Does Fantasy Seem Less Fantastic These Days?

I recently overheard a conversation between these doughnuts that got me to thinking about the question posed in the title of this post.

“What’s that?” you say. “Doughnuts can’t talk. That’s unrealistic.” Herein lies the issue that some people seem to have with fantasy.

Let me back up. I had a conversation with an actual person about a fantasy novel we both read, the title of which I am withholding. We came to the conclusion that the fantasy elements seemed downplayed in favor of a social injustice message. This is not to say that social injustice is a bad theme. But when a book blurb touts that a book is “full of magic,” I expect something along the lines of the Harry Potter series, the Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend, Charles Yallowitz’s books, or the Oz books. You know—dragons, flying cars, lunch pails growing on trees, huge cats, inventing gnomes, and fantastic hotels. But that’s not what I found. Instead, I found rich people indifferent to the plight of the poor and magical healings that weren’t called magical healings—just healings.

   Cover art by Jason Pedersen 

This is not the first book I’ve read where the fantasy elements seemed a little scarce. As I pondered that, I couldn’t help recalling what the son of a friend once told me: “If a story isn’t realistic (The Hurt Locker as opposed to The Lord of the Rings), it isn’t real to me.” I’ve heard similar sentiments from others, most of whom would never crack open a fantasy book. As if stories of imagined worlds are inferior somehow. But imagination has been the key to so many breakthroughs in our world. Ask any trailblazing inventor who dreamed of a new way of doing something.

“That’s for kids,” someone else said to me about fantasy stories. Yet the Harry Potter series, a fantasy series “for kids” in that person’s estimation, has sold the most copies of a fiction series worldwide than any other series. When each book in the series was released, I remember seeing more eager adults standing in line waiting to pick up their books than kids. But I digress.

This is not a knock against anyone who dislikes fantasy stories. It’s all a matter of preference, isn’t it? And for the record, I love many realistic stories too. This is just an observation from someone who never really grew up; who never really stopped loving fairy tales with dragons and knights and princesses.

You see, I read or watch movies to escape. I love diving into fantasy worlds and learning about the people and creatures who inhabit these worlds. I want to escape from the horrors of the current news stories. So I wouldn’t purposely search for a book because I need to know more about social injustice. You can call that burying my head in the sand all you want. I call it saving my sanity.

Just my two cents. Feel free to add yours in the comments below.

The Merchant of Nevra Coil photo courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Deathly Hallows from Goodreads. Dragon from Other photos by L. Marie.

45 thoughts on “Does Fantasy Seem Less Fantastic These Days?

  1. Fully agree with me. I think there’s less interest in escapism these days too. People are so busy that they say they can’t afford to relax. I remember reading that one cause is the 24-hour news cycle and how it depends on shocking events. People get the sense that so much is going on in the world that they have to always pay attention and stay informed. This is why non-fiction is doing so well, but primarily from those involved like politicians and their aides. Also, there really is just the mentality that anything with magic and monsters is for kids or nerds. This results in some newer authors downplaying the ‘childish’ aspects of fantasy and making their stories more ‘adult’.

    • Sad but true, Charles. In order to get noticed, books are perceived as needing to be as realistic as possible (in some opinions). Never mind that fact that good fantasy always has a grounding in reality! Fantasy writers have to research a ton. I think that is what many people don’t understand or downplay out of disdain.

      • I’ve seen many people write essays on how aspects of fantasy at are impossible too. For example, how dragons could never exist in reality. I think this drives some people away from trying to genre. It makes the whole thing sounds silly and badly designed.

      • I don’t know why someone would waste time analyzing why a fantasy novel is “impossible.” People used to think that the notion of gravity and the Earth being round were impossible too. 🙄

      • Think it got really big when people made YouTube videos about it. They’d explain the science behind why fantasy could t he real. It sounded very intellectual, which many people adopted after seeing others get praise for stating these ideas. So, you got a small rush to dispel the genre for likes and shares. No real thought to the affect on the genre.

      • Oh okay. So that’s why some people thumb their noses at the genre. Because it’s not “real”? Perhaps they aren’t familiar with the definition of fiction?

  2. I remember telling you about how I used to think that the Harry Potter audience was mostly children-until the new one was out and I was a postman (“Is it Harry Potter?!”)
    And you always comment that I overhear the most interesting conversations, but I’ve not yet eavesdropped on doughnuts 😂

    • Oh Andy, I hope you didn’t think I was talking about you in the post. I know many, many people who have said they wouldn’t read the books or graphic novels about superheroes because they “are for kids” (in their opinion). And for the record, Harry Potter was a middle grade series. So yes, it was written for children. But a shift happened certainly. I started reading the series when the second and third books had debuted.

  3. I’m with you, L. Marie. I certainly wouldn’t say you’re burying your head and ignoring what’s happening in our country. I read to escape the news, social media and everyone who wants to force their beliefs on me. Why does everything have to be political these days? It’s exhausting. 😦

  4. I completely agree, L. Marie. When I read, I want to escape the news, social media and people who are trying to force me to change my beliefs or conform to their ways. Why does everything have to be political? It’s exhausting.

  5. I agree. Fantasy and magic-world kind of narratives are a matter of preference, not just for kids but for anyone who wants to enjoy them. Doughnuts can talk…just listen to your imagination 🙂

    p/s. I left a comment on your last post. Not sure if it’s showing up…

  6. Totally agree. What I’ve always felt made fantasy ‘fantastic’ was the magic. When you dilute that to accommodate or make room for agenda, then you lose the element of fantastic for me.

    • You were the person I alluded to in regard to the conversation. 😊 I wonder if the issue is that the reader won’t get the message unless it is painfully obvious. Or if it has to do with the disdain of others for what they believe is “childish.” I’ve read many so-called adult books that I quickly forgot. But I recall every moment of Charlotte’s Web–a book with far more depth than it is given credit for.

  7. How fantastic: Iced doughnuts having a conversation!

    My children loved fantasy when they were young, especially J. R. R. Tolkien’s books. I usually “escape” through memoir and historical fiction, but recently I’ve expanded my repertoire to a few suspense thrillers because I’ve been asked to review them. Great post!

  8. Most fiction novels use a technique that subtly allows the reader to ‘suspend belief’ at some point or other…whether a true ‘fantasy’ genre, mystery, etc, or just plain old fiction with a capital F.
    I hardly visit with my favorite donut friends anymore, as they tend to ‘hang around and waist/waste’ my efforts to stay active and healthy…However your trio of donut buddies has me wondering if I should ‘suspend belief’ and just gather some of my old donut buddies for a get together sometime soon!

  9. Science fiction seems to be taking a huge hit as well. I wonder how many of these fantasy titles today would be considered more in the dystopian genre, except for the fact that editors and agents are telling people the future of dystopian is bleak.

    • So glad to hear from you, Lyn.
      Yes, I have heard that sci-fi has taken a hit. Some fans are fed up; others are glad for the change. I’m so tired of publishing wars.

  10. I love/loved reading and watching:

    Harry Potter
    Nanny McPhee
    Mary Poppins

    So I think if the first name of the title character ends in “y” and there at least one “p” in the surname, then that’s the fantasy for me! 😀

    I also enjoyed watching:

    Star Wars (especially the 1st trilogy) ~ but I wasn’t even tempted to read it
    Same with Jurasic Park, Jumanji, etc.

    Some fantasies I would rather SEE on the silver screen.

    • I love Nanny McPhee! Such great fun. Always reminds me of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. I love stories in which naughty kids get a comeuppance! 😁 😆 And of course Mary Poppins is great!

  11. It’s funny. I don’t read fantasy, and yet the images that live in my brain are all from fantasy. Not something like Harry Potter, which I watched with my grandson. None of the those images stuck. In a way, they’re not fantastic enough. But where would I be without all the characters in Alice in Wonderland, for example–the Queen of Hearts, the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter? I could go on and on about giants and flying carpets, Goldilocks and her walk through the woods, Hansel and Gretel and the gingerbread house, fairies and glass slippers.

    I keep up with the news, so I don’t need to read books about social or political problems. My favorite books are about human relations or they’re mysteries–even better if they’re set in another time and place.

    • Love Alice in Wonderland (the book that is; I didn’t care for the recent movies). That was actually my first fantasy book! A neighbor gave me Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

  12. As you know I’m not a fantasy fan (with a few exceptions), but then I’m also not a fan of cowboy books, steamy romances or books about social injustice! One of my pet peeves is that when readers don’t enjoy a particular genre, they have a tendency to suggest it’s because that genre is in some way beneath them – inferior. It would be nice if we could all accept that we don’t all share the same tastes in books and that’s OK. After all, I don’t sneer because other people like custard, even though custard is undoubtedly the most revolting food in the universe… 😉

    • Such a good point, FF–the idea that a genre is at fault because of alleged inferiority. That’s generally the impression I have received whenever someone says something is “for kids.” No one who has seen Game of Thrones or read the books would insist that the series is “for kids.” But I agree that the idea that preference equals inherent superiority seems to be what’s implied.

  13. I’m with you 100%. I don’t often read fantasy but when I do, I want it to be fantasy. If the story is written well, the fantasy will seem real. It will seem natural that dragons exist and trees talk. That’s the mark of a good writer. Sometimes when we want to escape, it needs to be to another world altogether, not this one.

  14. I think the worst response I’ve had to “I read fantasy books” was “Like Fifty Shades of Grey?” 🤦🏻‍♀️ I agree with everything you’ve said in the post. I read fantasy to escape. I also prefer fantasies set in the fictional realms over urban fantasy because I like not having to read about modern technology and current scenarios. I do not judge other people’s reading preferences, so I expect the same kind of courtesy from them. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Oh well… I’m going read them anyway. 😁

    • Good plan! It is a double standard. A person can like something, but if someone likes another thing, well that person has to be wrong, because everyone should like what I like. Sigh.

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