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SF/F Publishing in the Age of Heroes

Author Mark Chadbourn (Jack of Ravens) has been doing some serious thinking about publishing – specifically the popularity of sf/f/h and its relation to current events. In his post The Age of Heroes, Mark has this to say:

…the great ages of commercial fantasy were in the late sixties, (slightly shading into the early seventies) with the rediscovery of Lord of the Rings and the Weird Tales authors with Robert E. Howard’s Conan in the forefront; and in the mid-eighties with Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara and Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books.

The first of those coincided with the rise of the Hippie movement, the Vietnam War protests and mounting disillusionment with elected officials. The second coincided with cynical right wing Governments on both sides of the Atlantic, great fear in the waning days of the Cold War and even more disillusionment with elected officials.

The superficial reading would be that these were both times when the general public fled from harsh reality into the comforting and conservative arms of fantasy. I don’t think that stands up, as people were regularly confronting the powers they feared in wide-ranging protests, not running away. The common thread, in my opinion, was the deep need for heroes, in the mythological sense. Champions of right (not Right) who could help make sense of the world. Which should, by all rights, put us on the brink of another golden age of commercial fantasy publishing…

Furthermore, on sf:

Conversely, I don’t believe this is a very good time for science fiction, which has seen quite significant falls in sales. We’re living through another industrial revolution. Techonological changes are increasing exponentially, with the accompanying societal and cultural transformations. People are burned out by science or blase about it. They see its effect in every aspect of their lives, 24/7. They (and I’m talking here about the wider reading market, not the dedicated fan) don’t want to spend their time reading about it.

His comments offer an intersting perspective and at least explain the popularity of fantasy books beyond the success of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies. In fact, maybe this explains the appeal of those movies in the first place.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

1 Comment on SF/F Publishing in the Age of Heroes

  1. His timeframes are a tad off. “Sword of Sha-na-na” was published in 1977 and did quite, quite well then.

    The original Thomas Covenant trilogy came out in hardcover in 1977, and was in paperback soon thereafter. Sold quite well, then.

    Fantasy in the late 60’s/early 70’s was more than just JRRT, and Robert E. Howard. Ballantine Books brought us an entire lineup in their Ballantine Adult Fantasy (Pete, it’s not what you think!) series. If you come across E.R. Eddison’s “Worm Ouroboros” in the Ballantine edition, see how many print runs it had. Even more obscure stuff like William Morris did quite well. Outside the BAF series, another influence was H.P. Lovecraft’s works.

    Imitators such as Lin Carter and Michael Moorcock did well. And let’s not forget John Norman.

    Given such mistakes in scholarship, what else can we get out of the piece?

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