The return of epic fantasy? I’ve received a couple of fan emails asking why there isn’t more ‘epic fantasy’ around at the mo. Added to that, several conventions this year have had panel discussions on the epic fantasy sub-genre. What’s going on? The ‘epic’ sub-genre of fantasy literature was the dominant sub-genre in the 80s and 90s. It was overtaken by the urban, dark and grimdark sub-genres a good while ago. Are people yearning again, then, for that time when kings and queens were noble, when a hard-working apprentice could save the world, and when evil could be defeated by good old fashioned morality? Are people ‘sick’ of the depressing, brutal and fatalistic fantasy literature created by current social and historical forces (Brexit, Trump, political scandals, etc)? You bet they are. And who can blame them?
The lost age of heroes? Curiously, although dystopian YA movies did well at the cinema for a number of years (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc), the trend seems to be returning to high/superhero (‘Chosen One’) fantasy. Marvel hero stories are swamping both tv and film. At the cinema, we’ve got Avengers, Thor (third film in production), Antman, Dead Pool, Guardians of the Galaxy (second film here soon), Doctor Strange, etc. On tv we’ve got Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Daredevil, etc. And let’s not forget the resurgence of the Star Wars franchise – classic high fantasy. What’s happening here? Why are stories from the 70s gaining such traction? Are people really harking back to a nobler time, when humans were ‘better’, when they may have walked with gods? You bet they are. This yearning isn’t new either. It’s a key theme of the Iliad as well. We see how far we have fallen since the ‘golden age’, and we feel grimy and ashamed. We try to envision how things once were, so that we can mimic and recreate that better past.
Changing fashions and new generations? Every 7-10 years of so, we have a new erotic series shocking popular culture. We had Emanuel in the 70s, Jilly Cooper in the 80s, Jackie Collins in the 90s, E L James (Fifty Shades) in the 2000s, etc. After each iteration, people get bored with the media saturation and there’s a ‘lull’ in the market. There is a welcome reprieve. Then the younger generation grows up and it all starts again. The same happens with vampire fiction – you don’t need me to list the examples. And the same has happened with zombies. Are we telling the same stories over and over again? To an extent (there is certainly a lot of tired repetition), but there is also updating and some originality going on. What we can say, then, is that there seem to be a limited number of basic stories, but they are always relevant. We are going to see the same old stories repackaged over and over forever more, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Takeaway message? The takeaway message is that audiences still crave hope. They eventually return to enduring stories of hope and triumph. Yes, it’s fresh and interesting to have moments and sub-genres where the dark side wins, or where everything is morally ambiguous, but in the longer term, our positive spirit is shown to win out. Amen.
A J Dalton is the author of Empire of the Saviours, is out now in paperback. The trilogy continued with Gateway of the Saviours and was finished with Tithe of the Saviours. To find out more about AJ Dalton website, or follow him on Twitter @AJDalton1