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July 19th, 2014, 04:44 PM #1
What happened to all the quest fantasies?
About a month ago I started a thread asking for recent quest/companion secondary world fantasies; the thread didn't get too far, but rather than trying to revive it I'd like to take a different tact and turn the emphasis to discussion of trends and away from recommendations (although they are always welcome).
First, a disclaimer. I love a good quest fantasy. I like different kinds of fantasy (and science fiction), but there's nothing quite like a quest through a well-developed fantasy world with an interesting group of companions, uncovering lost secrets and encountering mundane and magical creatures and places on the way to some kind of great confrontation and transformation. You get the picture. This is why, for instance, my favorite part of The Lord of the Rings is Fellowship of the Ring, in particular the sequence from Rivendell to the end of the book. In that book you have the archetypal quest fantasy: a group of diverse companions, one with a hidden agenda, fell beasts and dark shadowy places, lost histories and secrets, magical beings and beauty...and a betrayal at the end. For me the Mines of Moria was the high point of LotR.
It seems to me that for the last I-don't-know-how-many-years, not only has the fantasy genre broadened considerably (a good thing), but the traditional secondary world fantasy has also opened to new possibilities other than the traditional quest (also a good thing), but in recent years it seems that there has been an increasing dearth of good quest stories (a bad thing). This goes back to at least George R.R. Martin, who usurped the throne from Robert Jordan as king of epic secondary world fantasy, although even Jordan's The Wheel of Time shifted from the quest to a more dynastic, war-based story somewhere in the middle (or even earlier on) in the series. Now it seems that the vast majority of recent epic secondary world fantasies are not quests, but with focus on war, politics, dynasties, or some other factors.
Now I think that these things go in cycles. From the time the Shannara and Covenant series' began in 1977, the market became (over-) saturated in quest fantasies, with that being the dominant form not only in secondary world fantasy but fantasy as a whole for the next couple decades. Perhaps we can look at the publication of A Game of Thrones in 1996 as a watershed moment that, if not turning the tide at that moment, was the first inkling of a tidal shift in the sub-genre. Now, 18 years after aGoT came out, it seems to be the dominant text (in secondary world fantasy). Where Tolkien is always looming over all as the great grandfather of fantasy, Jordan loomed during the 90s and Martin has loomed during the 21st century. At some point, I would think, the quest fantasy will become strong again, although as of right now I don't see much out there.
I don't really have any specific questions but just invite people to share their thoughts. Some questions to hopefully inspire conversation: Do you agree with my assessment that the quest is, with some (but relatively few) exceptions, in a kind of hibernation mode? Do you see signs of a "quest revival"? Who is keeping the flame alive? Why do you think the quest has diminished? Etc.
July 19th, 2014, 09:40 PM #2
Abercrombie's First Law trilogy is kind of a quest story, isn't it?
July 20th, 2014, 02:55 AM #3
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Think you're right there, Alchemist: quest fantasies, after a glut in the 1980's and 90's are in a bit of a slump.
As you've said, part of this is that trends change and that readers are currently after something different. That's not to say that they aren't out there, but they are not in the mainstream. Putting it simply, readers get bored and moved on, as they did in the glut of post-1980's Stephen King knock-offs in the Horror field.
And of course, if they're not selling, then publishers won't publish. I guess there's potential in the self-publishing field, but I've yet to find one there I liked, personally.
Personally I can't see much of a comeback, in the near future at least. Part of this is because many of the bestselling series - Covenant, Midkemia, Belgariad, even LotR for example, are still out there for anyone to read should they wish. There's no need to put the effort into publishing something new, at the risk of them failing, when they can rely on the steady-selling backlist.
As has been said above by Farseer2, Joe Abercrombie's First Law trilogy is a quest of sorts, but one of that series' key points is that what looks as if it will be a quest series ends up not being. It's value is that it is in the end, 'not-a-quest', which many readers enjoyed as a result.
When someone finds/tries something new, that sells, then I guess we'll see a return. A bit Catch-22, I know!
Last edited by Hobbit; July 20th, 2014 at 02:59 AM.Mark
July 20th, 2014, 08:26 AM #4
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July 20th, 2014, 10:02 AM #5Originally Posted by Hobbit
July 20th, 2014, 05:27 PM #6
I think I got hooked on quest fantasies with Lord of the Rings and Sword of Shannara and I still enjoy them.
Michael Sullivan is one of the authors that all I need to see is their name on the book to order it. You know you are in for some fast paced fun with his books.
July 25th, 2014, 10:44 AM #7
R.A Salvatore's Dark Elf Saga is a good quest fantasy. I'm not sure if he plans on writing more books in this world, but he has some fairly recent books. They are good hack n' slash, swords and sorcery type reads if you're into that.
July 25th, 2014, 11:24 AM #8