I think it's fair to say that in the last decade fantasy as a genre has undergone something of a revival. Now before I get bombarded with a tirade of BloggerDoom+2 spells, or death threats written in Elvish, I do realise that it's always enjoyed a dedicated niche popularity. But what I'm talking about is a revival into popular culture, in the way sci-fi surged forth in the late 70s-early 80s.
Now fantasy takes many forms, and if we regard fantasy literature as encompassing the magical, the make-believe, the imaginary world, then we are including works as diverse as Harry Potter, George RR Martin, Tolkien and perhaps even paranormal/urban fantasy such as (ducks spell aimed at head) Twilight. Personally I'm thinking more traditional fantasy sub-genres, whether high fantasy/epic fantasy, or this darker variant made more popular with Game of Thrones series and books by Martin and Abercrombie.
I think there's a few good reasons that we're seeing this surge in popularity, and some overlap into science fiction as a genre.
First is undoubtedly the high quality series and films we're seeing. HBO Game of Thrones is superbly done, both in terms of adaptation and acting. Jackson's admirable work on the LOTR and the Hobbit have turned a new generation onto the genre.
But it's the books as the backbone of this popularity that have kept pace. As much as I love the stalwarts of Leiber, Vance, Tolkien, Moorcock et al, the writers of the last twenty years have matured the genre. And I don't mean just in terms of adult content. The style and the characterisation plays a huge part. I'm thinking of Robin Hobb, who writes intelligent books with excellent depth of character (such as Fitz in the Farseer trilogy). There's so many to choose from, and so little time to read, but authors such as Martin, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie and Steven Erikson really stand out for me (and I'm sure readers of the blog can suggest many more).
Quality of product aside, there is something more about fantasy that has boosted it's popularity in the modern era. It's beyond simple escapism- after all, most fiction offers a degree of escapism. Personally I think, similar to sci-fi, it allows us space to consider weighty ontological issues. Fantasy is a classic environment for good vs evil, and indeed the nature of evil and the blurring between light and dark. In my own work the 'baddy' is not utterly vile: as the series progresses you get insights into his persona, his philosophy, his fear of death, his grief, and his sense of being ostracised that have created his darkness. His interaction with Emelia is almost affectionate and flirtatious at times. We know he's evil, yet we still wonder at his possible redemption.
And other brain-bruising topics play out in fantasy: self-determination vs destiny; the nature of faith; the conflicts between nature and science and loads more. Even in classic fantasy, such as LOTR, we see these themes. To me, the key story in LOTR is that of friendship- the Frodo-Sam dynamic drives the story- and of destiny (Aragorn fulfilling his; Gandalf's purpose on Middle Earth). Yet it also touches on mortality, and how war and conflict alters those who fought (three of the Hobbits never settle in the Shire, Frodo is never the same after carrying the One Ring). And the most Referenced theme in the books is the conflict between nature and industry. It's highlighted well in the films, as well as the books- Sauron and Saruman represent the destruction of nature, with fire and iron and smoke--the Hobbits and Elves especially represent rural life and being in tune with nature and the land. It's shown very well when Sam looks in Galadriel's mirror, and when Treebeard with Merry and Pippin see the destruction of the forest near Isengard.
I drew on a similar theme in my Prism series. Vildor and the knights represent technology, and abhor nature. Vildor being a ghast, a vampyr lord, is cheating death- the key moment of a natural cycle. In book four his knights torch the Druids and their forest. Vildor's lair is The Waste and the Dead City, areas where magic has devastated the natural world . In opposition to him we have companions from lands in touch with nature, including Marthir- a Druid- and Master Ten, an earth elemental.
In book five, some of the companions journey to Nth Artoria, a land where the New Gods- gods who represent traits rather than elements- are revered. Nth Artoria worship gods of pride and courage, Egos and Tindor- and with that comes arrogance and a reliance on conflict that will create major problems for our characters.
There are other themes that my series explores- friendship and loyalty being a key one, and a search for identity and belonging- which is the major focus for Emelia in this book. She journeys through her past, and not everything she finds is welcome.
So despite the obvious audiovisual reasons for the resurgence in fantasy's popularity, I think the themes it allows us to explore, under a veil of imagination, will ensure it's enduring (and hopefully growing) presence on our bookshelves (virtual or not).
Darkness Rising 5 is released on Kindle today.
For UK kindle it's
And for those across the Atlantic:
Print copy to follow in a couple of months !