Fantasize the Fantasy Tomorrow
It would be strange for any of us to question, with enough finality to afford asking, the liveliness of the Fantasy genre we can still recognize in the postmodern. But there would not be a reason for it, if it were not for the steady realization that figments of Fantasy, including C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, tickle at our youth with an aging, prodding relic; to consider J.R.R. Tolkien and his iconic collection of Hobbits and Elves battling the rage of the impending doom that is a Dark Lord, might sport little less than a comical jest for the fanciful thought. Reminisce briefly that the young wizard Harry Potter consumed the literary world for the average of a decade, and if you let them, the questions come naturally, as they should.
The genre continues to remain under fire despite achieving critical acclaim, long echoed from the forerunners to their successors, and tends to slip under the broader eyes of readers and critics in the general press. Some of what it suffers is the dismissive perception of the style; critical points have been argued about some of its generic and conservative outlines, often standardized within the high Fantasy aspect. This can be said true about the appeal to the powerful sorcerers and mythological environments; for while the imagination rules without bounds, the classic form easily grants us the most prominent picture of what true Fantasy, if there is such a thing, might look to us. So it can be said true as well, that while new Fantasy writers have had their share at cracking and shaping one of their own, the contemporary themes are often drawn too closely to the archetype, with little success to break off from it. So where the authors have constructed and rebuilt, the attitude of Fantasy has shifted: an antagonistic role to the classic model, and old tendencies replaced to make it appear so out of touch from itself.
So how do we begin with the questions; is there something wrong with the picture? What is changing in Fantasy?
To start with, the curiosity might be in the current model of written Fantasy, and with the Postmodern stamp now appearing on the works of many of these new writers. Following along various names and titles, some considerably popular ones have been attributed to the likes of Neil Gaiman and Gene Wolfe, and others taking their place in the genre that remains incredibly ambiguous to most. For the aid of readers and writers, the concept of the Postmodernism in Fantasy is something that is better understood depicted in capturing imagery and description, rather than a ulterior explanation of the genre. As we understand it, Postmodernism was a reaction that emerged in the late 20th century as a movement counteracting the Modernist view of the various arts, and is associated to be in opposition of certain traditions recognized from that period. Specifically in literature, it is generally described as a deconstructionist interpretation, and averts the structural model that undermines more typical subjects into uniquely driven narratives. Whereas the Modernist influence of the writing portrays purpose and meaning into a story, it appears to dislodge certain literary boundaries, and experimentation is guided to appeal as a subversive element; the purpose, if any, to eschew the original format of the genre.
Though there may still be confusion over the apparent contrast in the elements shared between Fantasy and Postmodernism, an argument can be made for how this lends us an alternate approach to the reality on broader terms. As noted, the concepts bear little resemblance to one another, with the constructionist ideology and design that Fantasy thrives upon, and the Postmodern criticism that should counteract the nature of the genre it has seemingly settled with. But it has become an aid for recognizing that it is not Fantasy itself that has endured these changes, rather the model of perception towards it; in this case, the redefining of the way we read and enjoy the elements in it.
To elaborate further, it is best to reiterate on the idea that Postmodernism, while based on loose terms and not strictly defined, is certainly a thriving concept of interpretation, and can be especially useful to decode literature by the levels of style and art found in it. But it must be emphasized that Fantasy is not meant to compete with the ideal principles that Postmodern would normally dictate, and has no concrete relation to anything of the similar nature. Understand that a genre like Fantasy is not widely established by themes pertaining to these sorts of ideologies, and one should not think of what is considered Postmodern or Modern in the appropriate context of it. Only by connections tied by writers and readers have people recognized some of those qualities found in the art of Fantasy, revealing what truly pervaded in the content we see in the genre. Ironically, reminisce that these interpretations are reactionary to the outline produced in earlier works of the conservative values, though it replicates its similar format with a twist, and the base content often remains the same. It is clear these changes are born, but not seen, in the glaring eyes of the reader and writer, and it is there we can observe what is truly melding and shaping Fantasy.
Yet how does this answer our questions? It may be pinned to a point that Fantasy has not entirely endured any enormous kind of change, just embraced a style of art by those writing it. It can be asserted that the genius of Fantasy remains as strong as ever, and merely the way we see it has shifted over the course of time it has survived. By all good, this does not mean dismissing the influence of Postmodernism; it has been able to introduce refreshing, canny ways to think of previously explored and understood ideas, with some efficiency in many other genres including Fantasy. Though this being the case, there remains the collected wonder on the real changes of the genre, and where along the beaten path do we anticipate a potential resurgence in the future.
In regards to the changes in Fantasy, an issue seen is that many of these writers are often basing their work to subjects similarly found in their predecessors, with the topics commonly reflecting from mythology and popular titles of the past. While certainly an inspiration for many, there is a tendency for new literature, or Fantasy, to pertain to these same stories and features while branding it into a contemporary image as though refurbishing it into a new product, in the name of Postmodernism. An iconic model for this would be vampires, and the akin names of creatures famous throughout the genre, and the way the same idea is frequently borrowed to reappear as ever so shifted and unremarkable, to an extent. Attributed to the success from classic folktale and mythology, it is no doubt that the influence from these has continued to be a powerful force, though has permitted for the re-brandishing of unoriginal concepts drawn time and time again. To be subject to these restraints has done little for Fantasy to make the next big step; the kind of development needed should be breaking from these old expectations, and not necessarily confine writing to a certain style or interpretation.
Of course, to speculate the next brand of Fantasy is an incredible assumption to make by itself, with only enough foresight to imagine the possibilities that may come. However, the efforts in Postmodernism has had a helping hand in creating abstract and unique ideas, with the consideration of expanding these thoughts into unexplored heights, and encouraging the new writers to take these steps into the right directions necessary. It can be the same token for other genres, especially for Science Fiction, a genre that speculates realism by scientific measure in a fictional setting. For that example, and while a stifled boundary lies between them, it is by the nature of Fantasy to rest on the complete expectation of possibility, the imagination, and may incorporate similar ideals found in Science Fiction; their interweaving concepts may grow conjecture and opinion from one another. Although it is easy to dismiss that argument for the relevance of Fantasy to compare, it should not discount the value of imagination, simply in the face of a speculative science that behaves similarly on those grounds of fiction. Through the genres and their elements, a writer will learn to have every means of creativity available to them, and it is when they earn the competency to master its enchantments, the various tools such as Postmodernism may help to bring out the best in the Fantasy genre. At the end of the step, it remains for the writers to visualize the Fantasy as it is, or rather, what it will become, and by their hands should change come as naturally as it sounds.
However, it may only come in time to finally learn if Fantasy will remain the incredible force that it has, or change will take its course against the element. In spite of the retaliation it has faced in some of the cultural realms of the media, the off set numbers of writers and their readers, especially, have continued to be a devotion of growth and strength that has ensured a place for the Fantasy genre in literature, and with the success it has had, it may stay that way for a long time. For Fantasy, so long as tomorrow will arrive, there is little telling about what may come from it, just as long as there is enough left to the imagination.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Excellent article. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres. You’re definitely right about many titles taking on the elements of their predecessors, such as J.R.R. Tolkien (especially J.R.R. Tolkien). Many authors such as Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin take on a postmodern dark fantasy atmosphere by deconstructing common fantasy tropes (i.e. the fairy tale princess, the rebel princess, the mother figure, etc.). Like you, I’m intrigued by the future of fantasy. I can’t easily gauge what ideas may prosper, but hopefully they’re inventive, whether they reinterpret common fantasy elements or do something completely different.
As we head into the era of universal VR, I expect the world will more and more commonly resemble a sci-fi/fantasy convention, which may actually be a good thing. Maybe a few VR Heroes will be inspired to become one outside the game too.
When I think of fantasy, I think of the plot and characters that usually end up in the fantasy novels, and their usually strong sense or morality. Most fantasy books are like looking through the mist of rememberance, in a way distilling morals and beliefs that we as a society feel are being forgotten.
When I think sci-fi, I think of a more steril implicit environment, where actions and plot devices are full of current ambiguations and ugly truths. I know I am generalizing here, but I think that even this perception, if not based on reality, will lead people towards a fantasy novel versus a sci-fi novel.
It is in my own perception that I see few distinguishing traits of sci-fi vs. the fantasy element, often reflecting that they are of the same genre. Those two often are common themes of conflict, though I see them being too similar for that; I think Fantasy often considers many of those elements that are present in those implicit environments, but reflects in a way that Fantasy may build into its own image.
That is a good point made, which is why I would hope some may derail from that sort of mindset. That is entirely up to them, I suppose, and maybe a focused discussion can be made to fix that. I appreciate the comment!
No, it’s definitely fair to accept that fantasy—especially the stuff of the last fifty or so years—and science fiction have a kind of a religious/rational moral dichotomy. Exceptions (Conan, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, a lot of early SF) abound, but it’s not wrong to say that fantasy often embraces a very strong pseudo-religious morality (in which good and evil are actual people that can be punched), and SF tends to embrace a more scientifically-based moral relativism.
This is especially interesting if you accept some recent research suggesting that literature’s primary purpose is to teach a society its own moral code—in a world in which moral choices are increasingly ambiguous, the population responds by hungering for a system in which morality is clearly defined.
It would be strange if one does not consider the idea that one of literature’s principle roles in society is to teach moral clarity, with the extensive history demonstrating those uses. Then again, one considers that literature is produced by the genius of humans, which means it is not entirely used by that token of moral stability. We often see literature of all sorts handled to be the platform for entertainment and information, and as a tool for those who can wield it for personal uses. In a world as ambiguous in choices as it is, literature is but one of many things we use to find that source of morality.
And I certainly agree with your statement; none that I regard from past literature is unimportant or downgraded in their value, as they enrich the themes of their respective elements of Fantasy. It is further contemplating the extent that Fantasy has to offer in its genre, as it wields ideas and rules that are often overlooked. I should name Neil Gaiman for some of his work in that respect, as he has helped to draw out those ideas with the Postmodern principles in his writing. And surely, as much as people enjoy to pry away science fiction from the Fantasy topic, I keep observing instances that they trade their ideas so closely to one another, and I question their true values that appear to separate. Would it not be optimistic to extend the relativism in a Fantasy creation, when many products of science fiction tends to mimic the incredible expectations that Fantasy possesses?
I definitely recognize what you are saying, and that is my sort of hope to see in the realm of Fantasy the shaping of those principles within one another. It is not to exclude other genres as well, so often we see Romanticism that it seems to be a relevant component in almost all genres.
An interesting approach to the differences. I like the idea that fantasy centers more on the moral conflict, where sci-fi generally focusses more on political issues: less about whose position is just and more about whose position is justified.
I also think there is merit to the argument of personification of viewpoints in fantasy, where you are far more likely to find a conflict waged by thousands but led by two opposing characters – whereas sci-fi usually has less clearly defined villainy (and rarely has plots you can fully resolve by punching someone in the face). Steampunk (though I haven’t read much of works in the most recent fashion) seems more inclined to have a mustache-twirling villain than traditional sci-fi.
Fantasy does seem to make it easier to choose sides. That we as a culture tend to favor the simpler of the two options comes as little surprise.
Fantasy allows us to know a universe and I love that.
Fantasy is one of the best genres for when you want to lose yourself in another world.
I’m female and I can’t stand most of the fantasy stories (because most of them take place in the Middle Ages which is obviously my last favorite human era – I rather read stories about Ancient Worlds, old Egypt etc.).
I can’t stand medieval fantasy with all the dragon-knight-ork etc. stuff. All those creatures appear in almost EVERY fantasy novel I know. I’m tired of it.
I think you’re just reading the wrong fantasy. I can’t think of the last book I read that actually had a dragon or an orc in it, aside from the last time I reread Tolkien. Glen Cook’s Black Company series, KJ Parker’s Engineer trilogy, Sean McMullen’s Greatwinter series (which lies somewhere between SF and fantasy), anything China Mieville… all good stuff without the cliches.
The first kind of story our stone age ancestors ever told as they huddled around the fire was about the dude who went out, killed a monster, and brought back some boon for the tribe. Is it really such a great leap from the story about a hunter who killed a giant wolf and brought back fire to a story about Sigurd killing the dragon or Percival achieving the Grail? Is there really such distance between Galahad and Frodo?
That is a great point actually, since many genres are still a reflection of their respective pasts, contemporary stories. Romanticism still possesses the typical roles and features that we have seen in the past, and few things tend to change; that is what I contemplate myself.
Though the way I imagine the concept, I would see the genre and its elements as a part of a human being. Of course over time, the expressions and appearance of that human being is going to shift in time, but it is still the same individual. We know that the genre has been born in youth much as humanity had begun to take shape in the world, and we understand that it is a growth in time that the idea has been carried with us to still survive to this day. In truth, the Fantasy of our stone age ancestors belonged to a very simplistic concept, but has matured in itself over the course of history. It is my hope that Fantasy still has the life and the maturity for us to explore, as I would be saddened to see the time when the genre may no longer be able to stand relevant to the future.
Fantasy the new literature of the future.
Fantasy is becoming more popular only because people are to demanding less and less structure and scientific veracity from their fiction of choice.
Many authors may have trouble extrapolating trends into the future since it is coming much faster than it used to. You can write the same stories in a fantasy setting without worrying about it.
Fantasy isn’t concerned with the implications and possible developments in the real world, but rather is interested in presenting humanistic stories set in a universe that is knowable and understandable to the reader. This is my favorite genre.
This article gives the reader a good idea of what the genre of Fantasy writing is and how it came about. It also addresses some negative reactions some have had to the genre and why it could be so. This gives writers a look into what part of their potential audience wants and how to cater to them. If one looking to write their own Fantasy work, this article would be a good place to start.
During the first three decades of my life I *loved* SF, especially of the Hard sort, though I later came to appreciate the more speculative stuff. There came a point, however, when I found myself bored to the point of ennui by the shrinking circles of thought SF seemed to be permitted. Fantasy did not supplant my old fascination with SF, but I now have a balanced appreciation of both.
I believe the popularity stems from our desire to escape unpleasant reality.
So true. In fantasy, we know that reality can be bent. That happy ending will automatically come, no matter how horrible things look just prior to the end. It the world we WANT to live in, complete with it’s magical beings, fantastic landscapes and overtly sexy and nymphomaniacal people.
I personally love the new twists on old themes. We can’t really pinpoint where older themes came from. So a part of us is allowed to believe they actually come from truth, whereas newer ideas obviously came from the author and aren’t real. So I feel like revamping old stories makes them feel more real.
How intriguing! I love Fantasy, and as an author myself I am often drawn to the genre most in my own writing. It seems to be difficult for the genre to break away from the typical high fantasy and epic quests, but it is definitely developing into something much more than magic and fairies. I enjoyed how you related Postmodernism to Fantasy; it’s very well-planned and thoughtful. This was a very enjoyable article!
In many ways, fantasy is the opposite of the postmodernism that you mentioned, in that it seems to me that fantasy is a form of a backlash against postmodernism. As such, I think fantasy shall survive, along with other forms that run counter to postmodernism.
I agree; when I first read into Postmodernism, I was initially confused why the two concepts were drawn together, as they do stem well away from one another. Though many writers attempt to intermingle enough of both to make that sort of Postmodern Fantasy, I do not think it is the Fantasy we will seeing much in the future; Postmodernism is a separate entity from genres, especially Fantasy, in most cases.
I love that you brought this up. For me, with the Fantasy genre comes the escape from everyday life. It’s a wonderful thing to be caught up in Middle Earth, etc. etc. I think a lot of scrutiny for Fantasy comes from people who don’t share similar fantasies. There will always be those who love classic fantasies, and those who are already branching into the future. Either way, as long as humans can embrace their imaginations and find inspiration in a world of the past, present or future, the Fantasy genre will remain a timeless one. It will change and grow as humanity’s constructs change and grow. When we need it the most, Fantasy will always save us, in whatever way it can.
Even in non-Fantasy texts, it’s easy to see Fantasy tropes and classic Fantasy constructs spill over. What we define as Fantasy may even be limiting to the genre.
I’m curious, which audiences do you feel are having these negative reactions to the nostalgic style that you ascribe to Fantasy writers? In my experience, most people who enjoy the genre enjoy, at least to some degree, both the writing that recalls classic fantasy in a familiar way, and the Postmodernist writing that takes those classical tropes and deconstructs them for a new perspective. The appeals of a well trod path and an undiscovered trail, if you will. I wonder if the audience that you mention is disparaging of the Fantasy genre might be a group that does not particularly appreciate the genre’s innate appeal, or if they are simply a group that is not largely in the public eye.
Thank you for the eloquent article,
Excellent question Mr. Murphy, and that was briefly touched within the article that perhaps could have been expanded a bit more.
It is difficult to pin to whom may have that sort of aversion to the genre overall, although in my experience between individuals reacting this way, it comes in a lot of forms. Generally I find that many people are not attracted to the surreal elements that they feel are irrelevant to reality, and often Fantasy might extend to some lengths that people are overwhelmed by the capacity of its bewildering nature. There are a lot of us, like me, that are greatly entertained by it, although some simply may not appreciate that quality Fantasy has to offer.
I could also refer to more specific examples, and I believe a comment on this article by Rhanda shares some frustrations that Fantasy tends to establish itself on. Some themes might focus on tropes that are outdated, and in the era that we reside by, many tire of the recycled components common throughout the genre. Many mythical monsters and concepts tend to reappear in these works, and I think many are getting sick of the lack for refreshing ideas. That is why this article focuses on the problems of Postmodernism, as it is a fantastic tool that is not used to its full potential. I have found in several works by Postmodern writers to be using the same basis of common Fantasy works, such as magic and dragons, and using the Postmodernist interpretations to adapt the same pieces. I would agree that Postmodern writing does allow for one to make unique life from these ideas, but they are nonetheless the very same ones of previous works. As I see it, Postmodern works are extensions of the same work, but not the grounds for which Fantasy can grow into something more. If people are to enhance their writing, adapting writing interpretations such as Postmodernism is a wondrous way to do so, but it is what we build from these tools that determine what kind of Fantasy will come tomorrow.
I greatly appreciate you commenting on this, and I always love having these discussions. Hopefully this answers some questions and perhaps levels for some new ones. Thank you for the time here.