For years authors—the few, the proud, and the prolific—who wrote fantasy seemed to write only one type of story: the dwarfs-and-elves classic fantasy taking place in a medieval setting. Then along came Harry Potter and a handful of other stories. Suddenly fantasy mushroomed into a wide array of sub-genres, from urban fantasy to dystopian, fairytale, post-apocalyptic, steampunk, and a host of others.
At one point, young adult fiction took over the genre. Seemingly, every other YA book was some type of fantasy, and the best-seller lists were dominated by the likes of series such as Harry Potter (the latter books no longer falling into the middle grade category), Twilight, and Hunger Games.
Vampires and dark retellings of fairy tales hit the small screen, too, but in the book industry, the interest in fantasy of any kind seemed to be slowing. In fact, science fiction appeared to be the new point of interest.
Until classic fantasy re-emerged.
I don’t know what the catalyst was. I do know several young adult series such as A Throne Of Glass by Sarah Maas and Falling Kingdoms by Megan Rhodes harkened back to classic fantasy. And then there was Lev Grossman‘s recently concluded trilogy: The Magicians, The Magician King, and The Magician’s Land.
Grossman in particular seems to be an apologist for fantasy. In a phone interview last August with The Atlantic, he said, after praising C. S. Lewis (“He came up with a new way to describe magic that made it feel realer than it ever had”) and Narnia in particular,
I bristle whenever fantasy is characterized as escapism. It’s not a very accurate way to describe it; in fact, I think fantasy is a powerful tool for coming to an understanding of oneself. The magic trick here, the sleight of hand, is that when you pass through the portal, you re-encounter in the fantasy world the problems you thought you left behind in the real world. Edmund doesn’t solve any of his grievances or personality disorders by going through the wardrobe. If anything, they’re exacerbated and brought to a crisis by his experiences in Narnia. When you go to Narnia, your worries come with you. Narnia just becomes the place where you work them out and try to resolve them.
Patrick Rothfuss, author of The Kingkiller Chronicle and other related books set in the same world, hasn’t hurt the status of classic fantasy either. Nor has Brandon Sanderson with his completion of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and his own Mistborn series.
Christian fantasy, late to the prom with dystopian and post-apocalyptic fantasy, seems primed to take advantage of this new resurgence of classic fantasy. Among others, Jill Williamson will be releasing in the near future a traditional type fantasy from Bethany House, along the lines of her Blood Of Kings trilogy.
Classic fantasy—largely epic fantasy—is what I most like to read and what I happen to write. But I’m seeing the genre move in a different direction. There’s a distinct movement away from Tolkien remakes. Writers are taking a fresh approach in the storytelling, in the worldbuilding, and in the creation of the characters. Above all, the aim seems to be to avoid the predictable.
Which is as it should be, as far as I’m concerned. Stories are retreads. We can’t seem to get away from that. It’s the “no new story” truth we all live with. But there are unique ways of presenting stories, new twists, characters who “don’t belong” yet show up that can make a story feel new.
Whether it’s Anne Elisabeth Stengl‘s shape-shifting faeries or Patrick Carr‘s drunk protagonist or Jill Williamson‘s good bad guys and bad good guys, Christian fiction writers seem more than capable of keeping pace with the resurgence of classic fantasy.
Long may it continue.
What’s your take on the fantasy genre? Are you surprised to see its resurgence? What do you think has led to it? (I have my theory, but I’d love to hear yours first).