Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Few Thoughts about Young Adult Fantasy Novels

It seems to me of late that there has been a rise in the popularity of young adult (that's library talk for "adolescent") fantasy novels. Eragon by Christopher Paolini has been a huge success. A motion picture based on the novel is due to come out in 2006 and its sequel, Eldest, has made the best seller's list. Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke has also proven popular. There are also several other fantasy books out right now geared towards younger people: Gregor the Overlander: Book One in The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins, The Children of the Lamp Trilogy by P. B. Kerr, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and yet others. Of couse, the popularity of Harry Potter seems to only grow with each passing year.

I find this uprise in young adult fantasy novels curious as it seems to me that there has been no similar rise in the popularity of fantasy novels for adults. Oh, I have no doubt that adults also read the young adult novels--the popularity of Eragon and Harry Potter is not entirely due to children. Yet, it seems to me that no work written solely for adults has proven as successful as either of those. As to the reason for this new surge in the popularity of young adult fantasy novels, I don't think that is too hard to find. The Harry Potter series is quite possibly the most successful series of books of all time. On top of that, the Lord of the Rings movies were successful enough that they rank among the highest grossing motion pictures of all time. It is not surprising that youngsters would now be interested in fantasy novels. As to why there has not been a smilar upsurge in the popularity of adult fantasy novels, that is perhaps a question for another time....


Mesmacat said...

The sad fact about this issue, is that young adult fantasy often seems to attract better calibre writers than the adult equivalent and teenagers have less inhibitions about reading something imaginative than than adults.

At least historically this has been the case. Although, I have to confess I have mpt read a lot of the recent crop of writers. I have read the harry potter books, but they are more high concept than quality writing from what I have seen.

Certainly when I was reading this sort of thing as a teenager, Helen Garner, Diana Wynne Jones for example were producing books of far better calibre than their adult fiction equivalents.

Fantasy for adults is still seen as immature fiction for geeks, and many peopole reach a point where they feel they cannot identify with it any longer or do not want to. In this respect Harry Potter has bridge the barrier, because it has drawn adults into a children's fiction area and it has become an legitimised genre of fiction in itself.

Perhaps we will gradually see the fruits of this change in perception and culture manifest in an upsurge in adult fantasy in years to come.

Terence Towles Canote said...

I think to a large degree you are right. I can think of adult fantasy works that are considered classics: Lord of the Rings, Gormenghast, The King of Elfland's Dauaghter... And while I can't speak for others, I would probably include the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and Michael Moorcock's Elric series in there, too.

Unfortunately, the sad fact is that a lot of the fantasy written for adults is pure schlock. I can honestly think of a lot more fantasy works written for young adults that are of a superior qualtiy. Certainly, The Chronicles of Narnia, Madeleine L'Engle's works, along with those of Helen Garner and Diana Wynne Jones, are far better than many of the fantasy novels currently written for adults.

At any rate, I do hope that Harry Potter and the other current crop of fiction written for children and young adults will legitimise the genre. I also hope that it might raise the bar for fantasy written for adults as well.