The Changing Face(s) of Fantasy

Adam Dalton describes the continuing relevance of the fantasy genre in this insightful article over at Fantasy Faction. He writes,

Things move on. Things evolve. It’s healthy that the fantasy genre does so too – it keeps it fresh, vibrant, progressive and alive. It keeps is strongly ‘relevant’ to new readers. There are some genres that are far less progressive (in literary terms), and that are beginning to fail. A clear example is the genre of horror. Book sales have all but died off entirely (although in TV and film horror still does well). Many Waterstones stores have entirely done away with their horror sections (hiding them in their Scifi/Fantasy sections or relabeling them as Dark Fantasy sections). Unless you’re Stephen King or James Herbert (RIP), you simply aren’t going to sell many books if your book is labelled ‘horror’. Horror is literally dead. Ironically dead. Dead. Justin Cronin’s The Passage was first launched as a horror, and it hardly sold. It was relabelled scifi and relaunched. Again no sales. Then it was launched as a literary fiction and it became a best-seller.

Because scifi in terms of book sales is also in massive trouble. Brian Aldiss…puts is down to the fact that we now ‘live in a scifi world’ and that we therefore no longer need to read scifi so much. ‘Every week there’s some new device or invention that comes out and we don’t know how it works! Strange and confusing technology is all around us.’ Mr Aldiss has put his finger on it for me – current readers just don’t see scifi literature as being as ‘relevant’ to them as past readerships did.

Yet fantasy survives and thrives! Where it was the poor cousin to scifi in the 1970s, it now utterly dwarfs (interesting verb!) scifi. How does fantasy do it? What’s the secret? Well, it’s the magic of fantasy, isn’t it? Magic is at the heart of that genre. It tricks, distracts, bewitches and bespells, where other genres merely appal or confuse.  And it’s learnt to be relevant, to reflect the shifting dreams and fantasies of its readership, to reflect the current state of society. ‘The current state?’ you might frown. ‘But fantasy isn’t real. It’s precisely the opposite of that.’ Precisely. Look, you can’t get a job as a philosopher these days, so you have to become a reader or writer of fantasy. Fantasy is the fairground mirror to the real, the extension and twisted exploration of the real, the different way of seeing that enables real change.

I feel as if I owe an apology to the professors of philosophy I know for that line about not being able to get a job as a philosopher these days. But I didn’t say it, so you’re on your own.

Advertisements