Fantasy on the Rise


By Neal Comment

USA Today reports “sales of science fiction and fantasy books have jumped 8.5% in the past five years,” largely (the article claims) on the strength of the Harry Potter franchise. Although a couple of small movies based on some Tolkien novels may have played a role in the boom, too. Whatever the reason, Carol Memmott focuses her attention on the recent successes of “epic” fantasy writers like George R. R. Martin and Robert Jordan (who were, by the by, born just a month apart in 1948). Both authors have recently published the latest installments in lengthy series and seen them debut at #2 on the USAT bestseller lists (Martin’s A Feast for Crows also debuted at #1 on the NYT fiction chart). Now, I’m not denying that any number of Potter fans, casting about for something to read while J. K. Rowling’s been busy writing, have probably checked out the SF/fantasy section of their bookstore and come away with books like this. But both franchises predate Potter—in Jordan’s case, by seven years—and it’s just as likely that they’ve managed to accrue their own audiences along the way. Then there’s Neil Gaiman, who also debuted at the top of the Times list, but with a very different kind of fantasy—but since Anansi Boys doesn’t fit into the “swords-and-sorcery rule” thesis, we don’t hear of it here.

Memmott also hits both the “fantasy readers aren’t all nerds” meme and the “we read fantasy to escape from reality” meme, buttressing the latter with this quote from Tor publisher Tom Doherty: “It’s nice for people to get away from it all and say, ‘In this world, I’ll suspend disbelief, and good will triumph, and the good guys will win.'” Having read the first three books of Martin’s saga, though, I can assure you that is not why people are reading him, not by a long shot. His story has a much more realpolitick vibe; it’s not even a given at this point that the “good” guys will win, or what sort of world will be left for them if they do…