How the Fantasy genre has evolved and lasted through the years

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Of all of the entertainment genres in the world, perhaps only science-fiction is as distinct as fantasy and many of its subgenres. As is often the case, fantasy has its origins in the realms of literature, which we cover extensively here at Auralcrave, and yet, despite how old some of its works are, they remain popular and relevant today. Just in the form of books, the fantasy genre is vast, even when looking at the most influential writings, from The Lord of the Rings to Chronicles of Amber, Gormenghast to the workings of H.P. Lovecraft.

As detailed by Proactive Writer, fantasy remains a best-seller, making up some 13% of total book sales, which exceeds mystery fiction (11%), historical fiction (3%), and even classic literary fiction (13%) by around 14 million copies. Over the years, the genre has evolved a great deal, encompassing a great many tales set within the recognizable settings and tropes of the core fantasy genre, enabling it to uphold its prominence to this day.

The origins and evolution of fantasy

J.R.R. Tolkien is commonly hailed as the “Father of Fantasy,” and while his works were incredibly influential and remain so today, a more accurate hailing would be as the Father of Modern Fantasy. For hundreds of years, folklore, tales of myth, and fantastical creatures were core to the human experience, ranging from cultural stories to core elements of religions. Many see fantasy as an extension of the tradition of mythology, with the tales taking place in detached worlds still relaying some sort of identifiable story.

As for its origins on paper, MasterClass cites two 19th century works: George MacDonald’s 1858 novel Phantastes and William Morris’ 1896 piece The Well at the World’s End broke ground. Later, the likes of Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells, Robert E. Howard, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis furthered fantasy as a popular genre, setting the stage for George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, Andrzej Sapkowki, Leigh Bardugo, and Marissa Meyer to evolve it further.

Often based on books or mythology, fantasy made its way onto the screen, bringing the fantastical worlds, creatures, and tales of novels to life. A Rotten Tomatoes editorial ranking of fantasy films features the likes of The Wizard of Oz, The Jungle Book, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Pan’s Labyrinth in the top ten. When budgets were able to increase to do right by the source material, several highly-rated fantasy series emerged on TV.

Many of the best fantasy shows hit the screen over the last 20 years, with Game of Thrones, Supernatural, The Umbrella Academy, and His Dark Materials all tapping into a different subgenre and aesthetic while remaining part of the fantasy genre. It’s fantasy’s adaptability and range that’s allowed so many different levels of its offering to be explored, all while the safe escapism element allows fantasy to continually resonate with entertainment-seekers.

Technology propelling fantasy for modern audiences

Lord of the Rings ALL VFX REMOVED!

While advancements in technology would naturally lead you to think of evolution in science-fiction works, it has also had a significant impact on fantasy. When applied well – and not horribly like those on The Wrap list – CGI can prove to excel the genre, immersing audiences who wouldn’t usually engage with fantasy content to do so willingly.

The biggest step in this direction came in the form of The Lord of the Rings. While the film as a whole was masterfully made, even drawing on Lux Aeterna for its music, it was the effects department that made the battles between men, orcs, Uruk-hai, dwarves, goblins, elves, and other creatures of Tolkien’s Middle-earth that made the story all the more accessible. This was made possible by Weta Digital, which also worked on Avatar, multiple MCU entries, and The Planet of the Apes.

In fact, it’s quite surprising what Screen Rant showcases as being CGI now, such as the removal of the Faun actor’s legs in Pan’s Labyrinth. Tremendous improvement in hardware and graphic design has also allowed fantasy to go from books, movies, and TV shows to video gaming. Some of the biggest games on the planet right now are open fantasy titles, such as The Elder Scrolls games and The Witcher series. Being able to create realistic-looking fantasy worlds and creatures brings it all to life. Add to that that gamers then take on the role of the hero and make their own choices, and it’s easy to see how such an escapist form of media blends so well with the ultimate escapist entertainment genre.

Continuing to evolve as a genre of all entertainment

Wicked - Trailer

Fantasy has made its stand in the modern day’s four primary storytelling mediums: novels, movies, TV shows, and games. However, it’s also been drawn from several other forms of entertainment. As the fantasy theme is so recognizable and longstanding, it has become a popular choice among the slot developers of the Betway online casino. Many of the most popular slots draw from fantasy themes, but so too do several newer creations. Elven Gold and War of Gods rank highly among the themed games that draw from other fantasy media properties.

Much more subtly, Led Zeppelin, the greatest rock band of all time, also regularly referenced fantasy, specifically Tolkien’s works. Ramble On outright uses the words “Mordor” and “Gollum,” while the song Misty Mountain Hop is also a direct reference to the fantasy world. On stage, fantasy is also becoming more prevalent, with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child being a huge attraction and Wicked being only one of three shows from Broadway to pass the $1 billion mark.

Fantasy has continued to evolve into several subgenres and in the way that it’s displayed for entertainment consumption. Above all else, its incredible ability to grant an accessible passage to escapism has allowed fantasy to endure.