May 19th 2019. It’s 1.45 AM. A room full of comfortable chairs, a pool table, and most importantly, a projector and screen. No people in sight. 15 minutes later, the scene changes. A group of young students – all dressed in comfy pyjamas—sit crowding around the screen. Red, Gold, Black and Grey banners flood the scene as their porters frantically highlight the superiority of their house. The topic of conversation? None other than the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, the culmination of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy trilogy turned Award Winning, HBO TV series Game of Thrones. An hour and twenty minutes later, the room goes back to its original state. A lonely House Lannister banner has been left behind. With three beeps the projector finally turns itself off. No more fighting. No more fire breathing dragons, favourite characters left to die, or, arguably, tears left to cry. The War is over, the Iron Throne has been occupied by a — seemingly stable– government at last. The tale has been told, and with no new book in sight, one is left to wonder: is this the end of Westeros?
Or, worse, is this the end of fantasy in our lives?
The 21st century has borne witness to a number of fantasy booksellers and blockbusters. Current twenty-year olds grew up watching adaptations of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth adventures on the Big Screen, reading Rowling’s Hogwarts shenanigans and dreaming of getting lost in Lewis’ Narnia. The last Harry Potter book, however, came out in 2008, it’s two-part movie adaption in 2011. There have been no sign of Frodo, Bilbo, Sam or Legolas on movie billboards since 2014, and don’t even get me started on the last time I heard anyone discuss the Pevensie siblings. I must have been sporting a Spanish football t-shirt, glued to my family TV, celebrating the World Cup championship result. Martin’s world seemed to be the last pawn standing, a sprinkle of fantasy in the dystopian-obsessed late 2010s. And now it too is over.
Only, not really. The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring are still a work in progress, fantasy is not, as of yet, fully dead. No. Never. Fantasy is, perhaps, merely on…on…hiatus?
I know what you are probably thinking. Another fantasy geek. Refusing to let go. Refusing to acknowledge that the fantasy genre just isn’t a “thing” anymore, it’s no longer “cool” or “in”. But let me ask you something…when was it ever like that?
Fantasy, not unlike science-fiction, has never been regarded as “hip”, or “high school jock” type of cool. People have been mocked, ridiculed and shunned for scribbling spells in their science text books, walking around speaking Elvish or deciding to stay in and go on a mad, D & D quest instead of partying. So, when asked if fantasy is dying out, if it’s suddenly out of fashion, coincidently shortly after the end of Thrones, one cannot help but wonder… do we actually know how the fantasy genre works, what it’s all about?
Fantasy was never about infamous spoilers, feeds filled with memes and expensive TV subscriptions. The Technological Revolution and the Social Media world we live in have incorporated these aspects into the genre, but don’t be deceived by these mainstream developments. Fantasy, after all, has always been about going beyond, exploring extraordinary worlds that differ from ours, and yet still feel like home. And that is something a lack of episodes, or even new books, will never be able to change.
As we speak, over 700 different stories under the generic “fantasy” tag, are being published on Wattpad, one of Internet’s community of online readers, writers and self-publishers. Another 1,650 under “vampire”, “werewolf”, “magic” and “adventures”. If that wasn’t enough, CNBC published an article on March 16th 2019 highlighting a dramatic increase in the sales of D&D merchandise, doubling every year for the last five. Let’s not forget the number of publications made in non-anglophone countries belonging to this genre, something perhaps Hollywood hasn’t been fond of sharing but is, nonetheless, of major relevance in an evaluation of its livelihood. Fans, as always, are taking good care of it, making the best out of the advantages this mediatised world has given it.
Maybe I am too much of a geek. Maybe I’ve romanticised those worlds too much. Maybe there was never more to them than ink blobs in the shape of letters on a page, or flashy battles on TV. But something tells me that isn’t quite right. Something tells me that while those books are still being checked out of libraries, while people still get into heated conversations discussing Frodo’s utter incompetence, tear up at the mention of Dobby The House Elf, and condemn whoever made the decision to exclude Hermione’s activism from the movies, fantasy as a genre will be far from over. No, the point of those stories was to lay the ground work for extraordinary worlds and tales to be narrated and felt by millions all over the world. And that they have accomplished, and will continue to do so, long after George R. R Martin types the final word of his Dream of Spring. Until then, for critics out there, far from “dying”, they might consider fantasy’s status as, if “alive” and “strong as ever” does not please them, on hiatus.