Positive Fantasy: Yet another possible Term

So, I pointed Sharon Shinn to my recent post about Positive Fantasy since after all I included one of her trilogies in that post.

She said, by the way, that she had a hard time writing Dream-Maker’s Magic but, when she struck that line about kindness being magical, decided she had to finish the book. Just a nice detail.

Sharon also handed me another conception of positive fiction — this time a broader term, for fiction in general, not fantasy specifically. But wait for that just a second.

Various of your comments made me rethink my prior criteria. Sure, I like high fantasy style; yes, I like a more numinous type of magic. BUT, you’re right, those qualities aren’t required. They’re additional axes in, shall we say, an n-dimensional space of literature.

Here we go: not a range, but a space. Grimdark to kind on one axis, realistic to fantastic on a second access, self-conscious/subverting tropes to high fantasy on the third, and now there’s a space in which to plot my personal favorite novels. It would be kind of fun to do this, but also a lot of trouble and I’m not good enough with graphics, so it’ll never happen.

Especially since it would probably actually turn into a space more like this:

With ten thousand input variables.

Regardless, how’s this for the truly essential criteria for positive fantasy:

  1. The protagonist is deeply kind
  2. The tone is not gritty
  3. The style is elevated, formal, not cutesy, not overtly self-conscious
  4. The characters and the world wind up in a better place at the end

What do you think?

In describing this kind of fiction, I think it’s hard to do better than Liz Bourke’s comment, which I quoted in the previous post. Here it is again, rephrased slightly to make it more generally applicable to this kind of literature:

Filled with a keen sense of kindness and empathy; a fundamentally generous story.

There you go. To me, that is the heart of this subgenre. I need to remember this exact description, because if I suggest this topic for panels at conventions, this is what I’d want in the description of the panel.

And this then leads to the term Sharon pointed out. This wasn’t coined for fantasy, which is probably why I hadn’t run across it previously. But here it is:

A newly recognized genre of literature, Up Lit focuses on human connections and life-affirming stories filled with joy, kindness, humor, heroism, hope, empathy, compassion and love. The goal here is not to bury our heads in the sand and write off our turbulent times. Up Lit is simply modern literature with the power to remind ourselves of – and celebrate! – some of the many joys to be found in our human existence.

That’s actually a pretty good term! And then it’s easy to specify UpLit SFF.

I’d take out “modern,” though. It doesn’t matter when a book was written. If you step outside of fantasy, then Little Women and A Little Princess are both going to qualify as UpLit. I’m sure plenty of other older works would also qualify.

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7 thoughts on “Positive Fantasy: Yet another possible Term”

  1. As a fellow fan of UpLit (and what a nice term), it makes me happy to see how many others are interested in reading the same sorts of things.

    On the four items on the checklist, I would question only one – the formal tone. Surely humorous fantasy like A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking qualifies as UpLit?

  2. Allan, I think that if you move too far in a humorous direction, you lose the right feel. I’m thinking here of Terry Pratchett. I love the Vimes books in particular. But if you name a character Carrot, you are setting yourself up to have to pull readers up a VERY STEEP HILL. I absolutely detest that sort of name, which would have entirely ruined the books for me if anybody else had written them.

    So, I have A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking on my kindle right now. But, even though I sort of think maybe you’re right, I’m also thinking humor heads into cutesy way too easily. Once the story hits cutesy territory, it’s in a different category for me.

  3. A wizard’s guide to defensive baking did not feel like UpLit SFF to me. Despite the humor, her worlds have too much horrific stuff close to the surface for me to ever feel positive and uplifted after reading them. As soon as I stop for a moment to think about the circumstances people are living in, I tend to be horrified by that fictional world/city/society even if the protagonists try to be kind and the immediate danger gets averted. Feeling horrified at the entire continuing dystopian world underneath the relief of the immediate conflict-resolution definitely pulls it out of the feel-good positive aftertaste that I would consider essetial to a “positive fantasy” or UpLit SFF category.

    I also associate UpLit with lighting choices (like people who tell ghost stories holding a flashlight under their chin) more than with a positive feeling, but that may just be me.

  4. That’s a well written definition, for UpLit, and the term’s catchy. Did you see the first comment on that post? It links to a website, positivelygoodreads.com, that highlights “an upbeat reading list for people who often find serious novels depressing.” And it says, “Literary fiction doesn’t always have to be downbeat.” It has a book list, and Little Women is on it.

    I agree with Hanneke about the horrific world settings— that’s THE reason I wouldn’t include the Scholomance trilogy in the positive fantasy category.

    What you commented about humor and cutesy is for me a certain lightheartedness that I usually associate with more casual reading.

  5. A Wizard’s Guide was on the violent side: the heroine was feeding enemy soldiers to her monstrous sourdough starter! Yeah it’s humor. Black humor.
    I just can’t see putting this in the same sub-genre as some of the other suggestions. The original definition of NobleBright, btw, is indistinguishable from ‘traditional fantasy.’

  6. UpLit is the best option yet. Maybe it’s so hard to find a catchy name because generous stories about empathy and kindness are as multi-dimensional as your hilarious diagram. I know Tolstoy made that famous quotation about all happy families being the same so one wants to write about unhappy families, but I disagree fundamentally. Empathy and kindness are complex and challenging and look different in every circumstance, whereas grimness and darkness are just, well, grimdark.

    Humour is an interesting axis in your multiverse of literature. I think some humour is generous and kind and fits well within the category you’re trying to define, because it does well at conveying exactly the complex juxtapositions of humans trying to get along. Whereas other humourous books are just funny—maybe mocking, or spoofy, or goofy, which is all fine and fun but doesn’t leave you feeling better about the human race. To me, Pratchett’s YA books fall clearly in the first category, and I would include them in a list of UpLit YA Fantasy, but his adult books get more spoofy and sarcastic.

  7. I like the way you put that, Kim!

    “Empathy and kindness are complex and challenging and look different in every circumstance, whereas grimness and darkness are just, well, grimdark.”

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