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.