Fantasy is “in” like it’s never been in before. Starting in the late ’90s and continuing well into the new millennium, we have witnessed the explosion in popularity of fantasy movies, TV shows, books, video games, merchandise and more.
The critical point for me here is that they are popular, even with mainstream audiences. Fantasy has always had a core following of geeks and gamers and D&D devotees (people much like myself), but never before has the genre been so embraced as a part of pop culture.
Today, it’s not only okay but cool to wear a t-shirt emblazoned with a fire-breathing dragon. The runaway best-seller successes of the last ten years have been series like “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” “Inheritance” and “The Hunger Games.” At the writing of this post, “Big Bang Theory” is TV Guide’s most popular show on network television, and that’s a show about a bunch of nerds. In June, TorrentFreak crowned HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series “the most pirated TV show of the season.”
Sure, the unredeemable jocks and “American Idol” fans are still out there, but the numbers don’t lie. Fantasy is now cool.
Most hardcore fantasy lovers I know—those who were wearing dragon t-shirts long before it was cool, and who found themselves the target of bullying—have mixed feelings about this trend toward popular acceptance. Could the stories and worlds that have always been discarded yet magnificent gems in our eyes be remade into factory-produced plastic replicas for the masses? I am not a “fantasy purist,” but there is obviously something going on here that we can’t ignore.
One thing is clear: We would not be here today without the seven individuals I have listed below. These are the great ones, the icons, those authors whose art redefined the possibilities of their genre—for better or for worse.
In this five-part mini-series, entitled “The World Builders,” I will go through my list one by one and explain the rationale behind each choice. Agree? Disagree? I would love to hear your input in the comments! 🙂
(Note that I have limited this list to authors published in the 20th and 21st centuries only.)
1) J.R.R. Tolkien
2) T.H. White
3) George R. R. Martin
4) Guy Gavriel Kay
5) Robert Jordan
6) J.K. Rowling
7) Stephanie Meyer
In “Part 2: Reawakening a Genre,” we will begin with the fantasy revival led by J.R.R. Tolkien, who forever changed the definition of what a fantasy novel should be. We will also discuss T.H. White, an overlooked and underestimated master of the archaic fantasy style.
“The World Builders” Mini-Series