Put your magic hands up if you can’t wait for the newest season of The Magicians to come out. I devoured the first season, keeping my nails close to my teeth and screeching with every gruesome twist. Then as the season closed with it’s shocking, bloody, cliff-hanging conclusion I asked myself: “Wait, do I actually like this?” The answer came at me like a crushing blow when I realised I didn’t really enjoy it in the same way I would other fantasy epics. In fact, when it had been recommended to me, it was under the guise of some amazing fantasy series to fill the void left by Harry Potter. But really, The Magicians tv show was not fantasy. The episodes had my stomach in uncomfortable knots, railing for the characters and their tribulations instead of rooting for them. Much the same effect that George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones and its HBO adaption had on me.
We face a new chapter in fantasy, or at least when fantasy is adapted for television. It seems everyone today needs to be Game of Thrones, everyone needs to be bigger, bolder, bloodier than before. Go deeper and darker than has been gone. No one wants to be Tolkien-esque or be called a Lewis copycat. New paths are being forged in fantasy but at such a cost that they are shedding everything fantastical and instead twisting into something completely different. The new wave of fantasy hitting mainstream media is dark, gritty, and keeps the watcher/reader in a state of unknown. This veers away from the original purpose of the genre and is deconstructing the roots of fantasy. Because of this, new wave fantasy is obsessed with the spectacle, not to mention the ultimate loss of hope, an essential theme in the fantasy genre.
This veers away from the original purpose of the genre and is deconstructing the roots of fantasy. Because of this, new wave fantasy is obsessed with the spectacle, not to mention the ultimate loss of hope, an essential theme in the fantasy genre.
Fantasy as a genre used to exist as a way for readers and writers to comprehend abstract concepts such as courage, sacrifice, bravery, being the hero of your story, good vs evil, death, despair, and hope in an escapist environment. And in all the great fantasy epics we find one of the things that reigns supreme is the theme of hope. In most cases, we know the hero will prevail. With new wave fantasy, there is an ever-increasing trend of forgetting hope or even destroying it full stop.
We can’t talk about New Wave Fantasy without looking at HBO’s Game of Thrones. One of the most prolific examples of horror under the guise of fantasy in today’s cannon. Just looking at the sheer amount of blood, sex, and violence is enough to compare GOT to a horror. But we can look deeper. In Game of Thrones audiences voyeuristically enjoy the new ways characters are slaughtered. Their beloved heroes are ripped from Westeros in more and more gruesome ways. It becomes a game of who will live instead of who will die as the latter is increasingly more likely. We know in GOT not to be attached to any character for their demise is close at hand and we can’t wait for the next jaw dropping, bloody twist. There is nothing of fantasy about it. Instead it is safe to say that Game of Thrones is horror with dragons. In horror, we know to expect the worst. It’s a cathartic experience, letting us view the sick and twisted from the comfort of our own chairs. And Game of Thrones excels in the sick and twisted. But does every show need to follow in its footsteps to gain notoriety?
It’s easy to understand why authors and tv producers need to turn to more and more shocking elements in their shows. The tired tropes are just that. Tired Tropes. It’s easy to look at movies like the Seventh Son and see why they fail. We as an audience have seen the white, male, hero savior fulfilling the chosen prophecy again and again and again. So rather than find new ways to make fantasy interesting and relevant, finding new and intriguing heroes, authors and shows are instead turning the genre upside down. The Magicians is a prime example of this. Its hero is bumbling and whiny and we see that he is not the hero. The whole hero quest and savior is disintegrated in the show and we are left with something new and wholly different. The characters are so enwrapped by their turmoil, troubles, and pitiful exclamations, that evil conquers. Or at least comes to a tie at the end of the season 1. But this is the point. The world is dark, and our reality is filled with horrors, add magic to the mix and that doesn’t make it any better. There is no hero, people will always act selfishly and complain even when attempting to fight evil. There is no hope. Just the necessity of survival. Similar to horror.
New wave fantasy is exploring the genre of horror and suspense, with fantasy elements instead of having elements of horror in fantasy. Ergo new wave fantasy is not fantasy in it’s true sense because it does not deal with the abstract concepts that fantasy has always striven to but instead pushes the boundaries, crosses genres, has no reverence in the preservation of its characters and people seem to prefer this. Can we ever at this point return to traditional fantasy, will hope prevail in anything but young adult fiction or are we just starting a new tradition? Today most new wave fantasy explores the themes and tropes of horror to shock, awe, amaze and get as far away from the Tolkien of yesterday.
This article was written by Kay Vandette, a talented freelancer and lover of fantasy. We’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with any of the points in this peice, so feel free to let us know in the comments section or on Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Emily often writes about crafting and coffee on her blog: Nerd of the North.