Cinderella, Peter Pan, Harry Potter, Twilight, The Lord of the Rings and so on. We all have read fantasy literature at some point of our life. It is the oldest form of literature, incorporated in fables, legends, myths, religious texts, and spoken-word traditions. And you won’t give a child a Shakespeare or Dickens to read, would you? Affair with fantasy literature thus begins at young age and you can say that the fantasy genre is a gateway to the vast world of literature and a person only later discovers the ideal nook for him. But since the turn of the century, the situation seems to have changed. Earlier while Fantasy Literature was a bastion of quite articulate writers, these days anybody who has read even a single fantasy novel attempts writing one and turns out to be quite successful, unfortunately!
In 1997 came, ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’, which took the world by storm and brought Fantasy as a genre back into spotlight. Catapulted to great heights of fame, J. K. Rowling, its author, spewed out a series, which is since holding the world, especially teenagers in thrall. Soon thereafter came almost a century-old The Lord of the Rings, albeit this time as a film and was welcomed with great fan fare. This sudden turn in the fortunes of fantasy literature started a trend, which by the end of the decade has reached frightful proportions. Today amateurs are churning out fantasy novels at a rate higher than rats reproduce. Fantasy mania is all over the web and has virtually taken other forms of literature by ransom. And the worst thing is – it seems readers are gobbling up all the trash even faster than it is produced.
I stumbled upon this trend when I began blogging and started looking for literary circles on the Internet. My search for good literary blogs took me to various blogs, mostly Americans and some British, some popular enough to be known as complete literary review sites in themselves. There I observed that all the blogs had one common attribute: they were solely, to the point of being exclusive, concerned with fantasy genre. Budding writers writing half-baked fantasy stories, budding reviewers reviewing one local fantasy bestseller after other, and 15-something girls wow-ing their wits out for Twilight saga (more of this piece of crap later). Then I slowly realized that there is a viciously vociferous community of fantasy literature out there on the Internet, which is actively smothering the propagation of good literature in other genres across the world.
Although murder of other genres at the hands of fantasy literature is a grave issue but fantasy genre itself is not gaining anything out of this and thus an equally pertinent question is- exactly what is wrong with fantasy literature?
There are two problems. Firstly, there are much more writers in the genre than it can hold while maintaining the quality and the pace of its evolution. Almost everybody who has gobbled up tons of fantasy in his/her teens starts writing in his/her freshman year. No research whatsoever is done on the various genres and various literary methods and motifs. Most of them rarely look beyond the genre for inspiration and learning. A thorough reading of Lord of the Rings is considered sufficient for understanding the literary genius of J. R. R. Tolkien.Worst part of this entire exercise is this that there is nothing to deter this writers from churning out sub-standard products as audience who laps up their product can hardly tell the difference.
During my wanderings in blogosphere, I came across an American woman’s blog, who was living in Alaska. Now this blog was new and giving a feel that it had been set-up for some special purpose as publicity material of a new fantasy novel and names of others as referrals were the only content I could see. I dropped her a mail and got to know that she was an ordinary housewife, about 48 years old, lived in Alaska with her husband, in a wilderness with not a single human being to be found miles around. Initial talks about literature revealed that she had no knowledge whatsoever about modern literature and the likes of Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or even Hemingway. Yet she was completely into fantasy literature, and what’s more, had already published a novel and was soon going to publish another one! So being a writer has been reduced to this. Prominent online publishing site, Wattpad is rife with fantasy novels (after the ubiquitous Romance novels). As online publishing is gaining greater grounds, more and more young writers are turning towards fantasy as a relatively easier genre to write. And so, every year, more and more such novels are being produced, rather than written. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis must be turning in their graves.
The second problem, which is inextricably linked with the first one and far more serious, is that all these novels somehow manage to find their readers. It’s not only the writers who are going bland in their writing skills, readers of their work are following them too. For that more-than-deserved success of Harry Potter series and most illogical and disappointing successes of Inheritance trilogy and Twilight saga is a glaring proof. Harry Potter novels are at best mediocre and below par in their linguistic appeal. Their success as fantasy novels for children was expected, but their elevation to a cultural phenomenon has finally exposed the still under-developed literary senses of the masses of the so-called ‘developed’ countries. Inheritance trilogy was a shoddy hotch-potch of Lord of the Rings and Dragon Rider and nothing more. As for Twilight saga, any criticism is less. The mere publication of this series has done irreparable damage to the literary tradition of the first decade and will always be a blemish in its history. Moreover, its success, both as a novel and a movie (which even out did the novel in its purpose of undermining all aesthetic principles and literary worth) only goes on to show that a majority of people around the world are as far from appreciating the art of fiction as apes are from humanoid form. Thus Twilight, which has no light but only darkness, exactly satisfies the classical critic’s epithet – “This book is not something to be tossed aside lightly. It should be violently thrown away”. From Bram Stoker to Stephanie Meyer, we seem to be spiralling downwards headfirst in a vortex of literary mediocrity.
And now moving on to the solution to these problems, well the second one has no solution at all. As for the first one, we need to set some respectable examples and higher standards for the upcoming generation of fantasy writers. Bram Stoker, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis inspired almost a century of fantasy writers, reaching up to J. K. Rowling and Christopher Paolini. But we need to set new examples now as much damage has been incurred in the previous decade. This won’t happen unless fantasy writers open their eyes to the great developments that have taken place in the world of literature, and take them in their own stride. Shutting your eyes towards the world and living in your dream world isn’t exactly what I would call ‘fantasy’ literature. There is a long road ahead; the edifice created by Tolkien and Lewis has come crumbling down in the age of Rowling and Meyer.