Saturday, May 14, 2011

Commentary on Popular Fantasy

There are some voices grumbling about the Fantasy genre. They complain about how books are like junk food, plenty of calories, but not enough substance. These voices complain that commercial or popular Fantasy is ruining the genre. This is not true. Without the proliferation of popular Fantasy works, the genre would inhabit a minor niche in the world’s literature. Popular or commercial Fantasy is important to the genre because it brings new voices to the genre with different viewpoints, acts as a measure to judge the merits of books, and it brings in new readers to the genre.

The publishing of popular Fantasy books brings new voices with different viewpoints to the genre. It is always good to have different viewpoints from new people. Without fresh, new voices, the genre would stagnate. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings opened up the Fantasy genre to the publishing of many books. The genre grew from this to what it is today. On any given week there is at least one book on the Bestseller lists. Perhaps many books are just rehashes of ground covered by Tolkien, but readers can find something appealing in the latest Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Mercedes Lackey, etc. Without books being published by new authors, there would not be any new voices to add their take on the genre. For example, readers would have missed the depth and characters of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. Or, they would not have discovered the exotically different story to be found in Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells. New voices need to be heard to keep the genre bright.

Additionally, popular Fantasy acts as a measure to judge the merits of books. Author Theodore Sturgeon’s law states: “That ninety percent of anything is crap.” By this rule, only ten percent of the books published are good and literary in quality. All of the books in Fantasy range from media tie-ins to role playing rehashes to books of excellent quality and literary merit. Books fall into every place along that range. The merits of every book gets judged along the way by readers, reviewers and academics. Judging the merits of books is hard, but are measurable by those books that remain in people’s minds and become timeless. Lord of the Rings is such a book along with many others. It is necessary to give books time to see if they develop into a classic. That takes a reading audience that finds a book worthwhile to read over again through many years.

Lastly, popular Fantasy brings in new readers to the genre. Any genre needs new readers to keep it viable and strong. When the audience ages or books dwindle in publishing, the readers find something else. Also, detractors of the commercialization of Fantasy complain of a lack of books with depth or literary qualities. These critics forget an important point: Readers in general are looking for entertainment. Most are not interested in books with messages or that aspire to literature. There are many books that should be read, but the quest for literary recognition can lead to elitism. The search for such prestige can cause a defection of readers that could ruin the genre.

Fantasy is a large genre with room for all kinds of books. Popular books might not be literary greats, but they keep the genre prominent by bringing in new authors, acts as a measure for books and brings new readers into the genre. Readers must have a choice of books to choose from for their tastes. Most of the time a reader wants something for entertainment only. Other times, a reader wants something with more depth and powerful themes. There is a necessity for both kinds of books. We can not become narrow minded about books for that leads to the ruin of a wonderful genre.

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