All of which raises the question: have we reached peak fantasy? Aside from Martin's books, much of the best-selling fantasy out there has been
distinctly non-genre work like Twilight, which no self-respecting fantasy purist would ever be caught dead reading, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, by Rick Riordan, or Harry Potter (though whether the Harry Potter books qualify as true fantasy is more
controversial, with many fans and many detractors in the fantasy traditionalist camp). There have been other successes, such as the popular Hunger Games trilogy, which is in production for a film version due in theatres in 2012, but Hunger Games is less fantasy and more
speculative or science-fiction. With few fantasies capable of transcending the genre/mainstream divide, can publishers and studios continue to rely on
fantasy to provide blockbusters?
Fantasy lends itself well to trilogies and to longer series. Harry Potter was seven books long, but Warner Brothers squeezed it into eight
films. A Game of Thrones is the first book in Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, which may be as long as eight books by the time it's
finished. If HBO can afford the tab, it could make as many as eighty or more hour-long episodes. And if loyal fans keep coming back for more, these
long shows and multi-film franchises represent a huge cash cow for both publishers and studios. The trick is finding more and more fantasy books with
loyal—and large—fan bases.
Therein lies the rub. There's a reason fantasy wasn't mainstream before. It's a genre that appeals to people who play D&D and get their
kicks reading about elves with names like Tanis Half-Elven and Galadriel. Unless publishers can keep finding the next big crossover, fantasy may once
again return to its less mainstream, and considerably less profitable, roots. People can only take in so many teenage vampire romances and wizarding
schools. It's possible that the next Harry Potter is just around the corner, of course, but it seems like no matter how many "Is Such-and-Such the Next Harry Potter?" articles I
read, the books never quite gain enough momentum to go mainstream. Books like Lev Grossman's The Magicians gain wide critical acclaim, but then
run into the immovable object that is the hardcore fantasy fan base.
As much as I'm enjoying the bubble, I won't care too much if it bursts. Fantasy has simply gotten better over the past decade, and most of the
best titles will never be adapted into an HBO series or a movie anyways. The really good stuff these days also tends to be really edgy. R. Scott
Bakker's Prince of Nothing series is so dark I'm not sure it would make an R-rating if it were translated to the silver screen. Many other
contemporary fantasies are similarly adult, with lots of sex and lots of violence. Steven Erikson's Malazan books are also dark, but more
problematic from a filmmaking standpoint, as the popular series spans several distinct time periods, countless perspectives, and a sprawling epic
storyline. The various storylines are not obviously connected with one another even after several books. Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series
suffers from the same kind of shortcomings. What works in epic fantasy doesn't necessarily translate onto the big screen.