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The movies and the prominence of fantasy

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  • wendell_wagner
    I wanted to discuss the following statement. I m not replying to this specific poster or this specific post. I just wanted to discuss this sentiment, which
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 14, 2013
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      I wanted to discuss the following statement.  I'm not replying to this specific poster or this specific post.  I just wanted to discuss this sentiment, which I've heard a lot.
       
      In a message dated 12/14/2013 4:28:06 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, alanajoli@... writes:
      the films helped bring fantasy into more prominence
      Really?  Is there any proof of this?  I'd like to hear something that can actually be documented, not just guesses.  Is this in terms of sales?  I suspect that The Lord of the Rings is now the best-selling novel of all time and was the best-selling one before the Jackson movies came out.  There aren't any very good statistics to compare total sales over history.  Here's the Wikipedia entry on this:
       
       
      This list puts it second after A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  The documentation for the claim that A Tale of Two Cities is the highest selling novel isn't very good.  It's a throw-away statement in an article in a newspaper, and there's no source given for that statement:
       
       
      The documentation for the number of copies of The Lord of the Rings sold isn't particularly good either:
       
       
      I recall someone at the Tolkien 2005 conference in Birmingham saying that he'd just spoken to Tolkien's publishers, and 150 million was their guess then.  I suspect that the total number of sales is now closer to 200 million.  The total number of sales was over 100 million before the first movie came out in 2001.  In any case, the number was way up there before the movies and is still way up there.  I don't see any indication that the movies have made The Lord of the Rings a very much more well known book.  I've walked through the science fiction and fantasy sections of bookstores many times over the past forty or so years, and I don't see that Tolkien's books are that much more prominently displayed than before.
       
      Is the claim that fantasy in general is more prominent than in 2001?  The biggest event in fantasy publishing over the past sixteen years is the publication of the Harry Potter novels, which neatly overlaps the appearance of the movies.  If fantasy is more prominent, it probably has more to do with Harry Potter than with the Jackson movies.  Fantasy is a genre that's been slowly growing in popularity since the 1960's.  The appearance of the Ace and then the Ballantine editions in the U.S. were probably a bigger motivation for growth in the sales of fantasy than the movies were.  If I review the changes in the popularity of fantasy over the past fifty or so years (everything within my reliable memory), all I see is a slow steady growth in the prominence of fantasy as a genre.  I see the popularity of the movies as an effect of this growth, not the cause of it.  I certainly don't see any reason to think that if, in some Jackson-less alternate universe, someone else had gotten the go-ahead to make movies of The Lord of the Rings, than they couldn't have made popular and good adaptations of the book, so Jackson movies aren't a necessity for the popularity of fantasy or of The Lord of the Rings.
       
      Is the claim that fantasy is more critically recognized than it was before the movies?  There has certainly been a growth in the amount of critical work on fantasy and the teaching of fantasy in universities over the past fifty or so years, but again the growth has been slow and steady in those matters over that time, not just since the appearance of the movies.  Critical appreciation of fantasy was a minority thing fifty years ago and is now a somewhat larger minority thing.
       
      Film publicity is overwhelmed with hype.  The claim that Jackson's films had some huge effect on the popularity of Tolkien (let alone of the whole fantasy genre) sounds to me exactly like that sort of hype.  This sort of "You owe us your eternal gratitude for producing these films.  Without them, your silly little book would be nothing.  You should be glad that we allow you to put pictures from the movie on the covers of your book.  Perhaps the best thing would be for you to take your book out of print so we can publish a novelization of the movies and pay you a pittance for the rights to the plot.  Books are a dying medium anyway.  Get on your knees and pray to us" harangue from filmmakers is pretty typical.  Whatever they say, they don't actually remotely care about the fate of books.
       
      Wendell Wagner
    • Alana Joli Abbott
      Wendell, I was asking in particular about academic reception -- so, prominence in an academic field rather than in popular culture. And the response was
      Message 2 of 2 , Dec 14, 2013
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        Wendell, I was asking in particular about academic reception -- so, prominence in an academic field rather than in popular culture. And the response was specifically about the perception of French academic reception. I know you weren't trying to respond directly, but I think that the context is important -- in that, I agree with what you say about the surge of fantasy (and SF) into mainstream popular culture, and I don't credit the films with that. I also would give more credit to the popularity of the Harry Potter books (as you mention) than Jackson's films, and I think the SFF/mainstream convergence actually started before that. I suspect the Harry Potter books entered at just the right moment to ride the crest and be representative of the shift. No hard data, though, just anecdotal bookseller (and later, reviewer) experience.

        This is really what I'm interested in:

        >>Is the claim that fantasy is more critically recognized than it was before the movies?  There has certainly been a growth in the amount of critical work on fantasy and the teaching of fantasy in universities over the past fifty or so years, but again the growth has been slow and steady in those matters over that time, not just since the appearance of the movies.  Critical appreciation of fantasy was a minority thing fifty years ago and is now a somewhat larger minority thing.<<

        Mostly, I don't have data about that growth of critical appreciation, or how well received criticism of fantasy is in literary academic circles, and that's what I'm curious about. My sense is that acceptance in pop culture comes faster than acceptance in academia, and that fantasy is still under-respected at the university level, but that it's being taken more seriously now than previously. So I'm definitely interested in further discussion on that subject, whether credit goes to Tolkien or Rowling or China Mieville and Michael Chabon. :)

        -Alana



        On Sat, Dec 14, 2013 at 6:22 PM, <WendellWag@...> wrote:
         

        I wanted to discuss the following statement.  I'm not replying to this specific poster or this specific post.  I just wanted to discuss this sentiment, which I've heard a lot.
         
        In a message dated 12/14/2013 4:28:06 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, alanajoli@... writes:
        the films helped bring fantasy into more prominence
        Really?  Is there any proof of this?  I'd like to hear something that can actually be documented, not just guesses.  Is this in terms of sales?  I suspect that The Lord of the Rings is now the best-selling novel of all time and was the best-selling one before the Jackson movies came out.  There aren't any very good statistics to compare total sales over history.  Here's the Wikipedia entry on this:
         
         
        This list puts it second after A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  The documentation for the claim that A Tale of Two Cities is the highest selling novel isn't very good.  It's a throw-away statement in an article in a newspaper, and there's no source given for that statement:
         
         
        The documentation for the number of copies of The Lord of the Rings sold isn't particularly good either:
         
         
        I recall someone at the Tolkien 2005 conference in Birmingham saying that he'd just spoken to Tolkien's publishers, and 150 million was their guess then.  I suspect that the total number of sales is now closer to 200 million.  The total number of sales was over 100 million before the first movie came out in 2001.  In any case, the number was way up there before the movies and is still way up there.  I don't see any indication that the movies have made The Lord of the Rings a very much more well known book.  I've walked through the science fiction and fantasy sections of bookstores many times over the past forty or so years, and I don't see that Tolkien's books are that much more prominently displayed than before.
         
        Is the claim that fantasy in general is more prominent than in 2001?  The biggest event in fantasy publishing over the past sixteen years is the publication of the Harry Potter novels, which neatly overlaps the appearance of the movies.  If fantasy is more prominent, it probably has more to do with Harry Potter than with the Jackson movies.  Fantasy is a genre that's been slowly growing in popularity since the 1960's.  The appearance of the Ace and then the Ballantine editions in the U.S. were probably a bigger motivation for growth in the sales of fantasy than the movies were.  If I review the changes in the popularity of fantasy over the past fifty or so years (everything within my reliable memory), all I see is a slow steady growth in the prominence of fantasy as a genre.  I see the popularity of the movies as an effect of this growth, not the cause of it.  I certainly don't see any reason to think that if, in some Jackson-less alternate universe, someone else had gotten the go-ahead to make movies of The Lord of the Rings, than they couldn't have made popular and good adaptations of the book, so Jackson movies aren't a necessity for the popularity of fantasy or of The Lord of the Rings.
         
        Is the claim that fantasy is more critically recognized than it was before the movies?  There has certainly been a growth in the amount of critical work on fantasy and the teaching of fantasy in universities over the past fifty or so years, but again the growth has been slow and steady in those matters over that time, not just since the appearance of the movies.  Critical appreciation of fantasy was a minority thing fifty years ago and is now a somewhat larger minority thing.
         
        Film publicity is overwhelmed with hype.  The claim that Jackson's films had some huge effect on the popularity of Tolkien (let alone of the whole fantasy genre) sounds to me exactly like that sort of hype.  This sort of "You owe us your eternal gratitude for producing these films.  Without them, your silly little book would be nothing.  You should be glad that we allow you to put pictures from the movie on the covers of your book.  Perhaps the best thing would be for you to take your book out of print so we can publish a novelization of the movies and pay you a pittance for the rights to the plot.  Books are a dying medium anyway.  Get on your knees and pray to us" harangue from filmmakers is pretty typical.  Whatever they say, they don't actually remotely care about the fate of books.
         
        Wendell Wagner




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