Fantasy will soon be cool
I’ll admit it, I was a teenage geek. Still am, ask my agent. If I’d had anyone to play it with, I’d have been playing Dungeons and Dragons, but unfortunately I was a lone geek. I love, love loved George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire (and cannot recommend the new series Game of Throne enough – it’s a little on the graphic side for my tastes, but the story and acting is ace), I thought Raymond E Feist was amazing (Magician is still a how-to for fantasy writers) and as for Mickey Zucker Reichart, David Gemmell, Anne Macaffrey (although PERN is probably classified as sci-fi) and Piers Anthony … how would I have got through the teenage wilderness without you?
Thing is, in those long ago days (when Britpop was in its infancy, the Goonies were the coolest gang, The Lost Boys was the best film ever “you’re a vampire? Wait till I tell mom!”, ATARI was a state of the art video game and we still HAD videos) YA wasn’t a genre, not really. We basically went from Nancy Drew to … adult literature. And being a precocious early reader I was definitely exposed to things I’ll freely admit I shouldn’t have been reading. At thirteen I was reading Stephen King’s The Stand. More worryingly I was reading some very adult themed stuff in Piers Anthony’s (Battle Circle) and some extremely dodgy fantasy the titles of which have been lost in time, but were basically porn – goodness knows how those got by my parents.
(From this point of view I’d like to say that although there are lots of arguments going on at the moment about what should and shouldn’t be allowed in YA literature, as a parent I’m extremely glad that there is a genre that sits comfortably between Enid Blyton and Lori Foster!)
In my view though, the Fantasy genre represented the closest thing to modern YA. Piers Anthony’s Xanth series was definitely for younger readers (stuffed full as it is with terrible puns, and as far as sex was concerned the most exciting moment was when Prince Dor got to put his hand on Princess Irene’s boob through a prison wall). Anne Macaffrey’s Brain and Brawn series was also often populated with younger protagonists and Orson Scott Card too must have had younger readers in mind when he wrote Ender’s Game. These writers and many other fantasy writers were brilliant fun to read, high quality, issue driven and imaginative – all things that I consider to be a hallmark of YA fiction today.
Right now, what really makes me compare YA and traditional fantasy is the plethora of books emerging that remind me of books I read as a teenager. For example, books about faeries are popular at the moment (The Replacement, Charlaine Harris later books, Lament, The Iron Witch, Paranormalcy etc). Well, Tad Williams and Raymond E Feist (among others) got there first. If you enjoyed any of the books listed above you will also love Raymond E Feist Faerie Tale (1988) and Tad Williams War of the Flowers (2003).
And if you look in the YA section, you’ll find some traditional fantasy being rebranded – Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks keeps turning up in the teenage section now.
Teenage readers who wouldn’t be seen dead browsing the fantasy section will happily read about vampires, werewolves, faeries, elves etc, if it’s branded YA. Fantasy isn’t cool, YA is. But what else is a teenage girl falling in love with a vampire, if it isn’t fantasy?
In a few years, our wonderful YA readers are going to grow up (those of whom aren’t already grown up) and they’ll have been raised on a diet of excellent, imaginative, issue driven books. So where are they going to go for their literature? I think they might take a walk over to the fantasy section – they say there are no original ideas, and in many cases fantasy got there first! Fantasy is due a renaissance, it’s going to be COOL – I predicted it here, folks.