The Popular Culture of the Fantasy Genre
Today, fantasy is a popular and beloved genre with many loyal devotees. Featured in literature, television, and film, what was once considered a niche culture has now entered the mainstream with the popularity of the highly successful Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter books and films.
The roots of fantasy begin in ancient times. In mythology and early literature, it was not uncommon for popular legends to demonstrate many of the traits which now inspire fantasy today. In works as diverse as The Odyssey, Beowulf, and 1001 Arabian Nights, heroes on epic quests, warring gods, lengthy back stories, and beings not of the real world are all featured. Fantasy today is hugely influenced by mythology and folklore, and takes many of its tropes from the myths and legends of long ago times.
Medieval works were also a huge influence, as the Middle Ages-inspired setting is prevalent in many works, like Redwall and the aforementioned Lord of the Rings. The King Arthur tales and elements of Dante's Divine Comedy and even works by Shakespeare contained fantastical elements.
Still, many of these works took place in realms like ours but with fantastical creatures and occurrences. It was not until Victorian times that works were finally set in realms all their own, distinct from anything we know, and so provided the foundation for the fantasy genre as we know it. William Morris is considered by many to be the father of the genre for his pure fantasy tales set in a realm unlike reality. His works were largely influenced by the mythology of Norway and Scandinavia.
It was not until a century later that J.R.R. Tolkien created the Lord of the Rings and brought the genre to unprecedented heights. His extremely detailed, epic, and imaginative tales captured the imaginations of millions of readers and set a new bar for the quality of fantasy tales. The trilogy drew upon elements from mythology, folklore, and Medieval tales to create a timeless story of an epic quest.
Since Tolkien, the genre has become more popular and splintered into many different factions across the mediums of literature, television, and film. Fantasy has also seen more mainstream acceptance than ever with the Harry Potter books and films and the success of the Narnia films, among others. Fantasy is a thriving genre, one where imagination is the only limit.
Edward Stern is a frequent guest blogger and a writer for online publications.