Is fantasy still just for nerds? Why is the fantasy genre so popular?
Fantasy fiction has evolved considerably over the past twenty years. Most of the time when I read sentences like that I am extraordinarily skeptical, but this is an area where I have a certain amount of confidence. I’ve always kept an eye on fantasy literature, always found it interesting, but I’ve had trouble finding books that I really enjoyed until the last decade or so. Since the huge success of the Harry Potter books and films, and Peter Jackson’s interpretation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (and the bloody Hobbit), the genre has changed a lot. Some of the stuff that’s available now is even too serious for many readers.
The genre started to change even before that, however. Serious works, like Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun were there, but they were hard to find. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire would have been written even if the LOTR films hadn’t been so successful, but I doubt it would have been made into a successful TV show that people talk about on the bus. There’s a lot of speculation on why, particularly in the rise of Grimdark fantasy, but last week I came up with a funny little speculative theory, that I call the Renaissance Faire Theory of Fantasy Literature Evolution. Plant your tongue in your cheek if you plan to keep reading.