When did Fantasy get so Vanilla..?

When did fantasy get so “vanilla”?! I mean, seriously, when did this happen?

I remember being a child and experiencing epic stories, being exposed to Warhammer, Tolkien mythos, Dragon Lance and other classics. Movies such as Dark Crystal would form my teens. We got Buffy! Even Charmed (if you ignore the later seasons). And now…What do we have now?!

Of course, Game of Thrones is killing it on TV (…literally…) and the Song of Ice and Fire series are bestseller books. Even the Harry Potter universe has changed from Dementors and evil wizards to this insipid play published just a few months back (in my opinion any way – and I am no Potterhead but many of my friends agree it is really not what they expected or wanted…and the upcoming movie, which, although looks really pretty…Is it going to be an epic fantasy story? Well, I reserve my judgement until I see it). Yet you go to any bookshop, and for some reason the fantasy section will always be bigger than the sci-fi and other geek lines of interest. Hell, I’ll rather buy Waterstones entire selection of fantasy books than their comics section. It seems strange that having such a powerful flourishing field with fantasy created in all shapes and forms on paperbacks, yet the rest of the media seem to have gone incredibly quiet…

I feared this would be the case when the whole Twilight craze came about. I was in college then, and the tendency was somewhat noticeable, but perhaps it didn’t bother me so much. We were still experiencing the tail end of the Lord of the Rings films and the prospect of more movies to come. Those were also the days of when you would get other fantasy productions, perhaps aimed for a younger audience, but with charm and interest. I remember the Chronicles of Spiderwick coming out as well as a couple of installments of Arthur and the Minimois – my sister loved that movie. To be honest, the entire family really liked it – and it was so popular, there is an attraction in Futuroscope made after the series. However, if one gets thinking, you easily reach the conclusion that Twilight was not popular because it was “fantasy”. It was dumbed-core semi romantic novels with an incredible appeal to teen girls (…and Mormon women with issues…). Fantasy was just a cover to sell the story.

Then I came across this series recently on Netflix called Shadowhunters, thinking it looked interesting. Turns out my sister seemed to know the books, and told me they were good, (or she liked them anyway), so I ended up “watching” this whole series…with watching I actually mean, I destroyed the plot about an episode and a half in, and left it playing in the background whilst reading something else because the super poor acting, cliché story and predictable lines were just too much to take. Who would have guessed, the pretty faced red-haired is special, the wanna-be hard-core guy that explains her this magic in her world and who she has a massive crush on is actually her brother, and her best friend ends up being converted into vampire for her reckless actions…He also does have a massive crush on her btw…But you probably guessed that. It was Sooo uninspired. Even the way magic worked couldn’t have been more recycled: rune carving with a magic stick, on your flesh – here come the masochist tendencies we had already decided were not cool when Heroes came out and the entire point to Claire’s character was that her healing powers were, let’s say counter-intuitive…

The few fantasy related movies I am aware of coming out this year and having some sort of renowned name behind them were the BFG and Pete’s Dragon – again, aimed to a younger audience. Even the work of Tim Burton comes through as not cared about any more. Tim Burton: the king of gothic/fantasy. As much as I’d stand by my praise of the Nightmare Before Christmas and many of his other productions (past and current), people do not want spookified tales, they want actual shocking, brutal disgust. Visceral. Were Mr Burton in the Zombie business, perhaps his work would once again be re-admired…

…Yet our books and comics are digging into fantasy like no-ones business – you have seen our comic’s reviews through the year. In the meantime, TV and film have other interests. Perhaps the topic was over exploited for a while and the audience got saturated. That has allowed the topic to be downplayed on tropes and easy story arcs that allow the narrative to be explored from these other types of escapism: sexual fantasies, tone down romance when the former is not appropriate…The script genius is now used for other topics. The superhero industry, which many may perceive as modern fantasy, is now reaching its saturation point too, and we have been milking that cow now for a while. More importantly, we live in the 21st century, and as we know, this is the age of space and technology, apocalypse and zombies. Zombies have become our new “screen fantasy”, because they provide us with the perfect contextual and credible idea of escapism, the collapse of the world as we know it, returning to brutal times where there be dragons – and the dragons be us. Space fulfills a dual function as it relates to the everyday life of the average viewer and it provides the prospect of other worlds, other places, new alternatives even if these just exist on the web. For the 21st century consumer, finding these handy narratives that explore their current social anxieties is important – and it is the direct way of making big bucks.

In the meantime, fantasy has been downgraded to a minor genre – sometimes combined with the others. The reason why the literature is still flowing, is because once a fantasy reader, always a fantasy reader. But book and screen audiences do not respond always in the same way to these changes in thematic. The Old Gods lie dead on the TV; new Idols have taken their place. For those who still believe, their fate may become that of a knowledgeable cult…Or perhaps I am being too fatalistic? There are words coming out about the adaptation of the Wheel of Time and American Gods. As much as I want to see these done justice, it will still be a while to see those productions come to live. Who knows? Perhaps the wait will be for good and the new technologies will bring us sharper, deeper, fantasy worlds to explore…Until then, I’ll keep hoping that the times of hobbits, dwarves, trolls and elves are not gone yet…

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