Sometimes things move fast, sometimes they move slowly.
Fantasy’s rise to the throne of mainstreamness has happened incredibly quickly. I’m not old, but when I was at school, fantasy was not cool. (Nor were video games for that matter, but now it seems nearly every kid owns a console – which is not a bad thing.) Only the nerds read fantasy. And yes, it was read – because it wasn’t considered mainstream enough to be successful as a big-budget tv or film production. I think that one came to an end with the Lord of The Rings films, which did a lot to bring fantasy to mainstream attention.
But even then, it wasn’t exactly accepted. You didn’t speak about fantasy at school. For some reason, scifi was more socially acceptable. I feel like Star Wars was a much more normal thing to be a fan of.
There was also a snobbery in the literary world around fantasy, too. Fantasy writers were hacks – or at least they were in the eyes of the refined authors, those who wrote ‘contemporary’ or ‘literary’ fiction. They wrote mindless hack-and-slash stories, there was nothing of substance to them, nothing to ruminate on once you were finished. Ha.
And then you had that sudden explosion in high-budget fantasy content around 2010. You had Game of Thrones, which started in 2011. That brought some grit to the fantasy world, some gore and ruthlessness and sex and murder. We had Skyrim that same year, selling over 20million copies and becoming arguably the first mainstream fantasy video game. Audiences realised fantasy didn’t have to be for children. It could deal with mature themes. Then you had The Hobbit films in 2012, 2013 and 2014. There were lots of others, too, of course, but I feel like these were the three biggest drivers that brought fantasy to the masses.
By the time it ended, Game of Thrones was a record-breaking tv show, undoubtedly the most popular in the world. Now we have The Witcher, which has promptly seized its spot and become the most popular show on Netflix. Soon we’ll have Amazon’s new Lord of The Rings series, which will no doubt be mega expensive and will probably catapult fantasy to new heights of popularity. Meanwhile, the world of young adult publishing is flush with fantasy works by authors old and new, bringing it to a whole new generation of consumers – the first generation to be raised in a world where fantasy is cool, and they’ve always known it to be cool.
But for me, what really cemented our victory was when I met a retired English teacher. We got talking about books. What was he reading? Oh, A Game of Thrones, of course. And he thought it was great.
So if even the stuffy old English teachers can love fantasy, it’s time to get off your high horse and stop sneering and people who read and write fantasy. You’re at least a decade behind now.
(Was this whole post inspired by a snide tweet I saw? Maybe. Who knows.)
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