Fantasy is popular. Let me prove it... I’m going to look at fantasy movies and TV shows, because these cost big bucks to make, so the producers have to be reasonably sure they will get a return on their investment. And I’m going to use fantasy as a broad term here, including anything fantastical, rather than simply High Fantasy Quests. After all, what is James Bond but a modern fantasy for men?
(Avatar, top grossing movie of all time)
According to Box Office Mojo’s top grossing 100 movies, all the top ten — no wait — the top twenty, (if you exclude Passion of Christ) — no wait — the top thirty (except for Forrest Gump, which is a sort of allegorical fantasy about the USA) — no wait — the top grossing fifty movies have been fantastical in nature. (In fact in the next fifty there are only six or seven that aren’t fantastical).
This is amazing. When I set out to write this post I didn’t realise so many of the top grossing movies would be from the speculative fiction genre (fantasy, SF and horror). Note, this list does not claim to contain the top 100 most worthy films, rather these are the films viewers voted as being most popular by using their wallets. The movie going public chose to go see the movies, many of them more than once.
Now for the TV shows. This is harder to define, because we can’t go by box office takings. According to IMDb, of the top 10 current shows number one and three are True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, respectively.
And, if you think about it, there’s one TV show that explores every sub-genre of fantastical and is still going strong almost fifty years later — Dr Who, (first aired in 1963). When I was a child my mother thought Dr Who too scary to let me watch, so I would go to a friend’s place. With 784 episodes so far and eleven reincarnations of the Dr, there seems to be no end in sight for the travelling time-lord. (For more on Doctor Who see here).
So clearly fantastical is popular. But why?
According to the Fantasy Book Review: ‘The reason that fantasy is so popular for both adults and children alike is that (these books, movies and TV shows) offer escapism from work or school into a different realm. If you’re reading about elves or magic then the worries of business, homework or housework are forgotten and everyone can let their imagination run wild. This is probably the reason that fantasy is such a broad category and unites almost everyone, from the elderly to those just starting to read, or to take an interest in films.’
Is it really that so many of us want to escape from our modern lives?
Over on Fantasy Faction blog, Eric Christensen says: ‘I believe we live in a science fiction world. But it is not the chrome-plated, rocket-powered, optimistic world of tomorrow described in so many classic sci-fi stories. I think people are growing increasingly confused and uneasy in this world of rapidly evolving technology, so people are rejecting the modern world...
...people are looking for escapism, but they do not want to turn to science fiction. People get enough science fiction in their daily lives, and many are uncomfortable with that fact. Instead, they will turn to fantasy: primal stories of monsters and magic as a rejection of the modern world in front of us.’
Is it because we are running away from modern life, or is it because we are running towards something?
In an article for The Australian Literature Review about fantasy books, I wrote: ‘Whether these stories are set in our world or a secondary world where magical creatures and/or people exist, they all share a common theme: the exploration of the human condition. Even the much maligned medieval/quest fantasies offer their readers the chance to vicariously explore a wondrous world, battle evil and restore justice. Even a lowly Hobbit can change the course of the world by destroying the Ring.
That is the appeal of the tolkienesque fantasy. In our modern world where politicians prove corrupt, large corporations rip off consumers and terrorists kill ordinary people going about their daily lives, the traditional quest fantasy provides an antidote to cynicism. Fantasy, deriving from the word fantastic, exercises our sense of wonder.’
Tolkien coined a word, Eucatastrophe to describe this feeling:
“… which pierces you with a joy that brings tears. … it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary ‘truth’ on the second plane – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made.”
I say, ‘...readers can mine the fantasy subgenres for just the kind of ‘Eucatastrophic’ moment they crave. It would be true to say there are as many types of fantasy as there are authors writing it, and each author has their own view of what fantasy is and the purpose it serves.’
Rather than running away from the real world, I believe it is the quest for this ‘Eucatastrophic’ feeling that drives people to fantastical movies, TV shows and books. It is this genre which enables people to experience that moment of joyous truth. As a writer, I want the chance to push my characters and test them to their limit. It is only when we are faced with a crisis that we truly know ourselves. In The Outcast Chronicles, I put Imoshen and Sorne in terrible situations which force them to question what they truly believe.
I am a genre fan. I love the movies, TV shows and books. The whole family was hooked on Game of Thrones. I watched The Fades and Being Human and I’m always looking for more TV shows to give me that thrill of joy and wonder.
Rowena has a copy of Besieged, book one of The Outcast Chronicles, to give-away to one lucky commenter. (Open world-wide)
Give-away question: What TV show or movie has given you that Eucastrophic feeling?
~Just leave an answer to your question in the comments section to enter the giveaway and SQT will randomly pick one winner by Sunday, August 19th. (You can also enter on the giveaway page through the standard method of entering your information to the contest form).
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