In this five-part mini-series, entitled “The World Builders,” I have listed the seven authors I believe have changed how we perceive the fantasy genre and explained the rationale behind each choice.
J.R.R. Tolkien and T.H. White helped revive fantasy after it had fallen out of popularity. Their published works in the early 2oth century laid the groundwork for what the genre would become, and set the gold standard for excellence by which later fantasy novels would be judged.
Tolkien, White and their contemporaries inspired a new era of storytellers. Authors like George R. R. Martin, Guy Gavriel Kay and Robert Jordan explored the limitations of the genre, and opened up new worlds of possibility. The fantasy fan-base grew and began to distinguish itself as independent of the science-fiction community. The most successful fantasy authors built up followings of devoted fans, who exchanged recommendations for great new fantasy books by word of mouth.
It wasn’t until the 1990s, though, that fantasy celebrated its mainstream coming-out. J.K. Rowling and her “Harry Potter” books played a pivotal role in introducing a curious mainstream America to the fantasy genre. The Internet, too, helped boost fantasy’s popularity. Die-hard fans built online communities where they could go to discuss the latest novels and genre news. As fantasy slowly earned acceptance among mainstream audiences, the old guard of fantasy readers delighted in a new wave of fantasy movies and spin-offs.
But in the last few years, their excitement has tempered to doubt. Fantasy’s new-found place in the spotlight—and, consequently, its growing market potential—has invited cheap imitations meant to appeal to a new class of less discerning fantasy readers. Some fans sense a threat to the genre’s integrity, and have been reluctant to accept books like Stephanie Meyer‘s “Twilight”—with its teen-romance plot and the token inclusion of bastardized fantasy creatures—as true fantasy.