Is black and white dead?
No, I’m not talking about film.
With the recent surge in popularity of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (a.k.a. Game of Thrones), fantasy as a genre has gained a new audience. Even those who have not ventured into fantasy before can easily find themselves engrossed in the world of Westeros.
Why is this so?
Typically, fantasy has been known for depicting the struggle between good and evil – a trope that, while tried and true, may be too conventional for today’s audiences. There, I said it.
One reason that Martin has enjoyed so much success is that by avoiding the simple ‘forces of good defeat the forces of evil’ cliché, he has crafted a more mysterious and unpredictable story. And with an invigorated interest in the possibilities and directions that the story may go, the genre can creep in and silently wrap itself around the audience.
The Allure of Grey Fantasy
One of the best aspects of Martin’s story is his cast of characters. They are compelling, in large part because their actions and motives seem real and feasible not only in Westeros, but in our world as well. Thankfully, though, we don’t have to worry about any dragons or hordes of undead.
Black and white characters, while unique and interesting in their own ways, tend to be far more predictable and trite. There’s something about the unpredictability of grey characters that clicks with contemporary audiences. Yes, there still are heroes in fantasy literature whom readers root for, but the explosiveness and wild nature of the grey character is something that keeps audiences on edge for every page and every frame.
Grey characters change the nature of fantasy. Instead of rooting for the forces of good, you’re rooting for a character (or group of characters) that you can connect with and understand. This really allows the audience to choose from the cast and find the strengths in the characters that they can get behind, and find others whom they despise.
It’s all about that soap opera charm.
The Pitfall of Grey Fantasy
The strength of grey fantasy can also be its major weakness.
With black and white fantasy, the struggle of good to overcome evil is an immediate – and easily identifiable – source of conflict. It provides ready-made objectives and clear-cut goals. We know that the story must move forward, and that only one side will be triumphant.
Grey stories, on the other hand, are far more ambiguous.
These stories are typically driven by the plot-altering and complicating decisions of the characters. For readers to stay engaged, the plot must decisively move forward. If characters keep skewing the plot over and over until the story becomes directionless, the audience will abandon it. Readers want some sort resolution after investing time in a story.
A plot that is too character driven may lack those key goals and objectives that act as milestones in a story. Without defined objectives, characters will just go about their own agendas and business forever, and that can result in an endless, repetitive soap opera.
The Future of Black and White Fantasy
So, does the future look bleak for black and white fantasy?
Not quite. Black and white fantasy will never completely die.
Look at the great fantasy stories that we’ve come to love, such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and archetypal power. These are the stories that stay close to our hearts.The ongoing popularity of each of these works demonstrates that black and white fantasy has perennial resonance and
So, what do think the future holds in store for black and white fantasy?
Is grey, morally ambiguous fantasy the long-term future of the genre, or is it a passing fad?