Hi readers! If you’re paying attention to awesome books this year, you’ll notice a lot of the runaway successes are fantasy novels. And like anyone who’s worked in the business of book publishing, I was recently wondering WHY fantasy is so hot these days as opposed to three years ago when we were all about dystopian, or five years ago when it was all about the paranormal hotties.
I wonder if it’s less about ONE book being a trendsetter, like how The Hunger Games created such a high demand for more dystopian novels, especially since writers in these respective genres were clearly in the middle of writing/publishing their works which The Hunger Games maybe helped elevate (like Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy, etc.). But bookstores have always devoted entire sections to fantasy, which isn’t the case for dystopian or paranormal novels.1 I have no answers, unsurprisingly since there’s no foolproof science to publishing, just observations. And today I’m happy to host New York Times bestselling non-fiction author and historian Eleanor Herman, author of the forthcoming novel Legacy of Kings, sharing her personal connection to fantasy books.
Fantasy is real. Just behind that door over there is something shockingly magical. Something that will challenge everything you are and all your ideas about what is true and right. Maybe it’s an elf or a vampire. Or maybe—just maybe—it’s another human being.
When I was a child, I saw leafy green faces in trees, heard voices calling my name, and suspected my dolls of having raucous parties when I was at school. I tiptoed downstairs in the small hours of Christmas morning to try to catch a glimpse of Santa, and I spent Halloween night peering out m window looking for witches on broomsticks circling the moon. Books fueled my magical world: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardobe; A Wrinkle in Time; The Sword in the Stone; Dracula and Frankenstein.
Fantasy stories have always bewitched their audiences, whether it was the five-thousand-year-old tale of the Babylonian demi-god Gilgamesh killing the mountain monster, Humbaba; the adventures of Odysseus’s ten-year homeward-bound voyage from the burning walls of Troy; or the Anglo-Saxon hero, Beowulf, stabbing the man-eating giant, Grendel. More recently, Young Adult fantasy mesmerized the world, including millions of Old Adults, with the adventures of a certain young man named Harry Potter. And in 2015, YA fantasy has seen a resurgence of fantasy titles on the New York Times list: Red Queen, An Ember in the Ashes, and A Court of Thorns and Roses, clearly casting a spell over readers of all ages.
How do we explain humanity’s everlasting fascination with fantasy? I believe it’s because fantasy taps into the deepest, most innermost parts of ourselves, exposes them, raw and pulsating, and shows us the dramatic results of choices good and bad. Fantasy distills and crystallizes our fears and courage, our desire and loathing, our compassion and thirst for revenge. Like flintknapping, fantasy chips away at all the useless superficial layers coating our lives, and reveals a glittering core of truth.
Do you actually believe no one has ever slain a dragon? Try telling that to anyone who has beaten cancer, healed from the aching loss a loved one, or suffered the slow torture of a crumbling marriage. Think no one charges into battle anymore with sword drawn? Wrong again. We bravely get up every morning armed with the courage of a warrior, knowing we have to be ready to face whatever pain, injustice or tragedy the day dishes out. No such thing as a fairy godmother? Every day, millions of people experience the unexpected kindness of strangers in tearful gratitude.
“Imagination is everything,” Albert Einstein once said. It quickens the human spirit and empowers the mind. I’ve come to realize that fantasy isn’t about escaping our lives. It’s about understanding them.
Do you agree with Eleanor’s post about fantasy novels being timeless and real versus just escapism?
- Note: Barnes & Noble DID indeed have a “Paranormal Romance” section when I worked there as a children’s bookseller years ago, but that expired and collapsed when the demand did. ↩