So the title is a little harsh, but hey, harsh can be fun.
I played D&D as a kid, read Tolkien and a few others so I have some familiarity with the genre. I watched a lot of the fantasy movies, blah blah blah, so I have some kind of leg to stand on when I criticize the cliches. I do so because I would like to see more original ideas in the genre. The genre suffers from several problems, some innate to the genre and some due to the general hackery of fantasy writers. Now I am talking strictly about books written in a pseudohistoricaal medieval setting, not Harry Potter or any of the modern fantasy or vampire books. I'm talking typical Fantasy here. The kind with Frazetta covers, ya dig?
Now I warn you that I will sound like I am tearing apart the very basis of Fantasy and that I am not a fan. This isn't true. I am merely tired of the same old crap. I used to like the cliches, but how many near exact copies of Lord of the Rings and Conan can I take, come on.
Also, I expect most to say, "lighten up dude, it's just fantasy," in response to my dislike of the implications of the fantasy setting worldview. I am not trying to multiculturalize or legislate rules re: fantasy. I want a larger range of fantasy worlds. Y'all can keep writing the same old baloney, I just won't read it.
The following are several of the problems.
Fantasy has this tendency to create races as living stereotypes. Now these stereotypes don't necessarily connect to real world stereotypes. I can't really match up dwarves or what-have-you to real ethnic groups. That is not my point really. My point is that its endorsement of stereotypical thinking.
This is all reinforced by the tendency to develop human-like structures to their societies. The demihumans (to steal from D&D) have a typical human sexual reproduction and family format. There has been a tendency to try and create an ecological niche as if there were at one time Cro-magnon elves, dwarves, goblins, orcs, etc all competing for the same resources in the stone age. They have their own cultures, societies, rules, etc. Once you make these magical races biological it creates a setting that seems to endorse a biological deterministic framework. Goblins are innately inferior because of their evil Goblin heritage/genes. Elves are innately superior (and coincidentaly quite Aryan in appearance) because of their Elven genes/lifespan/abilities. And I think that is where they go awry in multiple ways.
If you start to go biological you then need to really think out the world beyond all levels of frustration. To create a semi-realistic setting you have to walk through all of evolution on the planet and explain why Elves don't rule the world. Once you do that you have to think up reasons why different groups are innately evil and how they could have survived at all without some kind of kindness/cooperation within their group. From everything I have seen a society that is as cutthroat as the Goblin races are usually depicted would be out-competed by early man who was at least somewhat cooperative at the tribal level. The point is that you would have to recreate a pseudo-biological history of the entire planet. It's just too annoying.
My favorite method is to return to myth and to return to the general idea that these are magical creatures not biological. They don't have families or societies as we would understand them. They are creatures of magic and spirit and so embody ideas not real species. Like the Fae of Ireland they may reproduce by stealing kids and feeding them magical food under the hills. Stuff like that helps you avoid all the biological and ethical complications of a decent fantasy setting. This was very much inspired by the Hellboy comic book by Mike Mignola. He's bloody brilliant (as some denizen of Harry Potter might say).
And so in designing the setting you create a roughly Earth-like evolved planet with magic creeping in at the edges.
THE CHOSEN ONE SYNDROME & THE EPIC
The next major problem is the idea of the prophesied chosen one who will save the world from darkness. I am so utterly tired of the chosen one vs dark lord BS. Are we that short of ideas that the only plot to be redone in infinite variety is some kind of Tolkien + Jesus mish-mash? It is just so painfully, sickeningly done to death. What about the little stories about interesting characters in interesting fantasy settings? Fahfrd & The Gray Mouser by Fritz Leiber is a notable exception. They should be more interesting than me or the butcher down the corner, but does it always have to be about saving the whole of middle earth? Why this need for the epic in every single novel/series? Just laziness to me.
Back to this chosen one nonsense. In the real world there are no chosen one's who change the course of history. The exceptions are Jesus, Buddha, and other such major religious figures. By and large history is made by the mass movements of people with leaders that seem to know how to ride the crest of a movement. The leaders ARE NOT THE MOVEMENT. I do not want to read about another Jesus figure sans pacifism and compassion. It doesn't appeal to me and while it has its place within Fantasy it is not the only plot one could do. To me the chosen one syndrome encourages simplistic thinking about life. Simple is comforting, but wrong and unhelpful.
The chosen one is often a farmboy, who is secretly the long lost son of the king. Besides being a tired cliche I disagree with its implications. It implies that no one could possibly become a great man without some kind of genetic link to other great men, feeding the eugenics BS throughout Fantasy novels. Why can't the farmboy, merely be a farmboy who rises to greatness? (The exceptions is Conan, the Fantasy genre's self-made man.) Why does it have to turn out that he belonged to the ruling class all along? This leads to my next pet peeve...
Fantasy novels make certain entirely false assumptions about authority figures.
Firstly they depict rulers as either entirely enlightened, just, nearly holy rulers, or evil usurpers of the throne. They are very much wrapped up in the nobility and the justifications of the nobility.
Let's set some things straight. Kings and the like started out as bandit/warrior/Mafioso who basically ran a protection racket and made themselves rich off of that. That is the entire basis of "nobility." All this rightful king bloodline nonsense was cover for Machiavellian Mafioso politics. There is not one shred of decency or admirability in the Lords and Ladies. They generally starved the people to live in luxury and for that should never be praised in my book. They gave nominal protection, but the primary protection the people needed was from their own King or a competing King.
The wise gentle authority figure is pure fiction. Kings of the past are generally quite similar to dictators of the modern era, e.g., Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, Stalin, Hitler, the Kings of the Middle East, "President" Musharraf, etc.
Do any of these strike you as similar to King Arthur? No? That's my point.
And so I merely wish Kings to be depicted as well rounded humans who were driven primarily by greed and power lust, but had a human familial side as well. They can vary character, but at their hearts they are all amorally ruthless when it comes to keeping themselves in power.
I can quite easily picture an adventurer type getting stuck between Machiavellian Kings, why is that so rare?
BOREDOM WITH EUROCENTRISM
I know the genre was born out of reinvention of the ancient European epic, but does it all have to be? I enjoy it and all, but I'd like to see more novels set in fantasy setting based on extrapolations upon Asian, Native American, and African cultures. Fantasy is a big what-if anyway. Why can't you imagine how A pseudo America would develop after a few more centuries of settled culture and technological advancement? Or a pseudoAfrica? All of these can create interesting imagery. Or you can try (and this is hard) to make up your own fantasy cultures from scratch. Start with maps, then how folks look, make up language and culture, clothes, food, animals, social structure, the way magic works, the whole kit & kaboodle. That sounds challenging!
Perhaps the problem is the fantasy audience. Perhaps they just want the Lord of the Rings re-told in slightly different ways over and over and over again.