This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

← Fantasy's Spell on Pop Culture: When Will It Wear Off?

Fantasy's Spell on Pop Culture: When Will It Wear Off? - Comments

Atheist Mike's Avatar Comment 1 by Atheist Mike

As long as it's not taken too seriously I don't have any problem with fantasy. Some people without a doubt do take it too seriously but that doesn't mean the genre itself is a bad thing. One aspect of it that may be worth denouncing however is the 'black and white' aspect that most fantasy tales seem to promote, in real life it isn't so simple and those who are taking fantasy worlds too seriously might not get that. Indeed, apparently even the crazy Norwegian killer seem to have been influenced by that, if only slightly.

From the guardian:

Anders Behring Breivik's world view seems to have been shaped by online fantasy games and the anti-Islamist blogosphere.

Tue, 02 Aug 2011 21:07:38 UTC | #857139

hemidemisemigod's Avatar Comment 2 by hemidemisemigod

I read a fantasy book the other day. It started with a lone all powerful and eternal god who created the universe, including some angels to help him. One of the angels rebelled and turned to evil but he was cast down and later turned to spreading evil throughout creation.

The god then created the world with its forests, mountains, rivers and oceans. He created a great many wonderful beasts that swam, crawled and flew over the face of the earth. He then made people to dwell on the earth and called them his children.

The rest of the book is about these children and their fight against evil.

The name of this wonderful book? Well, if you haven't already guessed, it's called The Silmarillion.

Tue, 02 Aug 2011 21:28:29 UTC | #857148

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 3 by Peter Grant

Love sci-fi and fantasy, enjoy all forms of escapism. I doubt the bubble will burst though. Just imagine what complex virtual worlds we will be able to create in the future!

Tue, 02 Aug 2011 21:31:27 UTC | #857149

Narvi's Avatar Comment 4 by Narvi

I've read the article, and still don't see what his point is. Fantasy will, sooner or later, be less popular. So? That's obvious.

A couple decades ago, we had a western craze. Before that, a ganster craze. We've had alien crazes, vampire crazes - popular culture follows trends, and will continue to do so. My guess is that we're heading towards a steampunk craze, but I'm probably wrong.

Tue, 02 Aug 2011 21:36:38 UTC | #857156

wisnoskij's Avatar Comment 5 by wisnoskij

Although it was longer than all three Lord of the Rings books combined, I read it over the weekend.

no way, no publisher would publish such a monstrosity and you would not even be able to hold on to it properly. So I did a little research, Wikipedia says that A Storm of Swords has a little under 1000 pages to a tiny bit over 1200 pages depending on the version. Checked my version of the lord of the rings trilogy and they average a little over 500 pages a book, well over 1200 when all added together.

Tue, 02 Aug 2011 21:40:10 UTC | #857158

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 6 by Neodarwinian

Yawn.

I have not read any fiction in some time. Unless this was fiction!

Tue, 02 Aug 2011 21:58:52 UTC | #857172

jel's Avatar Comment 7 by jel

There is nothing wrong with fantasy, just as long as you realise that it IS fantasy.

Tue, 02 Aug 2011 22:37:28 UTC | #857185

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 8 by Cartomancer

I number myself among the fantasy-loving hardcore. Indeed, other than academic books, I tend to read very little else. Well, there's sci-fi, though that's just fantasy in a different skin anyway. I'm a terrible melodrama junkie. Epic battles, powerful wizards, fantastical monsters, the fate of worlds hanging in the balance - sign me up for as much as I can get as often as I can get it! Indeed, I tend to prefer my fantasy worlds as exaggerated, bombastic, otherworldly and magic-soaked as they come. If there's any part of the genre I am not that fussed with it's the deliberately "low fantasy" end (which does, to an extent, include George R R Martin's stuff), which seeks somewhat to avoid the epic, romantic, magical stuff that I tend get off on.

Fantasy books, games, films, TV shows - I love the lot. Nerd? Absolutely! Geek? Sure, and proud of it! Dork? Well, if you like. Roleplaying and fantasy games have provided me with far more pleasure in this life than anything else. By a long chalk. Wouldn't take a girl out to see a fantasy movie? Why would I even want to?!

So I have to say that the recent offerings of the genre in popular culture have been welcome. Though I can't say I've noticed a change in popularity overmuch - my inner landscape has always looked like that! And it probably always will, even if the rest of the world ceases to find the fantastical stories I love as interesting as currently it does. Though I doubt it will. I don't really see much of a bubble at all.

The thing about fantasy is that it's not really a genre with a specific cultural appeal, operating on tropes that are relevant to particular historical moments. Indeed, it encompasses all genres, and absorbs new material all the time. One can have a fantasy crime novel for instance, or a fantasy romance, or the more traditional fantasy epic. One can have bright, hopeful, optimistic fantasy or dark, grim, pessimistic fantasy. Almost every type of storytelling is encompassed, to say nothing of particular aesthetics and inspirations (medieval fantasy, techno-magic, science fantasy, steampunk, alternative worlds etc.) so it is capable of being reinvented indefinitely to satisfy particular cultural preferences. The Odyssey could be considered fantasy writing, as could Beowulf, the Morte d'Arthur, The Tempest, Gulliver's Travels, or Dracula. I'm not sure there ever was a time or place when fantasy writing was not highly popular with large sections of the populace.

Tue, 02 Aug 2011 23:08:02 UTC | #857199

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 9 by AtheistEgbert

Yeah, love the tv-series Game of Thrones, and a big fan of epic fantasy.

Tue, 02 Aug 2011 23:19:33 UTC | #857206

secularjew's Avatar Comment 10 by secularjew

I'll be happy if we just leave the damn superhero comic book bubble.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 00:39:06 UTC | #857236

The Plc's Avatar Comment 11 by The Plc

I don't see the point of this being here. Seriously, what's the point?

In truth, anti-empirical philosophy has incomparably done more damage than fantasy fiction throughout the ages. It was Plato and Aristotle, not Homer, that wrecked intellectual thought for centuries.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 00:59:18 UTC | #857246

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 12 by Schrodinger's Cat

Long live fantasy ! Seriously, if it wasn't for the chance to escape to fantasy worlds such as the amazing PC game world of Oblivion........I'd have gone stark raving bonkers years ago.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 01:30:47 UTC | #857254

Marc Country's Avatar Comment 13 by Marc Country

Nerds love fantasy, what can you say? Some enterprising neuroscientist should discover the connection.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 01:59:54 UTC | #857261

Marc Country's Avatar Comment 14 by Marc Country

Comment Removed by Author

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 02:05:14 UTC | #857263

Alovrin's Avatar Comment 15 by Alovrin

People can only take in so many teenage vampire romances and wizarding schools.

I think that's his gripe.

But there's hope for the young fellow.

Too much magic has always ruined good fantasy, after all.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 04:13:05 UTC | #857296

mmurray's Avatar Comment 16 by mmurray

Comment 4 by Narvi :

I've read the article, and still don't see what his point is.

I think he got paid for it. Seriously was there anything more to it than that ?

As for being a dork if you read fantasy didn't he get the memo from Bill Gates ? The dorks won.

Michael

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 05:05:13 UTC | #857309

bellow's Avatar Comment 17 by bellow

Comment 3 by Peter Grant :

Love sci-fi and fantasy, enjoy all forms of escapism. I doubt the bubble will burst though. Just imagine what complex virtual worlds we will be able to create in the future!

I wouldn't label "hard" sci-fi as escapism. Still a lot of quality authors churning out good stuff. I'm especially fond of Kim Stanley Robinson and his "utopian" fiction. Vernor Vinge, and David Brin are terrific as well.

Regarding the original post, fantasy fiction has been "mainstream" for quite a while, no? I grew up on Dragonlance and David Gemmell novels. The stuff bores me stiff nowadays, but they bring back fond memories.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 05:30:10 UTC | #857313

Vicktor's Avatar Comment 18 by Vicktor

All this sounds like a growing need for the mysterious and fanciful among the generally scientifically illiterate in an increasingly atheistic world. Well, get a load of this. There probably are hidden dimensions or universes where everything we see in these movies are real. And... it just might be possible to visit them some day.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 05:44:00 UTC | #857318

Functional Atheist's Avatar Comment 19 by Functional Atheist

This site has really gone into overdrive lately, hasn't it? Seriously, someone is linking to a LOT more articles, and the pertinence is becoming more and more tangential, but I just want to say I appreciate it.

Most every science fan I've ever met has enjoyed Sci-Fi, and Fantasy is a first-cousin of that genre, so naturally this article is going to appeal to many Richard Dawkins fans.

Bully for you, richarddawkins.net--pop culture stuff is not going to besmirch your credibility in politics or the sciences, and the recent flurry of articles, even if occasionally of tangential association to your traditional mission, is a vast improvement to the recent past.

May I suggest a daily-change to your home page? Casual page-viewers may not realize how much new material is being posted if the quick-glance headlines and lead-stories are unchanged day after day. It seemed like the home-page lead articles were unchanged for months fairly recently, so improvements have been made in this area, but it will help build a bigger community if you try to have a new lead story each and every day. That will require some tough editorial decision-making, but the web-masters here are up to that challenge, aren't they? Have faith, and pick a lead story for the day, with an appropriate change to the photos on the home page, and you will pick up more readers--and your existing readers will significantly increase their page-views. Or that's my bet, at least.

Thanks for your hard work, and keep the 'fun' articles coming! Who says atheists have to be dour so much of the time--that just feeds into unpleasant stereotypes.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 06:56:43 UTC | #857333

Robert Howard's Avatar Comment 20 by Robert Howard

I've always hated the sword-and-sorcery stuff which seems to be the meat and potatoes of this type of fiction and dominates the fantasy section of most bookshops; and aside from a brief flirtation with the Riverworld books by Philip Jose Farmer when I was a kid, I've given this brand of literature a wide berth.

Fantasy fiction has always struck me as the slower kid brother to the more thoughtful and mature older brother of science fiction. Both of these genres manage to capture the imagination and create loyal fans; but, it seems to me, fantasy looks inwards and tries to create worlds within our own, whereas science fiction casts its gaze outwards towards the stars, both literally and metaphorically.

If challenged to recall an image from sci-fi that has entered the public consciousness, you might think of William Shatner kissing Nichelle Nicholls in the racially-charged 1960s, the doo doo doo doo doo of Close Encounters, or Chuck Heston screaming "you maniacs, you blew it up. Damn you all to Hell". And these are just a few. Try the same thing with fantasy and you might get the image of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a pair of sandals.

There are some aspects to moden fantasy that I like: Buffy the Vampire Slayer will always be my favourite tv show, although this may have more to do with Joss Whedon's wit and beautiful writing than anything else; and I loved Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy which was mentioned in the article. I also think J.K.Rowling deserves massive kudos for introducing a generation of kids to the written word.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 07:41:40 UTC | #857339

Cartomancer's Avatar Comment 21 by Cartomancer

I've given this brand of literature a wide berth.

Ah, that kind of snobbery. I see where you're coming from...

Fantasy fiction has always struck me as the slower kid brother to the more thoughtful and mature older brother of science fiction.

I don't buy this analysis at all. In fact I don't really see much difference between the two, except in aesthetic terms. Both can be just as inspiring, just as thoughtful, just as mature and just as interesting. They just have a different aesthetic appeal. Science fiction is simply a sub-genre of fantasy writing.

but, it seems to me, fantasy looks inwards and tries to create worlds within our own, whereas science fiction casts its gaze outwards towards the stars, both literally and metaphorically.

One could, by that logic, condemn human biology as a discipline because it is not astronomy. I don't see why the traditionally spacefaring settings of science fiction should somehow make them more worthy or worthwhile than the traditionally historically- and mythologically- inspired settings of fantasy works. What has being set in a fictional place a long way away got to reccommend it? The narrative and character and ideas are not made more compelling simply because they are imagined to be light-years distant.

If challenged to recall an image from sci-fi that has entered the public consciousness, you might think of William Shatner kissing Nichelle Nicholls in the racially-charged 1960s, the doo doo doo doo doo of Close Encounters, or Chuck Heston screaming "you maniacs, you blew it up. Damn you all to Hell". And these are just a few. Try the same thing with fantasy and you might get the image of Arnold Schwarzenegger in a pair of sandals.

If we're just sticking to the cinema then there's a lot. What about Ray Harryhausen's iconic animated skeleton warriors in Jason and the Argonauts? Or the menace of Christopher Lee's dracula? Or the haunting schizophrenia of gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy? But it goes deeper than that. Fantasy literature trades on archetypes, on deeply-held cultural tropes. It's almost Jungian. We are all familiar with the crusading knight, the barbarian warlord, the massed army, the wise sorcerer, the mighty dragon. Indeed, science fiction often borrows from these fantasy archetypes to achieve its effects. Star Wars, after all, has its share of knights and princesses, hermit-sages and evil emperors and swashbuckling adventurers.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 09:05:58 UTC | #857359

mmurray's Avatar Comment 22 by mmurray

Comment 20 by Robert Howard :

I've always hated the sword-and-sorcery stuff which seems to be the meat and potatoes of this type of fiction and dominates the fantasy section of most bookshops; and aside from a brief flirtation with the Riverworld books by Philip Jose Farmer when I was a kid, I've given this brand of literature a wide berth.

Fantasy fiction has always struck me as the slower kid brother to the more thoughtful and mature older brother of science fiction.

I don't agree with this. I don't think there is a division like that between sci-fi and fantasy. There is lots of sci-fi in which characterisation is rubbish for example. It's just one clever idea wrapped up with a lot of space ships with FTL drives. For example the Lensman series and Asimov's Foundation. Do any of those kinds of space opera's have any characters you'd want to remember ? I loved them as a kid but I'd never read them again.

On the other hand you have people like Le Guin who writes great sci-fi and great fantasy.

Michael

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 09:54:06 UTC | #857373

ridelo's Avatar Comment 23 by ridelo

My most beloved fantasy story is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Can't help it.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 10:05:55 UTC | #857380

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 24 by SaganTheCat

Comment 23 by ridelo :

My most beloved fantasy story is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Can't help it.

I think you'll find that was a documentry. they made a fantasy book about it as well though....

I think it's just another phase, it will die out by virtue of the fact that someone's mum/dad/older sibling is into it and therefore pants.

I always loved fantasy, for my youth the movies tended to involve sinbad and stop-frame animation monsters. the effects were great for their time but technology moved on, tastes changed and any attempt to go down that path were dated by default.

I'm sure it'll pass then in 20-30 years come back again but peoples tastes are driven by more than just what hollywood give us. for me in the 80s the void of fantasy movies was filled by role-playing games which led to a renewed interest in reading (dungeons and dragons creators brought us dragonlance novels) and by the 90s there was little to excite that market. I think the biggest fantasy movement of the 90s was the X files. this led to many people becoming interested in the paranormal, and presumibly got them investigating and coming up with nothing realised fantasy was best kept in imaginary worlds such as hogwarts and the cycle starts again

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 10:45:33 UTC | #857393

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 25 by Stafford Gordon

I prefer the Real McCoy. Science facts are fantabulous enough for your truly.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 10:53:22 UTC | #857397

ghost of numf-el's Avatar Comment 26 by ghost of numf-el

I love fantasy books and films as much as the next dork, but this has to do with RD why?

Is it meant as a suggestion to Richard for what to do next?

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 11:36:08 UTC | #857410

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 27 by DavidMcC

I love SOME of the recent sci-fantasy TV progs, not because of science (there's hardly any of that in them, of course, and most of what there is is made up rubbish), but because of the humour (at least in the good ones. "A Town Called Eureka" and "Stargate Atlantis", for example. You soon discover the great comedy duos in them!

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 12:10:11 UTC | #857422

DavidMcC's Avatar Comment 28 by DavidMcC

... Another favourite of mine was "Star Trek Enterprise", again mainly for the comedy acts (with erotic overtones in the dialogue between the captain and T'Pol, in this case).

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 12:17:30 UTC | #857423

Graxan's Avatar Comment 29 by Graxan

We are not in a bubble, we've always been fascinated with stories of fantasy, going back to Greek mythology up to the fairy stories of Hans Christen Anderson, the tales of space and lost worlds by H.G Wells and on to the modern paperback era from Robert E. Howard's Conan stories and H.P. Lovecraft's mind bending Horror sci-fi/fantasy on to Tolkein and the explosion of fantasy books in the 70s and 80s (My personal favourite being David Gemmell's books) - All of which stem from our inate desire to either escape to another place and time or to lend character to our observations of the world and dramatically guess what might have have happened in ages past or what may happen in the future.

It's all very human, and thinking about it I reckon the question in the original post is a bit bloody daft. Most of humanity lives in a fantasy bubble.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 12:35:20 UTC | #857428

drl2's Avatar Comment 30 by drl2

I'll have to agree that I don't think there's a "bubble" - we've merely reached a point where the technology to portray these stories cinematically without resorting to puppets and rubber suits has become widespread and inexpensive enough that you don't need to have an almost guaranteed blockbuster like LotR to risk the investment.

I've been a fantasy reader all my life - Christopher Tolkien keeps publishing everything his father ever so much as scribbled on a napkin because he knows people like me will rush to the bookstore for the hardcover the day it comes out, then come back again two years later for the deluxe leather-bound boxed set edition of "Galadriel Orders A Pizza".

To some degree I credit my reading of fantasy with my rejection of religion. I never for a moment believed there really were elves and dragons and wizards fighting over magic swords... but through these stories I learned to recognize make-believe when I saw it. Somewhere along the line I realized that Jesus the Wizard and Gandalf the Wizard were just as unlikely (and if I could pick one to be real, it would be the one with the wagon full of fireworks...).

As to the issue of fantasy creating oversimplified black-and-white, good-vs-bad scenarios, I think it's far from the only genre to do this. The best fantasy, the kind that sticks with you long after you've given the book away because, while you enjoyed it, you know you won't be reading it again, is the kind that's all shades of gray. Tolkien managed to do a little of both - the bad guys were unquestionably, undeniably bad... but the good guys were flawed and could and did give in to temptation, often to disastrous results. His work was heavily influenced by Catholic theological ideas of sin and redemption, but I like it anyway. As for Game of Thrones, I challenge anyone to find a single character in that series who is either totally good or totally bad, who Martin hasn't already killed off.

Wed, 03 Aug 2011 13:48:44 UTC | #857457