THE GREAT FANTASY RENAISSANCE
A guest blog by Arpan Panicker.
This millennium has been far more fantastic than the last one. I’m talking about the Fantasy genre here; in books, movies, games, and other media. Fantasy has crept into other genres like action, comedy, and even romance. Superheroes have never been more popular, each with millions of Facebook fans. Even long dead politicians and religious messiahs are being resurrected to fight vampires and zombies.
Our heroes are truly becoming become heroes… axe, baseball bat and all!
What happened and how did this insane glut of the hyper-real and super-normal invade our lives and imaginations? I hereby propose my theory of the Great Fantasy Renaissance.
Opinions and accounts vary, but for me, the beginning came at the turn of the millennium with a cult movie directed by the Wachowskis (no longer brothers)… The Matrix. I speak merely of the first movie and not the controversial sequels. Apart from the myriad influences and allusions that made the movie oh-so-profound, what really fascinated people was the concept that reality was negotiable. It could all be a simulation, and anything is possible in a simulation.
If you could see the world, you could reprogram it!
We were awestruck by the possibilities as we watched Neo kick, punch, leap, and fly through the movie, defying physics, belief, and even death. It captured the imagination of the masses, beyond exclusive basements of nerd clubs. It inspired writers, artists, and designers new to sci-fi fantasy to unleash their creativity beyond the constraints of reality. And thus it began!
The Awkward Adolescence
Fantasy was beginning to stir again, it was still mostly for kids (‘childish’ nerds included). One literary phenomenon changed that. Joanne a.k.a J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter built an everlasting bridge that blurred the boundaries between children’s and adult fiction. Other, less noteworthy but still very successful writers blurred those lines some more and soon enough, it was OK for anyone to read anything.
That’s close to half a billion copies worth of sales right here!
On the movie side, special effects were coming of age, allowing directors to paint greater and more splendid canvases. Peter Jackson showed the world how to make epic fantasy with The Lord of the Rings, designing a world of swords, wizardry, and dragons that one could take seriously. Apart from that series though, movie maturity was still very PG rated, and the first couple of Harry Potter movies proved that. Movies still felt cartoonish, but some series like Spiderman and X-Men still became more popular than superhero movies ever had. DC’s Batman franchise was a joke though (the shameful age of the nippled batsuit) and it looked like the Fantasy renaissance would sputter out before it ever took off.
But times were a changing, and a new breed of writers and filmmakers were taking a long, hard look at a vision of grown up, serious fantasy.
The Glorious Youth
Much as I hate to admit it, the second author to follow Rowling’s act and make Fantasy even more popular was Stephenie Meyer. Polarising and critically slammed, but undeniably popular and successful, the Twilight series worked in tandem with the Harry Potter movement to spread the word that monsters can be human too. A whole legion of authors rode the wave and found encouraging if not comparable success. The inspirations and trends on the other hand were quite disturbing.
Sparkling vampires… Buff werewolves… Need I say more!
The movies were growing up too. The Prisoner of Azkaban was complex, scary, and a lot better than the first two. Batman grew dark and brooding in Nolan’s series, evolving into an epiphany with Heath Ledger’s Joker in the Dark Knight. The words ‘gritty reboot’ became the mantra for introducing fantasy to a whole new generation of fans. What these movies accomplished was incredible. They humanised fantastic powers and made them relatable. They focused on the logic, science, and history behind these quirks and gave fans a world that felt natural while still being incredibly awesome. Marvel took charge of their movies with their own studio. Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor paved the way for the blockbuster Avengers and their success is proof of how well that worked.
That’s 7 blockbusters in 1… one of them Hulk sized!
The Golden Age of Fantasy
We are truly poised on the verge of a revolution. Fantasy has become the mainstay and, along with its cousin Sci-Fi, it is becoming the foundational premise for non-fantasy stories. Movies like Let the Right One In and Under the Skin actually look at relationships and conflicts; sure the central characters is a vampire or an alien, but that’s incidental. Creative license does allow you to roam free with your setting and characters, and that is exactly what writers, artists, and designers are doing now. They’re having fun letting their characters power up and go wild in a world where anything is possible. The implications and consequences are exhilarating. What is to come in the next few years, will be utterly enchanting and fantastic!
Arpan Panicker wrote a fantasy novel in between his learning consultation assignments. Wordscapist: The Myth is available to purchase now from Urbane Publications and is an ambitious attempt to create some all new Fantasy clichés.