Revenge of the Forbidden!

Sarah Dimento, our Esteemed Cover Artist, offers some thoughts on her trade:

Your Generic-Ass Cover Makes Me Think There’s a Generic-Ass Book Inside

And in a heroic attempt to rid the world of generic-ass titles in the form ___ of ___:

The Cliché Fantasy Title Generator

Generate your own stupid fantasy title! Use at your own risk! Yes, you too can come up with classic titles at the touch of a button. Titles like:

Revenge of the Forbidden

Wizards of Evil

Evil of Wizards

Evil of Evil

and the ever-popular Arthurian saga:

Nightmare of the Round Table

Which ought to be the name of a book about a zombie King Arthur. Alas, there is a book (or at least a comic) that appears to be about a zombie King Arthur, or at any rate a zombie-killing King Arthur. It’s called Dead Future King, which is clearly the Wrong Title, because it has not got an of in it.


  1. I think if you re-title the last one ‘Knightmare of the Round Table’ it might paradoxically attract more attention — something clearly meant to be enjoyed as a silly book.

    Personally I like trying to invent titles which raise a question that can only be resolved by reading the story. ‘A Very American Magic’ ought to pose such a question at least to those who are familiar with fantasy, since Magic is generally known to be ancient or mythical in provenance — and neither of these things are particularly American. (Neil Gaiman did something similar with ‘American Gods’.) ‘How to Destroy the World in Seven Days’ is too obvious to explain. The cliched ‘of’ template might also work for this if the things being ofed together are sufficiently incongruous or memorable — say, ‘The King of Hot Air’ or ‘The Shadows of Gethsemane’.

    ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was actually a title of the same type, although it has since become too well imitated. As a kid, long before I ever opened up the books, I was struck by that title and spent quite some time puzzling out what it might refer to. For some reason I imagined that the rings would be large rings in the landscape (something like a stone-circle or a fairy-ring) and that various factions would vie for control over them.

  2. My favorite will always remain Whisper of Hammers.

  3. I will confess, I was once looking at a fantasy title generator, and it spat out at me, “Jewel of the Tiger.”

    On sale now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other fine sellers of e-books. Also in the collection Enchantments And Dragons

    Some times the muse just likes a title. . . .

  4. Carbonel says

    Your friendly, neighborhood contrarian is here, with her hairy eyeball-o-yes-but!-ery.

    An Exaltation of Larks. Sons of Anarchy (okay, that one is a point for the other side) Days of Future-Past…

    Also: There are people who want generic fantasy product, just as there are people who want Velveeta (and, on Seahawks game day, I am one of them. I do use home-made salsa and our local Walla Walla sweet onion chilli, for what it’s worth). One could make a case for truth in advertizing, viz those titles.

    Just saying’

    Also, your most excellent cover artist makes most excellent critiques of book cover illos, but good lord, doesn’t she know that profanity cheapens the soul and weakens the mind ? (Middleman!!)

    • An Exaltation of Larks is actually a perfect counterexample; as is, say, A Confederacy of Dunces. The key is that those four words, exaltation, larks, confederacy, dunces, are all highly unusual and not habitually used in book titles. The real evil lies, I think, in the lazy use of the ‘of’ form, to link together two squashy generic words that have no deep meaning and no breadth of connotation, except that, in a general sort of a way, they say, ‘This is something to do with Fantasy.’

      I talked this over with Sarah, and she agrees entirely; but as she points out, she was being purposely silly. The critic Basil Willey, I think, once pointed out that if tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner, the satirist must decline to comprehend everything, because he cannot afford to pardon everything. He has got to have a deliberately one-eyed view of his target, and ignore its good qualities so that he may magnify the bad ones. In those terms, the Cliché Fantasy Title Generator is pretty good satire.

      As for the people who want generic fantasy product, they have made their own bed and can lie in it. One could wish that their mental taste buds were not so numb. Chesterton made a good thing out of reminding the world of the glory and wonder of mundane things. When people need reminding of the glory and wonder in glorious and wonderful things, they are in a deplorable state indeed.

      • Indeed, and I would like to add that complaining about something like Lord of the Rings for being cliche, when it invented the cliches, is equally silly. I mention this because Return of the King is a possible combination in my joke title generator.

      • Generic fantasy product doesn’t evoke the glory and wonder in glorious and wonderful things; typically it evokes the tedious and mundane in glorious and wonderful things.

        For a point of comparison, Discworld type fantasy can be seen to go one better: it evokes the incongruous and ridiculous in glorious and wonderful things.

      • Carbonel says

        You make an excellent case. I wonder then, if the strength of the satire depends, inversely, on the extent to which the eye is blinded?

        I yield!

        • I think you have to have one perfectly good eye, and not use the other one at all. Using both eyes gives you stereoscopic vision, which is to say, a sense of perspective. Satire can’t afford perspective, as a general thing.

          • Carbonel says

            I continue to cogitate: because I suspect you are mistaken, but lack the knowledge base (viz satire) to contradict you. I can be a slow thinker – let me know if this is irritating: two years from now, (or two months) I might pop uo and re-open the argument. Say the word and I’ll desist.

            In the meantime, would you do me a favor? Were I a betting woman, I’d say, “Of course, Mr. Simon has a copy of Abolition of Man on his shelf.” If I win my bet, would you read the bit at the back about cross-cultural ethics and then read this essay?


            In other news, I’ve graduated from drawing comics for my daughter’s lunchbox (you can see most of those on livejournal) to drawing them for my husband. In the spirit of 1.5 readers, would you take a look and tell me what you think?

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