Who’s Killing Fantasy? You Are!

Too Many Elves?

I recently took my daughter to buy some books in a rather large UK book chain and was dismayed to discover that the Fantasy section had all but disappeared.

Whereas a decade or more ago it took up an entire wall, it’s now reduced to shelf space maybe eight feet long, if that. What’s worse, it’s no longer Fantasy: each work of imaginative fiction strains beneath the banner of Sci-Fi so that Tolkien shares space with computer game tie-ins.

While I’m always happy to see genre distinctions eroded (though I don’t see why it’s not all under a Fantasy banner) it made me realise just how low the genre has fallen in the public’s affections.

Fantasy’s been dying for a while, of course – we all know that. There have been times when it’s lifted a feeble head from the pillow as some bright young thing threatened to pump new blood into its cholesterol-choked arteries, but nothing ever came of that. It seldom does.

Now it’s comatose, close to extinction, and its all down to writers.

You know who you are. You know what you’ve done. A genre once famed for its wild flights of fancy has begun to suffocate under the weight of cliché. Whereas Horror has standard-bearers like Clive Barker, an author who actually knows what imaginative fiction is about, Fantasy sinks further into decrepitude as more and more of its supposed fans resort to the cookie-cutter approach. After all, it’s easy. Why create a race of beings unique to your imagination when you can just pick an Elf off the shelf? No need to think at all. Why create a plot-line which subverts expectation and leaves the reader gasping at its audacity when you can just retread what’s gone before?

But hold on there, some will say, surely people are entitled to write what they want? This is true. If someone wants to write about halflings and goblins and princes then they’re perfectly free to do so. Except it’s already been done. What’s worse, it’s been done better.

There may well be an appetite for fiction drawn from a template, but that doesn’t mean you have to feed it.

If you’re truly serious about being a writer the least you should demand of yourself is to be daring, to forge ahead towards a star that shines for you and you alone.

The real world is filled with those whose dearest wish is to be one of the crowd. It used to be that writers would rather die than join their ranks. Not any more, sadly. Now they’re happy to conform in thought and deed.

These are the people who’ve turned Fantasy into a shadow of its former self. These are the people who’ve administered the poison. Perhaps the most pathetic thing about them is that they don’t even see what they’ve done wrong. They can’t – they don’t have the imagination. That’s the tragedy.

Get well soon, Fantasy. I hope you recover, I really do. I hope you come back twice as strong and show the world what made you so special in the first place. I only pray that those who claim to love you haven’t pushed you into a terminal decline. If so they’ve no one to blame but themselves.

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Karandi
3 years ago

I disagree that fantasy is dying. Admittedly the epic fantasy series of old are diminishing in number being replaced by YA fantasy novels, or supernatural romances, but these are still fantasy. While there does seem ot be a trend for whatever is currenlty the flavour of the month (whether that be vampires or angels or elves) to saturate the genre, eventually we move to something new. Where before epic quests dominated the genre, now it is the individual character stories and relationships within a fantasy genre that are captivating audiences and writers are responding to that market. So maybe fantasy isn’t dying but evolving to suit the modern market whether that is a good or bad thing for the genre long term will be anyone’s guess.

Jeff
Jeff
3 years ago

Fantasy is alive and well. The innovation is in the self-pub indie market, not the safe bets from the big houses. More original work out there than ever before. But no, you’re not going to find it at B&N wedged on a shelf between the Starbucks and the gift kits.

Anna Fajardo
9 years ago

I loved this article and it’s true. I guess that when a writer sits down to write a story, the page isn’t as blank as it should be. Whatever the genre, one thing sticks out: everything is cliche. But I consider it a challenge.

David
David
9 years ago

The Waterstones in Moorgate has to constantly expand its area for Sci Fi and Fantasy books (currently five shelving units and a table), maybe you should try a different book store.  I don’t think the genre has ever been healthier from a book point of view, from the marquee titles like ASOIAF, through newer authors like Brandon Sanderson and people rediscovering classics like The Black Company.

Sure it is skewed by the TV series being such a success, but the current best sellers on Amazon makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Xvalkar
Xvalkar
9 years ago

Fantasy is close to extinction?  I’m really not sure what you’re talking about.  Ever hear of Song of Ice and Fire?  It’s been made into a TV show on HBO and occupies it prime slot (Sunday nights).  Ever hear of the Harry Potter Series?  Or the Inheritance Cycle?  Ever read a World of Warcraft Book?  Or the numerous D+D and Warhammer novelizations?  How is the science fiction, western, or other genres any hotter than fantasy is right now?

katekrake
katekrake
9 years ago

I’ve just published a response to this essay here

UnionJane
UnionJane
9 years ago

There is an old adage that there are no new stories, and to a certain degree, I believe it. I personally like to see one significant difference in the magic of a fantasy story that distinguishes it from everything else–but other than that, I’m for a good retelling of an older story. To a certain extent, it’s about skill with typical writing conventions, like maintaining suspense and good characterization. Although Conan is hero-worshipped now, Howard’s original work was considered pulp…Right next to “garbage” as far as original literature is concerned.  In Crawford Killian’s Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, he recommends reading the trash with the treasures, because it will make you a better writer when you can cull out the crap fantasy. I’m onboard with that line of reasoning, and so don’t mind cliche-junkies like Deborah Harkness writing another vampire romance. Perhaps idealistically, I believe fantasy is like everything else–the strong will out, while the weaker writing will be forgotten in time.

Aiden Sawyer
Aiden Sawyer
9 years ago

I can’t agree with you Dusk. The essence of fantasy is not in the creation of new creatures or worlds but in the foundation of fairy tales, mythology, and magic. It’s strengths are in its cliches, nobility, honor, valor set against darkness and evil. Stir in some magic and mystical creatures both good and evil, and you’ve brewed up a good fantasy broth. But what you add next is the most important ingredient. Populate your story with solid characters, consistency, and quality writing. That’s what I look for in a good book, fantasy or otherwise. Even is the plotline has weaknesses, well written characters will carry you through more times than not.

And in the States at least, fantasy is alive and well and has fallen from favor only in the eyes of the mass media which has never smiled upon it anyway. Just check out the top 100 list and count the fantasy titles. I can’t think of a time when more fantasy has been listed.

George69336
George69336
9 years ago

No problem! I see I might have to add your site to my RSS reader; some things here look interesting. I originally found your article linked over at SF Signal.

At Dusk I Reign
At Dusk I Reign
9 years ago

George69336, it was the last sentence which got me. Obviously I interpreted it the wrong way. This happens a lot with me: I’m no genius.:)I can find no fault with your most recent post, however, much as I might try in the interests of being an argumentative old git.

George69336
George69336
9 years ago

Dear Dusk,

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t necessarily disagree with your reasons. In fact, I think my comment ties in with your reasoning. We have way too many people who are merely following along with the current trends of post-modernism, which as Digital Fey notes, leads to simply having a new set of cliches which then are added in on top of the old fantasy writing cliches.

Of course, to some extent this is unavoidable & not necessarily bad, because all literature & stories flow out of previous stories; it’s built on a common scaffolding. 

But what happens is that people get inspired by an author & then end up trying to be like that author in style or content instead of being themselves. So, there’s lots of people trying to be the next Tolkien or Rowling or Meyer rather than themselves. And then there’s a huge majority who are just jumping on the bandwagon in order to make a quick sell. 

Doesn’t necessarily make their books a bad read, but it does, as you point out, tends to make everything the same & washes out the distinctiveness of the genre. 

Hopefully this helps clarifies my previous comment.

At Dusk I Reign
At Dusk I Reign
9 years ago

George69336, I couldn’t
disagree more. The genre’s stagnated because the people who write it
have been lolling about in their comfort zones for too many years.
It’s dull. Deathly dull. Pandering to expectation may be great for
getting one’s name in print, but it serves no other purpose. Why
bother being a writer at all if we’re never prepared to stretch
ourselves, to explore avenues the mainstream shuns due to lack of
imagination? If a good tale well told is the best humanity can expect
from its scribes then we all deserve extinction. I’m not advocating
deconstructionism or cynicism, both of which annoy me to varying
degrees, merely that writers of fantasy actually use their
imagination for once and write something based on a personal vision,
not market research or what they once read in a D&D sourcebook.
The role of the artist should be to reveal wonderful new vistas to
the public, not the same old wasteland.

Digital Fey
Digital Fey
9 years ago

Agreed, George. In the attempt to subvert one generation of cliches, all we seem to have ended up with is another set… We need more writers who are passionate about having a story to tell, rather than just wanting to see their My Very Own Vampire Novel in print.

Meh, that’s enough cynicism for tonight… >.>

George69336
George69336
9 years ago

Oh, I thought it was post-modern deconstructionism & cynicism that was suffocating Fantasy?

And I’ve had quite enough so far of people trying to subvert expectations.  What we need are people to subvert the subverters of expectations. 

stevedavidson
stevedavidson
9 years ago

interesting:  here in the states, there’s virtually no science fiction to be found amongst the fantasy at the book stores – my real make-believe books are being drowned out by fake make believe books….

BA Matthews (Fey)
BA Matthews (Fey)
9 years ago

Every genre goes through its ups and downs. I’m sure Fantasy will recover, though perhaps not in the form that we’ve come to recognize as Fantasy. I think that every genre goes through the “___ is dead… Long live ____” syndrome.

Look at the Horror genre for example. I hear it’s dead, yet every day I see it living in a new form as “Paranormal Fantasy/Science Fiction”.

rocknrollforyoursoul
7 years ago

I agree that writers deserve some blame, but so do publishers. A book featuring something with a bit of a fresh angle gains traction, and suddenly every publisher is rushing to duplicate its success. One teen vampire novel succeeds, then we’re hit with 20 teen vampire novels. I see the same thing in movies and TV.

Kate Krake
Kate Krake
8 years ago

Ah, a golden oldie indeed! And here was my response – http://www.vividscribe.com/feature-whos-killing-fantasy-dont-blame-the-writers/

Trevor Claus-wheeler
Trevor Claus-wheeler
8 years ago

there are plenty of still awesome fantasy books out there, you just need to know where to look 🙂

Kate_Vivid Scribe
8 years ago

Here’s an updated link to the response essay I wrote for this.
 
http://www.vividscribe.com/feature-whos-killing-fantasy-dont-blame-the-writers/

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