I thought that a great way to kick off the new Pens & Swords would be to reprint the following article I wrote for a debate topic on Helium.
The publishing world, much like Hollywood, tends to play it safe. When a book becomes a bestseller, not only does the publisher seek to squeeze more of the same out of the author, but competitors hungrily hunt for stories of a similar vein. This behavior results in a flood of overworked settings and bland clones.
But it doesn’t mean the fantasy genre is stagnant.
Stagnancy can be defined in two ways. Something becomes stagnant if it fails to develop or progress. If something is dull or boring, it is stagnant. Neither applies to the current state of fantasy literature.
The fantasy genre has seen a steady evolution over the last 30 years. Stories have grown from Tolkien-based epic fantasy and Conan-style sword-and-sorcery to include superhero, urban and historical fantasy. The blurring of genre lines is clear evidence of progress.
Fantasy has the unique strength of allowing an author to take contemporary social issues, remove them from the trapping of modern life, and place them within a world that is not constrained by the laws and mores we take for granted. There are only so many times you might be able to read a story about American slavery, the Napoleonic wars, or covert strikes against Islamic terrorist groups before the colorful details transform into the black and brown smudges of a 3-year-old’s finger painting. However, in fantasy, you can use those same themes and issues time after time, yet still create experiences easily distinguished from each other by the fantastical settings they are placed in.
The popularity of fantasy literature suggests the genre is anything but stagnant. According to media and publishing marketing firm Simba Information, the science fiction/fantasy genre ranked third (out of six) in 2006 retail sales, behind religious/inspirational and romance. The Harry Potter titles and movie adaptations of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia have brought incredible visibility of the genre to the general public. From 2000 to 2005, sales of science fiction and fantasy books grew at nearly double the rate of all other consumer books.
At first glance, it may seem the fantasy genre is stagnant. Row after row of covers featuring seductive vampires or dragon-riding knights certainly lends itself to that perception. Their existence is actually evidence that fantasy is growing in popularity. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find magical worlds you’ve never dreamed of.
Do you have an opinion about whether the fantasy genre has become stagnant? I’d love to hear it.