter, which uses the last two books to hunt down what might be considered as "shiny things" (horcruxes are certainly not "shiny" in a traditional sense, but do hold significant value for the characters).

Beyond this, however, I think it is safe to say that a treasure-hunting save-the-world plot is more comfortable in a visual medium. Why do I think this? Because these kinds of plots don't always have strong connections to the characters by default, which means it makes a novelization rather difficult for the reader to connect to. That's not to say it's not possible, just that the stories I am familiar with intentionally place the viewer/player in the center, allowing them to forge their own connections to the world by actually doing the searching and world saving. Novels are, generally speaking, exterior products: the characters are other people (imaginary people, usually) and thus must act as intermediaries in some way for the reader (i.e. they have to be the connecting point to the world).

And these plots do seem to suffer from a sort of ridiculous repetitiveness. So many video games and television shows essentially recycle the same basic plots and simply change the names and maps to make it seem different. They are still entertaining, but that's not really the point. Getting to the point, I don't think that video games own this plot, per se. Graphic novels are quite successful at using similar concepts, and really you wouldn't need to go much farther than Dragonball or Dragonball Z (though their plots do wander quite a bit). Beyond this, though, I don't feel like I know enough to make any logical, (partially) absolutist claims. I fell out of the gaming community at about the same time as I fell out of the graphic novel community, so I've missed quite a lot.

If anyone reading this has any suggestions of either successful or at least interesting fantasy novels which have used the treasure-hunting/save-the-world plot, please leave them here in the comments. I'm curious to see what people identify with this style and whether there are books I'm forgetting. Thanks!


If you have a question for me about science fiction, fantasy, writing, or something related, whether silly or serious, let me know by either leaving a comment here or anywhere, sending an email to arconna[at]yahoo[dot]com, or tweeting me your question to @shaunduke.

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  1. I think that was me again--thanks for answering!

    I asked that because "The Gemsinger Chronicles" is shaping up to be that kind of plot.

  2. Well, to be fair, just because I can't think of any doesn't mean that it can't be done. These plots are huge things in gaming culture, and gamers do read books (particularly media tie-ins), so it might not be so much of a stretch to have a built-in audience for this kind of thing.

  3. David Eddings' The Belgariad is pretty much a hunt shiny things/save world plot - and it was brilliantly done. Been a long time though... And the shiny things were the people more than actual things. I know I've read good shiny things plots though, but I'm thoroughly blanking at the moment. More well read people could surely think of a few examples.

  4. Thanks Loop! That's a really big suggestion and successful to boot.

    Sparkling: It can be done. Loop has proven it. Eddings is one of the big fantasy writers, right up there with Tolkien, Brooks, etc.

  5. I can't really vouch for whether they're good or not, but lots and lots of fantasy novels use the "get the gem and save the world" plot. Almost every Shannara book has some variation to that -- the Sword of Shannara, the Elfstones of Shannara, the Wishsong of Shannara, the Heritage Saga,etc. Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn has that plot as well.

  6. Interesting. More stuff that is representative of this kind of writing.

    SparklingBlue, guess my readers are being more helpful than me :P.