What comes to mind when you think about fantasy? Magic? Wondrous creatures? A unique setting? How about the hero?
If you don’t think about the hero when someone mentions fantasy, it’s really not your fault. The fantasy genre has been flooded with stories that are considered to be “dark” and “gritty.” The most popular of these stories — and the leader of this trend — is the wildly popular hit, Game of Thrones. While the original novel was released in the early 90s, George R.R. Martin’s work did not make a huge splash until 2011 when the first season of the television adaptation was aired on HBO, a company known for their darker edge when it comes to violence and sex.
Game of Thrones has garnered a huge following — not only because of the ambitious scope of the story, but because of the characters. If you have not seen any episodes of Game of Thrones, here is a synopsis: The current occupier of the Iron Throne has been killed, sending dozens of characters scrambling to grab hold of the entire land of Westeros. The thing is that almost none of the characters in the story have a sense of how far is too far. Almost all of them will do anything, whether it be sleeping with their sister or burning their own child alive, to come out on top of all the others. In the entire story, there are, at the most, only half a dozen characters that actually have sense of moral decency.
…People are starting to realize that they want a story in which we have someone to not only root for, but to admire because of their moral convictions.
With the sixth season having come to a close, many people in the audience finally called it quits. They said that the show had gone too far for them. In fact, this season has been the least well-received in the entire show. This makes me wonder if the next two (and possibly final, according to HBO programming president Michael Lombardo) seasons will go the same way. Perhaps people are starting to realize that they want a story in which we have someone to not only root for, but to admire because of their moral convictions. They want someone like Frodo, Sam, or Aragorn. They want someone who is fighting for, not only themselves, but for others. They want someone who won’t cave to pressure from the darkness that surrounds them. They don’t want gray.
They want a hero.
I think the dark and gritty fantasy of today, in which we don’t know who to get behind because everyone is so equally terrible, will phase out in the next three or so years. I don’t doubt that it will still exist after then, but it will definitely not be as popular as it is right now. I also think heroic fantasy will return in a big way. With production companies realizing that the audience for huge fantasy productions is only getting bigger and bigger, they are searching for something that will put some money in the bank. There are only so many dark fantasies out there, and those who love that particular kind of fantasy make up only a fraction of a bigger audience,not to mention that you can only take so much backstabbing and unlikeable characters. Eventually, the studios are going to realize that what people truly want is a story that parents will want to show their children when they grow older and feel good about themselves when they do so.
Take MTV’s adaptation of Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, The Shannara Chronicles, for example. These books are much more along the lines of Lord of the Rings than Game of Thrones, where readers follow, explore, and are inspired by heroes that overcome obstacles, not succumb to selfishness, and greed. If the show is as successful as GoT — and I believe it will be — then we will most definitely seeing more and more stories like it coming around in the future.
Heroic fantasy is returning, there is no doubt about it.
3 thoughts on “Where Are the Heroes? The Return of Heroic Fantasy”
Good post; you make some excellent points. Martin has a great imagination and is a good writer, but all the nastiness and backstabbing are a bit much. I’ve read the first book in the GoT series, and will probably read the others eventually but I’m not going to rush to do so. I watched the first episode of the first season of GoT, and the acting and setting (at least in the episode I watched) are very good, but I opted not to continue watching it because of the content, which HBO is known for as you pointed out. Melanie Rawn’s books are very good. Her books are similar in some ways to GoT, and some of the characters out for themselves, but there are enough characters who aren’t like that for balance. She doesn’t kill off her main characters all the time either. :-p
I stopped reading the first book after Ned Stark died. I don’t think there’s much of point of a book with characters I can’t root for! Excellent article!
Agreed – I’m a little sick of every single character in everything being unscrupulous and ruthless. It isn’t realistic – there are good people in real life, and I like protagonists who genuinely deserve to succeed.