What is up with fantasy book covers with badly-drawn art, tacky calligraphy, and horrible color coordination? Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy and I’m reading Codex Alera (by Jim Butcher) right now. But the noted problems has the unfortunate result of most of the youth classifying fantasy-lovers as social outcasts; even as an adult, I see a lot of people giving me odd looks when I’m in the fantasy aisle — the same kind of look I usually reserve for people in the romance/bodice-ripper section. I don’t blame them since the fantasy section looks like a whole gallery of horrid mini-paintings.
I like Harry Potter a lot though I don’t think it’s one of the best books in the genre. And before you die-hard Potterphiles rip me apart with your bare hands, take note that I have compared the series to great classics in the genre and in spite of the advertising glamour, Rowling’s brilliance and the series’ readability, HP cannot compete with its meatier siblings. But there is one thing about Harry Potter that makes it shine above all the other books in the genre: it’s perfect packaging. Picking up an HP book is like holding a work of art. The white space, perfect font and lettering, beautiful paper, artistic covers and design — the whole product looks good. Even the Chronicles of Narnia have more superior art direction than most fantasy series. One of its trade paperback editions had lovely pastel drawings with deep blue bottom borders. The Lord of the Rings already had several wonderful makeovers and Discworld’s colorful, cartoonish style perfectly suits the books.
Now imagine applying the same care and dedication to the packaging of some of the greatest fantasy books ever written: Wheel of Time, Earthsea Cycle, Memory, Sorrow, Thorn, Shannara series, The Sword of Truth, Dragonriders of Pern and many many more. Ok fine, maybe the Shannara covers are not that bad but they’re still mediocre.
It’s not the clothes don’t make a woman and we should not judge books by their covers. But that doesn’t mean that we should completely ignore the covers and slap something cheap and tawdry over the beautiful stories.