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My View On Fantasy Book Covers

I am a person who constantly finds himself a minority when expressing his views. I believe that a peaceful anarchy is possible but not likely. I believe some (but only some) comics and anime can give the great writers of prose and literature a run for its money. I think that teenaged angst is not responsible for the teen suicide rate.

One particular opinion I have that I am a minority on is the artwork found on the cover of fantasy books. I have read my fair share amount of fantasy novels as a child to my current age of a graduating high school student. When I look for them in the library I don’t bother looking at the categories to see if I’m in the Science Fiction section or not (Toronto Libraries tend not to distinguish between the two). I can tell when I’m in the Fantasy section by looking at the book covers.

Oh my goodness, just look at the fantastic cover on this fantasy book! The main characters are on it! You can tell who’s who by their specific physical features! They’re holding their personal weapons/tools of trade! They’re wearing their special clothing! They’re in a radiantly drawn setting with trees, or castles, or buildings! This scene on the cover matches an event in the book! They’re standing around a map, or trying to solve a puzzle, or are in the middle of a battle with vicious creatures! And there’s the title of the book written in huge letters large enough to rival the ridiculously large Stephen King on Stephen King books, but placed in the perfect location to not cover anything of importance! The cover’s amazing, it is well drawn, it is detailed, and it matches the story.

I don’t like it very much.

Do you see why I am a minority on this subject? I readily acknowledge that the cover for most of the kind of covers I just described are well done and probably describe the book well enough. Once you admit that what counter arguments can you make? Well, I have many counter arguments to describe why I have a problem with flashy covers:

  1.     I have a problem with knowing what the main characters look like. When I read a book I tend to imagine the main characters in my own special way. The book provides a description that acts mainly as an outline to how each character looks, and I design a character’s appearance  based on these outlines. For some reason, being able to create the main characters in my head creates a connection between me and the character in my mind. It is as if I played a small but major role in the creation of the character (Though I must give the author full credit for that) When a book has the main characters drawn in such loving detail on the very front cover I cannot picture the main characters in my own way anymore. The experience is then lost. I can read a book with an image of the main characters that’s not my own and still enjoy its plot, but I’m not as fully invested into the main characters as I would be if I had a small role in their design
  2.    The front covers show the monsters/items/clothing from the book. I dislike this in the same vein as I dislike when the covers show the main characters. I feel like the author (though the author doesn’t always necessarily design their own front covers) has imprinted their specific vision and I am not allowed to put in any input of my own. I enjoy imagining up the creatures the main characters must face, I like imagining up the treasure they gain and the special clothing they put on. Again, this may not detract from the quality of the book, but it affects the reading experience.
  3.     The Cover shows too much of the setting. I dislike covers that describe the setting in a different way then describing the characters or monsters. I dislike this because it may ruin the transition of the story experience for me. Allow me to explain. When I begin reading a book, I am not yet fully immersed in the setting yet. I am still fully aware that I am sitting in my living room holding a bundle of paper in my hands. I don’t even know what’s the setting is. It’s later as I read further and further into the book when the story starts to grab a hold on me. As I read into the events of the book the setting doesn’t simply appear into full being when it is first described, rather it slowly starts to slowly form so that by the end of the first chapter I am completely absorbed into the book’s setting. If the front cover lays the setting out for me to view before I start reading, the process is a bit rushed. I end up being fully aware of where I am (sitting and reading in my living room) while knowing where I’m supposed to be going, as if I was simply driving there. But reading isn’t like driving to the story’s destination. It’s about being in the passenger seat and not knowing where you’ll be headed while looking out the car windows to see the scenery and maybe getting to open the window every now and then to feel the wind.
  4.     Spoilers. Simple enough, sometimes the Covers spoil what will happen in the books.
  5.     Too much action. I will admit that this is solely my opinion alone. You’re seeing a man fight a dragon. He’s wielding his sword and the dragon’s breathing fire at the man’s shield. They’re on some sort of wooden ship and there’s a bunch of pirates headed towards them in the background. What you’re seeing is a movie trailer. This movie trailer will succeed in catching your interest because it’s advertising a movie. When you watch a movie, you get to see these action scenes played out for you. With books, you have to do a bit more work. When in a movie the main character runs up stairs, we see just that. When in a book the main character runs up a set of stairs, we have to imagine ourselves a set of stairs, and how the main character will run up them. Will he be panting? Will he have trouble? Will he hold the handrail? There’s so much personal input that in the end, the scene is no longer the same as the one shown on the front cover.

Those were my reasons for not liking fancy front covers. Some exceptions that I have read include;

  • Deltora Quest. This is a popular children’s fantasy series written by Emily Rodda (which is the pen name for Jennifer Rowe) The front covers, although never showing the main characters themselves, always showed a front view shot of the monsters in the book. The reason that this didn’t bother me was because I was actually introduced to this series by the artwork, in a book called Deltora Monsters. I was interested in the monsters and did not mind having to see imagine them the way the books portrayed them because I wanted to imagine them that way.
  • Guardians of Ga’Hoole. This series always showed the main characters on the title page. The reason this didn’t bother me? The main characters were owls. Maybe if I was an owl myself I’d be able to distinguish the difference between each owl’s face, but as I am now (human if you’re wondering) I can’t really tell the difference. If the book tells me to imagine up a Tyto Albas (barn owl) what I come up with is probably not going to differ much from the front cover.
  • Discworld. This gets a pass for many reasons. One, the Josh Kirby versions of the Discworld books are so wacky and strange I really find myself more entertained than informed when I look at the front cover. Two, there are so many variations of the title covers that I really don’t feel all that fenced in by the character illustrations because it’s as if the illustrators themselves are still arguing over how they look. And three, the books are simply too amazing for me to fret about the front covers (if there was anything to fret over that is)

Well, that’s my two cents. I am just putting my opinions out there for anyone who’d be interested. I don’t claim, or even remotely believe myself to be the “correct” philosopher in this discussion.

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