The Bronze Age of Fantasy Response

Have you read the post on Jeffrey W. Dern’s website about the state of fantasy fiction? Well, I recommend you read it, then come back for my thoughts. This all started after Patrick Rothfuss made some comments about how plays with established fantasy tropes at one of his book signings. This led Dern to think about the state of fantasy fiction as a whole: “After some reflection, I realized why that sounded familiar: it’s the same tactic [playing with tropes] that comic book writers of the Bronze Age used. Which, naturally, led me to wonder whether or not we are living in the Bronze Age of fantasy fiction.”

While Dern raises some interesting points, the fact that he calls the beginnings of modern fantasy “the Golden Age” just because that’s the established nomenclature for talking about comics. The problem with this type of classification is that it attaches worth to the different “ages.” Why do the progenitors of modern fantasy get the “golden” descriptor just because they came first? And why do the ages go down in worth as time goes on? Who dictates these things?

There are different eras and ages in fantasy fiction. Clearly, a novel written in 1950 is going to be different than a novel written in 2011. Why does one get to belong to a golden age while the other belongs to Dern’s hypothetical Bronze Age? I contend that the quality in fantasy fiction has grown since the birth of modern fantasy and science fiction.

In Dern’s own words: “As with the Bronze Age of comics, fantasy fiction’s current crop are dark, sexy, violent, and real. Authors such as George R.R. MartinTerry Goodkind,Jacqueline CareyBrandon Sanderson, and Patrick Rothfuss captivate us with new and original stories of heroes we care about and worlds we wish we lived in (or are glad we don’t).” Dern goes on to say that essentially the current crop of fantasy fiction is representing the zeitgeist of the times.

I totally agree with that. No writer writes in a vacuum. Every writer is affected by writers that came before them and by events going on in the world around them. Again this is where I agree that there are distinct eras of genre fiction. I guess I’m just nitpicking the fact that just because comics got classified one way that we should just transplant that classification system to fantasy fiction.

I agree with a lot of what Dern says. Are we getting to a point where the “flavor” of genre fiction is going to change? I can see that happening soon–zombies are played out. Steampunk is extremely pervasive right now; it’s time in the spotlight could be coming to an end. Really if we could just find a different way to name the eras, I’d be fine. Even if calling something a “Golden Age” is just words, with no value attached to them, it still doesn’t work. The words golden, silver, and bronze all have connotations surrounding them. Hell, we could just call the Golden Age of Fantasy — Era A. Right now we could be in Era Q or whatever, or some other words that don’t have connotations of quality surrounding them.