My writers group held it’s annual picnic last week. As usual there was a fair mix of old members and newcomers. After a delicious pot luck lunch we did a read and critique. Once again I was impressed by the quality of the writing but what struck me in particular was the number of newer writers working in the fantasy genre.
“Fantasy” is too broad a term to describe what’s happening with the genre today. One can choose romantic fantasy, mystery fantasy, thriller fantasy, urban fantasy, space fantasy. . . Pretty well an story you want to write can have a fantasy element to it.
We used to say that about romance. Back in the day “Romance” meant Harlequin category. Then writers flexed their imaginations and our love stories began to include elements of women’s fiction, mystery, thriller, erotica, inspirational. . . Again, any type of story the writer could imagine might include a love story.
Because romance led the industry in sales, other writers jumped on the bandwagon and added romance to their books. Some didn’t do it very well. There are websites devoted to awful romance scenes written by non-romance authors.
Is fantasy set to take over from romance in the “anyone can to it” department? The incentive is surely there as sales in fantasy have taken off, particularly in the self-published industry. Forbes reports a 100% rise in sales of fantasy novels since 2010. Interestingly, traditional publishers have not seen a similar rise. Is that because they are not investing in fantasy or because authors aren’t submitting ms in this genre? Given the success of Harry Potter, the Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, why wouldn’t a publisher be eager to pick up the next big thing?
The Marvel comic superheroes are another manifestation of the genre. Buck Rogers, Mandrake the Magician, Star Trek, Star Wars and the many spin offs have increased the genre’s appeal.
While it seems as though the bourgeoning of fantasy is a recent phenomenon, the genre is as old as literature itself. The Iliad, Greek and Norse myths, and children’s fairy tales all contained elements of the supernatural. Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, fit some definitions of fantasy. C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Tales fall into the genre. But the real impetus for the modern fantasy popularity probably began with JRR Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings.” Legions of young readers became hooked on literature when they met Frodo.
With so many varied examples to chose from, small wonder that romance authors, among others have embraced the genre. But why is it so popular?
We live in a complicated and rational world. For many, work days consist of sitting in front of a computer screen where every key stroke is governed by the rules of logic. We politely queue up at the coffee bar. We live in regulated housing complexes. We hover over our kids lest something terrible befall them. We buy toys that have received the good housekeeping seal of approval. In short, we do everything possible to make our world safe and predictable – and boring.
I think Fantasy offers the ultimate in escape literature. Here we can play on a cosmic stage. Our opponents are formidable on a mythical scale. Battles are epic. The stakes are high – maybe even the survival of the human race. As an antidote to a constrained life, fantasy offers unbeatable adventure.
As a writer and reader of romance, I find the epic proportions of fantasy a bit too over the top for me. Although I’ll admit to enjoying a long ago romance novel that had a ghost living in the attic, the hero/heroine were regular humans and it was their love story I followed.
I write Western Historicals and part of their appeal is the larger than life characters. Somehow it’s easier to give a cowboy physical prowess, a hidden wound, and a big heart combined with tenderness and toughness, than it is to assign the same character traits to an office worker—apologies to all romantic hero office workers. Still, at the heart of the story are real human beings with longings and failings I can relate to. If my hero were a superman, he wouldn’t have to struggle to overcome obstacles the way my wilderness hero must.
What about you, dear reader? Do you like your romance spiced with mythical creatures, or do you like the love story rooted on our earth?