I’ve been on a deadline, so I’ve barely left the house lately, which rules out being “on the road,” and I haven’t even been around much online, but there was a panel topic from FenCon back in September that’s been churning around in my brain ever since then. The panel was on “suburban fantasy,” and that’s brought up some thoughts about where contemporary fantasy novels take place.
The current “urban fantasy” genre seems to draw heavily from the hardboiled detective novels, with a somewhat outsider hero (or heroine) who is tough and street smart, dealing with the underworld. In urban fantasy, that hero usually has some kind of supernatural powers or status, and the underworld is the world of the paranormal. But what about contemporary fantasy stories that don’t use the city as a setting?
The suburbs would seem like an ideal place to explore the idea of the “other.” In our culture, we think of the suburbs as a place of sameness and conformity. The houses all look alike, and every shopping area has the same national chain stores and restaurants. Anyone who doesn’t quite fit in can be made to feel very left out. Now multiply that by hundreds of times by making the “other” be not just someone who dresses differently and likes different music, but also is some kind of supernatural or magical being who has to keep that status a secret. In an urban setting, at least all the oddballs manage to find each other and establish a kind of community, but what does a vampire, werewolf, faery or wizard do in suburbia? Then there’s the small town environment, which may not have quite the same level of physical sameness but which does tend to be a place where it’s hard to keep secrets. These settings might create even more conflict for our supernatural main characters.
There have been a few books that take the urban fantasy type stories or mythology and put them in different contemporary settings. Julie Kenner‘s demon- hunting soccer mom series, starting with CARPE DEMON, involved a suburban housewife who was also a retired demon slayer forced out of retirement. I’m currently reading a book called ELFLAND by Freda Warrington, which explores a fae magical culture in a modern English village. And I do have my suspicions about a large “fairy ring” of toadstools that keeps appearing in my suburban neighborhood. I know there’s a story there.