History of the Genre


once upon a time . . .

While YA fantasy is quite the behemoth now, it wasn’t always so. Originally, much of fantasy literature was aimed at children, with the development of adult fantasy coming later (Cart, p. 98). Teen readers looked to J.R.R. Tolkien, Anne McCaffrey, Terry Pratchett, C.S. Lewis Robin Hobb, and Ursula K. Le Guin to satisfy their cravings for the impossible. These authors blend “timeless folklore and fairy tales,” often with humorous and imaginative twists (Cart, 2016, p. 98). It “leads readers into realms of imagination and magic, of inexplicable occurrences that don’t have a solid foundation in reality as we know it” (Herald, 2003, p. 85).

Authors like Tamora Pierce, Phillip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, and David Almond helped introduce YA fantasy (Cart. p. 99). These authors brought complex characters, nuanced issues, and imaginative worlds to teens and adults; Pierce is often noted for her excellent female characters. While Rowling’s contribution certainly isn’t the only that matters, it did help to solidify YA fantasy as a lucrative market with high-quality writing to boot. With the dystopian blockbusters like Divergent and The Hunger Games blending science fiction and fantasy, and paranormal romance novels like Twilight bringing in millions, the genre was able to evolve into its own category. Whereas once YA was seen as the realm of the realistic, with the market seen as “inhospitable” for fantasy, now it seems taken over by witches, Fae, and magical portals (Cart, p. 98). With the success of manga and graphic novels, and money-making TV and movie adaptations, the genre is expected to continue its dominance. With subgenres like Epic Fantasy, Faerie, Mythic Reality, and Humorous Fantasy, readers can find a wide variety of titles — and world — that meet their needs (Herald, pp. 86-98).