In this five-part mini-series, entitled “The World Builders,” I list the seven authors I believe have changed how we perceive the fantasy genre and explain the rationale behind each choice. Agree? Disagree? I would love to hear your input in the comments! 🙂
6) J.K. Rowling
published “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in 1997
What can I say? “Harry Potter” was my childhood, and millions of kids, teens and young adults around the world today would say the same. We grew up with Harry, shared in his joy and his grief. And if you weren’t a child when you read “Harry Potter” for the first time, J.K. Rowling somehow made you feel like one again.
With a flair for storytelling that only improved with time, she drew us into her magical world of wizards and muggles, duels and dragons, quidditch and curses. Each of her characters touched our hearts and taught us something about ourselves. They taught us how to be brave, how to love and how to forgive.
I think “Harry Potter” is where the popularization of fantasy really began. It was Rowling who turned kids who didn’t like books into lifelong readers, and turned kids who didn’t like fantasy into lifelong nerds. And that’s when the miraculous paradox began—it became cool to be a nerd. It became fashionable to wear glasses (in high school, I knew more than a few people who had ordinary glass lenses in their frames), and to talk about which Hogwarts house you belonged to. (Ravenclaw 4 life!) It didn’t happen overnight, but one bespectacled kid at a time, fantasy became mainstream.
There’s no denying that with her unprecedented success endearing fantasy to the world, J.K. Rowling earned her place on this list. Plus, she’s the first and only billionaire author in history. That’s got to count for something.
Now that the Potter saga is finished, J.K. Rowling has moved on to more “mature” fiction. Her new book, “The Casual Vacancy,” is marketed as “her first novel for adults,” and honestly that rubs me the wrong way. The “Harry Potter” books weren’t novels for adults? An uncompromising tale of love, loss, courage and self-reconciliation wasn’t mature enough for adults?
The fight for the integrity of the genre isn’t over yet, it would seem, and now we must battle adversaries not only without but within—adversaries like the last author to make my list, “Twilight” author Stephanie Meyer.
I know I’m going to catch some flak for this one, but even fantasy purists can’t deny the impact that Stephanie Meyer and her best-selling “Twilight” novels have made on the genre. Some bookstores now devote an entire section to “paranormal romance,” where “Twilight” and its copycat successors draw crowds of pre-teen vamp-o-philes. The craze has even spilled over into television, with popular shows such as “The Vampire Diaries” and “True Blood.”
I cannot criticize “Twilight” too harshly here, as I never got past the first two pages, but I think it’s important to make clear why I don’t like “Twilight” or its sequels. Mainly, it’s because the writing is crap, but it’s also because I don’t consider them fantasy novels at all. They are romance novels that happen to include creatures traditionally depicted as belonging to the fantasy genre. For that reason, I’m glad that the “Twilight” books have a separate section in bookstores now. “Paranormal romance” is where these novels belong.
But if that’s the case, and “Twilight” isn’t really fantasy, then why, oh, why did Stephanie Meyer deserve a place on this list?
Because she did change the way we perceive fantasy—or, rather, the way mainstream America perceives fantasy. On Amazon.com, “Twilight” is marketed as a fantasy novel. Wikipedia calls it “vampire-themed fantasy romance.” The label is misleading, and this is where I think the new-found popularity of the genre gets into dangerous territory.
Authors like Stephanie Meyer hurt the fantasy genre by encouraging the dumbing down of fantasy for the masses. Perhaps it is not what she intended, but Meyer and her books attracted a new audience that quite plainly cannot appreciate the works of Tolkien and Martin and Jordan because fantasy novels of actual intellectual weight are impenetrable to them.
Meyer created a sub-genre that then became a new genre altogether, defining for a new generation what fantasy is not.
“The World Builders” Mini-Series