A Dead Genre?

I'm a subscriber to David Farland's "Daily Kick in the Pants," and email newsletter that goes out...well, daily...and offers a wealth of practical advice to writers. I've gotten some priceless tidbits of wisdom and motivation from his offerings.

Well, today the "Daily Kick" dished up a line that felt more like a kick in the teeth. (No fault of Mr. Farland's...he calls things like he sees them, and he's just being frank without any malice toward me or any other reader.) David Farland said something in just  few little lines that sunk a sword into my gut. He wrote that his agent believes Tolkienesque fantasy to be dead and unsellable.


I can't help but wonder at the plausibility of this statement, given the number of teens who every day who discover Middle Earth for the first time, and how if you hang around at least the younger readers of fantasy, how there is still a deep, tremulous excitement over worlds populated with elves, dwarves, and the entire zoological gamut of humanoids Dungeons and Dragons has since lifted and expounded upon. Perhaps it's just my own bias tainting my view, but I simply can't see a book market devoid of books that take place in  a wholly separate time and place. I think the market would be sadly lacking if all we could buy for the next who-knows-how-long is contemporary fantasy.

This seems to be my week for discouraging speed bumps, though. Almost drives and author to self publish.

But I digress. What do you think? Is today's reader sick of castles, armor, and swords? Is contemporary fantasy the only sub genre one ought be writing currently if one hopes to become a published author? You can probably guess what my answer is to all this, but I'd love to hear your comments.

And by the way, more Windrider to come in a week or so.


  1. It depends on what he means by 'Tolkienesque.' If he means fantasy in general (elves, other worlds, etc.) he simply dead wrong. The genre is growing, not shrinking.

    But if he means books that are background-focused, he might be right. I don't think he is, and I am going to do my best to prevent that from happening, but the tendency might be there.

    Actually, I know it is there.

    See, even modern writing teachers (Jeff Gerke, Randy ingermanson, etc.) barely give background-focused story development and books a glance in their advice. And there are very, very few successful books that are truly background-focused.

    What do I mean by background-focused?

    Most people talk about plot-first novelists and character-first novelists. They see that books are plot or character focused based on how it was developed.

    And yet there is another (which I prefer): background-first. It is what J.R.R Tolkien and I do. We spend loads of time developing the Arena of the story. The world in all its grand intricacy and depth.

    From that spring both Characters and Plots. These mesh together with the world more like real history does in our world, rather than more loosely connected like in 'regular' books.

    It takes a lot more work, but the resulting novel is marvelously deep in every way.

    Problem is, people don't like deep books all that much any more.

    Or do they?

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  3. Good thoughts, Sir Emeth. What you call "background focused" I might also call "setting driven" narrative. With Tolkien as an example, it's easy to see that the setting of Middle Earth informed everything that happened in his works, especially The Lord of the Rings. Take Tom Bombadil for example...besides being a way out of an early obstacle in Frodo's heroic journey, he was more a rabbit trail into a moment of setting than he was a character in the book. But he's a delightful little piece of Middle Earth as a whole.

    One would like to hope audiences can still appreciate books with a deep, complete sense of world-building underpinning their narrative, but there's so much about our culture that perpetuates the 10 miles wide/two inches deep mentality, that I fear fiction has also suffered. It's a sad thing.

  4. OK, so one agent says this. Until I actually stop seeing the fantasy titles on the shelves, I don't believe it. Sir Emeth makes a good point about readers having less patience for Silmarilion-like depth, but I think fantasy readers still like in-depth world-building.

    I'm reminded of the record company exec who told The Beatles that "guitar bands are on the way out."

  5. Sir Emeth is right--Tolkienesque books as in "background-driven" are dying. Which is a literary shame, in my humble opinion. ;0)

    I don't see fantasy/sci fi as a dying genre. I see it changing, becoming more plot or character driven, maybe with not so much thought put into world-building (which is another shame).

    But I do think that it's growing, especially with the number of kids who've grown up with Harry Potter, and the movies of LOTR and Narnia. What will happen when those kids grow up? They're not all of a sudden going to start reading prairie fiction, that's for sure! :0)

  6. I honestly have to agree with them. I really like Lord of the Rings, but mostly the background. Would I read something like Lord of the Rings? Probably not. I feel that Lord of the Rings is a novel written in textbook form. It has dialogue, it has characters, and it focuses on the characters somewhat. The Silmarillion is a history book, in my view, written as a history book. That actually bumps it above Lord of the Rings for me. It doesn't feel not quite cohesive.


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