‘Who’s Killing Fantasy? You Are!’ is an essay, recently published on Mythic Scribes. In the essay, the author, under the pseudonym ‘At Dusk I Reign’ (ADIR) laments the demise of the fantasy genre (specifically books) and places the blame squarely on the head of the fantasy writers.
Now, it is not that I totally disagree with ADIR. The fantasy genre is indeed overloaded with clichés. J.R.R Tolkien imitators, Stephanie Meyer imitators all the worse for Stephanie Meyer herself being an imitator. It seems as though recently any time a new fantasy book hits the shelf, we’ve got another girl in love with a vampire (alternate angel, incubus, werewolf etc at will), or a young boy or girl discovering they have a destiny linked to a great evil they alone must defeat, adventure ensues. I do read some of these books, and I even enjoy some of them but I also agree, overall that the fantasy genre has been devalued through its own stock of expectations.
Fantasy of course is not the only popular genre that is at the mercy of its own clichés. Crime, romance, chick-lit, horror are all genres overloaded with standard plots, typecast characters and unoriginal settings. And yet, romance is consistently one of the highest selling genres despite the fact that thousands upon thousands of romance novels are written to strict formulas. As long as people are ready to read it, people are ready to publish it, and people are ready to write it. As such, the blame for a stagnating genre can never rest entirely on the writer.
It might be argued that fantasy writers, as supposed masters of imaginary realms are expected to be more unique, more groundbreaking within their genre than romance writers, for instance. However fantasy writers are still at the mercy of the market. Numerous fantasy authors consistently subvert clichés, forging new paths into old, and new places; China Miéville, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami spring to mind first. Yet, these writers remain firmly within numerous generic boundaries. Even an individualist fantasy writer like Gaiman is going to write a “Gaiman novel”, a subgenre unto himself. Dynamic as they are, genres are categories. Genres are formed and defined by recognisable distinctions and familiar tropes, so really it is impossible that anything able to be generically categorised will be truly unique.
While the market continues to revolve around generic classification, and expectations from readers remain in place, the writer, especially the writer who wants to get his or her bills paid on time, is going to write what is expected of the genre. The writer is forced to conform because that’s the product that is selling. Cliché ensues, and it’s not only the writer’s fault.
I am here, of course referring to books published under the traditional publishing model, and since ADIR began his essay talking about a large UK book chain, I can only assume he is too. Perhaps the genre will be freshened with the rise of the independent novelist. As more and more writers offer their work to the public either through various means of independent publication the E Revolution has provided, the existing paths of expectation created through traditional publishing may be eroded. Writers may be able to write less standardised stories, write less for the industry and the expectations of readers formed by that industry, and more for the art of imagination.
by Kate Murphy
© 2011, Kate Murphy