For a long time some years back, it seemed the trend in fantasy was running to vampires, with werewolves as a sub-genre. That may however have been only because it was what the big publishers were looking for. Be that as it may, I just popped over to Amazon this morning for a little informal research as to what was selling on the Kindle store in terms of fantasy fiction. I imagine most people know this by now, but the vampire sub-genre has become a bit passé, “Twilight” aside.
Leaving the sub-genre unselected, the top seller in fantasy e-books at Amazon was, no surprise, George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons, while the second was his A Game of Thrones and the third was a bundled 4-volume set of his Song of Ice and Fire series (of which A Game of Thrones is volume 1 and A Dance With Dragons is volume 5). Getting past books associated with a popular television series (the books themselves, by the way, are excellent, although absurdly overpriced in e-book format), no. 4 is A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (over- but not absurdly-priced at $9.99). Then a couple more Martin books. Then The First Confessor by Terry Goodkind, a spin-off from his Sword of Truth series. Then another Martin title. Then The Third Gate by Lincoln Child, which a little exploration reveals to be an archaeological fantasy sort of reminiscent of the Indiana Jones movies. Then Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris, which is a kind of occult murder mystery, one in a series. Following this is The Hobbit by Tolkien (one guess as to why that classic has shot up in popularity), and then The Wind Through the Keyhole by some dude or other named Stephen King (part of the Dark Tower series, of course; King is usually classified as a horror or thriller writer but there’s some crossover). That’s the first page. No vampires so far or at least no obvious vampires.
Scanning the second page I find quite a few witch stories, an epic fantasy about religious persecution, a couple of hard-to-classify things, and Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Still no vampires or werewolves. If I specify “Contemporary Fantasy,” which is where vampire stories properly belong most of the time, I find one werewolf-related story at no. 10, and finally at no. 13 a book with “vampire” in the title.
(As an aside, you can tell the books that are published by legacy publishers as opposed to those that are indie published by the price without even seeing the publisher imprint. Legacy-published e-books are priced deliberately to retard sales so as not to compete with paper. If it’s above ten bucks, you know it’s not indie.)
Whew! So it’s safe to say, I think, that the epidemic of vampire stories has run its course. If there’s a trend running at the moment it would appear to be witch stories, that is, stories with female magic-wielder main characters. (Come to think of it, I’m working on one of those myself at the moment.) Now, my first reaction is to heave a big sigh of relief, ’cause that vampire stuff never did appeal to me much, but my second is to ponder the mystery of why these trends occur. Why were vampire books all the rage among fantasy readers a few years ago, and now it’s witches? To some extent this is surely a stochastic process, a phenomenon of chaos physics, but in keeping with the connection between fantasy and spirituality/myth that I’ve been suggesting in this blog, there may be other factors involved in setting and changing the trends of fantasy.
First of all, consider the vampire story as it was typically expressed during that sub-genre’s brief dominance of the market. This was typically a dark romance, usually directed towards female readers. The vampire as lover is the ultimate BDSM fantasy, surrender by one lover to another (usually woman to man, although it could be the other way around) to the extreme of giving up her life’s blood itself, with the gift of immortality as a reward. The vampire theme, to the extent readers identify with the undead, involves rejection of ordinariness — this is of course normal in just about all fantasy fiction and much fiction generally — but also rejection of humanity itself, nature, and life, for although the vampire “lives forever” in a sense, he or she does so only as a reanimated corpse, through embracing death and turning away from life, as symbolized by intolerance of the sun.
The witch story is quite a contrast to this. To the extent that it draws upon the lore of real-world witches (which some witch stories do more than others, of course), a witch theme embraces and reveres life and the natural world. In all cases, the witch is an empowered woman, a feminist statement in fiction, in charge of her own life (frequently mucking it up, but don’t we all), and as far removed from the vampire’s paramour as one can easily imagine within the parameters of fantasy. The popularity of the witch story these days might, therefore, actually be a reaction to the prior glut of vampire tales. A healthy one, at that. And in hindsight, it might even have been predictable.
So with that in mind, let me engage in a bit of speculation about where fantasy fiction might be going in the future, when the current rage for witch stories simmers down.
To begin with, we might expect a flip-side of the witch story to emerge in the form of stories about strong, but non-traditional, male characters. This would embody in fiction an emerging new concept of masculinity, with male characters that are a goodly remove from the stereotypical macho warriors, sage wizards, and cunning thieves of prior fantasy.
Another theme that might emerge involves the upsetting of traditional beliefs and norms. This is an ongoing upheaval in our own real-world culture and for it to emerge in fantasy fiction is perfectly logical, given the fantasy-spirituality-mythology connection.
So I’m going to predict that both of those will emerge as prominent trends in fantasy within the next six months. We’ll see if I’m right.