Patrick Weekes is the author ofThe Palace Job, his debut book about a humorous high-fantasy heist.
I grew up reading about
heroes saving the world with magical swords and feats of magic, and I knew
pretty early on that someday, I would write fantasy myself. But I also
realized, once I started writing my own stuff, that if fantasy is the genre of
myth and legend, then I am forever destined to be the little kid who asks where
the hero goes to use the bathroom.
Part of it is because as I
grow older, I am increasingly aware that most fantasy worlds are, if examined
with a modern eye, sometimes unlikely, and often completely absurd. There are a
hundred ways for authors to cover this absurdity and coax the reader back into
a comfortable suspension of disbelief, but humor has always been my favorite.
In Kage Baker's The Anvil of the World, the myths get stripped bare, and
people react to the magical and impossible with delightful realism. Often,
hearing a character say, “Demons? Really? And that struck you as a good idea?”
is all the reader needs, a gentle acknowledgment that yes, this is a little
silly, and now we can all go back to the swordfighting.
Another part of my love of
humor can probably be blamed on my family. I grew up in an Irish-American
household where the weekly game of Hearts only ended when someone started
crying. Nothing gets you to the heart of someone's personality like friendly
trash talk, the joke whose tiny little edge digs deeper than expected, piercing
the armor we put up around ourselves and laying bare the traits we can never
discuss straight-faced. There's a reason so many great works have soft spots
for their court jesters and trickster gods--they tell the truth, as we the
readers wish we had the courage and the wit to do ourselves. Coyote Blue,
by Christopher Moore, is one of my favorite stories, with an idiot trickster
whose hilarious commentary sometimes cuts to the bone.
I was initially uncertain
about categorizing my own book, The Palace Job, as humor, because I
remember the terrible things I put my characters through more than the witty
rejoinders or clever twists. Eventually, though, I realized that people didn't
like the humor despite the dark parts of my work, but because of
it. Comedy and tragedy both bring out our strongest emotional responses, and
like a rollercoaster, the most breathtaking twists are the ones that involve a
change in direction. I loved Stephen King's Under the Dome, but for all
the gruesome horror that comes from watching a small town fall apart, I also
laughed out loud regularly, because King is just that good at whipping your
emotions back and forth. Coming from the opposite direction, Terry Pratchett's
Discworld books (particularly the City Watch ones, starting with Guards!
Guards!and Men at Arms) made me laugh until I cried, only to get
honestly teary-eyed moments later from its portrayal of alcoholism, betrayal,
This may be why humor gets
its own subgenre when people discuss fantasy. It's an odd fit, and one that not
everyone finds comfortable. At its core, fantasy is about myth and legend, and
humor is about reminding you of what it means to be human, with all the
imperfections and contradictions that carries. I'm glad there are so many
wonderful writers out there who like to ask where the hero goes to use the