Let’s Talk Bookish – Do Genres Change Over Time?

I don’t often do this tag – is this the first time? – but this topic called to me, so here we are…

Let’s Talk Bookish is a Friday post, created by Rukky @ Eternity Books and hosted by Aria @ Book Nook Bits, where we discuss a prompt about Bookish topics. This topics was chosen by Davida Chazan @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog.

Here’s the prompts for the topic:

Is there a genre you think is done better or worse today than it was in the past? How is it better today or how is it it worse than it was before? What differences do you see that make them better or worse? Do you think that the quality of genres follow certain trends over time?

As the prompts make clear, the answer is “yes”. Undoubtedly yes. The question is how and why.

You’re shocked that this one appeals to me, right?

I am going to somewhat sidestep the prompts though. I think making it simply “better or worse” turns a multi-faceted situation into far something far simpler than it should be and encourages placing our own subjective experience over how everyone is doing. For some, this is a golden age of fantasy. For others, it’s a great time to check out the backlists. There is no way that fantasy is unequivocally better or worse.

Even in a subjective, just for me sense, it does some things better and some things worse.

A lot of things it does the same.

I would also add that in terms of judging the changes, there’s a lot of difficulty because truthfully, how much about how the genre was do we know? The history of fantasy is a subject on it’s infancy and one without a great deal of depth when it comes to the last fifty years. We have cultural memory, but that is unreliable. Societies have a tendency to cast the past in a way emphasise their differences to what came before.

I think some of the major objective differences in fantasy are the rise of the intrigue over the adventure, the shift towards contemporary and weird rather than medieval-esque and magical, and close povs over more distant ones. Am I right? I don’t really know for sure.

There is a certain cyclicality to it too. Readers of Weird Tales would be perplexed that a century later, modern and weird is considered a new thing. They would be puzzled that the detective of occult crimes might be thought a recent innovation. And so on. Hard magic is somewhat business as usual to those who grew up on the fantasy John Campbell allowed in his magazines. Grimdark is not all that different to the new wave sword & sorcery promoted by the likes of Moorcock and Harrison.

That’s not to say there’s nothing new. Every expression of an idea is of its time, and will be remade in the future to express that time. The underlying ideas though are fairly consistent.

Which makes the ideas of genre changing a matter of drawing lines. Is fantasy a brand new genre, born in the 1960s, or one older than Homer?

This wasn’t the direction I was going when I started with this but in a world full pf people looking to emphasise difference, I would like to talk continuity. The faces of the fantasy genre change, better for some and worse for others, but the underlying body remains much the same.

And to me, that is definitely for the better.


6 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish – Do Genres Change Over Time?

  1. Some random thoughts about these questions

    What differences do you see that make them better or worse? Do you think that the quality of genres follow certain trends over time?

    * “Fashion” in the publishing industry
    * Marketing / changed covers, that might influence how you perceive a book (and its genre)
    * The reader’s life experience – you can think of a genre as better or worse depending on when you read it (the famed ‘suck fairy’, which can also work in reverse)

    Liked by 1 person

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