So, I thought I’d take a brief break from the heavier stuff and take a look at Fantasy’s younger, slightly retarded (but arguably a lot more successful) brother – YA fantasy.
It’s been getting bigger and bigger for some time now. And of course, herein there will be references to the usual suspects, and so I apologize in advance for the inevitable groaning and eye-rolling. What am I talking about?
The advent of Harry Potter. With the explosion of sales, it really knocked the sleep out of the world’s eyes, made everyone sit up and take notice. There was a time when this category of fiction didn’t even exist – as early as 40 years ago even and books like Catcher in the Rye, now considered a YA classic, existed in a weird in-between marketing place.
Books with young or adolescent teens go back much further than that, of course, with examples like Alice in Wonderland (1865), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1874), The Jungle Book (1894) but there was no specific categorization for them.
Now, it’s books like The Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies that characterised the emerging market in the 50’s and 60’s. Despite Wikipedia (the source of the above, oh no, that’s not all just off the top of my head :p) labelling the 70’s as the “golden age” of young adult fiction, I think we’re only now hitting that stage and it began with Harry Potter.
You can’t really argue with hundreds of millions sold and what is now a multibillion-dollar phenomenon. At least on a business front, anyway. You can argue with quality of course – just look at the drivel that is Eragon and Twilight. Yeah, see, the usual suspects. I hate that they’re all that’s mentioned these days.
Young Adult Fantasy especially, has gone from strength to strength. The last two examples aren’t the only ones to be translated into massive box office success, with the Narnia series also gracing the silver screen (arguably a cross-over with children’s fiction) as well as the likes of The Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke and just recently, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.
Now, I’ve mentioned some of the more fantastic examples — His Dark Materials is probably the greatest, best written example (even though the movie was craptacular, thanks to the frozen failure of deathly Nicole Kidman) but there’s more to this genre’s success story. The Darren Shan Saga by Darren Shan and the Old Kingdom series by the wonderful Garth Nix, along with his other works The Seventh Tower and (some of) The Keys to the Kingdom. Isabelle Carmody, Eoin Colfer and Jonathon Stroud (authors of the Artemis Fowl and Bartimaeus Trilogy respectively) are other notable names.
Those last two I mentioned are also being made into films, while Darren Shan’s series was adapted and recently released as the rather awful The Vampire’s Assistant. I actually hadn’t realised – before writing this all down – just how many movies have been made recently, and are in production, based off best-selling YA books. I wonder why this is? I wonder why that is? I suppose it all can be traced back to Harry Potter, it blazed the way in literature and on screen, for the success of the others.
A lot of the young readers of Harry Potter (like myself) grew up and began to explore other books of a similar nature and I think that could partially explain the huge successes of all these other books. Not to mention the unprecedented saturation of fantasy in the mainstream, with Lord of the Rings and countless comic-book films leading the way there, and shows like Heroes, Merlin and True Blood succeeding in television.
I think I’ve established a lot more than I intended, actually re: the success of YA fantasy and all I wanted to do was come along and say a little somethin’ somethin’ about Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. See, I went and saw the movie and, despite the hype, it was rather crap. I mean, the concept is very cool, but the dialogue was mostly awful, and the dialogue dodgy as hell. Although the special effects were very grand and I definitely enjoyed that. Based on the concept, I thought, hey – give the book a chance, maybe the movie didn’t do it justice. Accordingly, I bought the book.
Quotes like “It’s Buffy meets Artemis Fowl. Thumbs up.” – Sunday Times, definitely got me pumped. Artemis Fowl was superb YA fantasy, quirky, different, and intelligent — this however, was not. The movie is actually better, from what I can see. I only read the opening 80 or so pages. So now I’m rather sad that its so successful. Why do the bad ones do so well? I could keep rambling about the YA genre, really, there’s far more to say about it, especially some of the individual titles I’ve glossed over here for (ironically) the sake of brevity.
What do you think of these books? Specifically the Percy Jackson series, I guess, if we’re to focus on something. Why the boom in YA fiction?
One thing’s for sure — I’m glad I’m writing in this genre. But is it all a bit too good to be true? Is the bubble about to burst?