Like any artform fantasy is susceptible to change. Think of 60s rock-and-roll and compare it to modern rock, 90s cartoons compared to cartoons today. Just like how music is changing due to technology, fantasy is changing due to a flux of information on the internet. The re-discovery of medieval combat treatises is putting a heavy responsibility on the shoulders of everyone who works with medieval themes, especially writers.
But as things change the more they stay the same.
And although like a meteor blazing through the heavens the newest mediocrity may outshine the oldest excellence temporarily, the oldest excellences are timeless.
To make an artform timeless it must appeal to people in all times. For example Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is, after so many years, still relevant today. Unlike a briefly best-selling novel written to satisfy temporary tropes, Cervantes’ Don Quixote of the Mancha appeals to minds around the world eternally. And unlike a TV show blindly following a fad in popular culture, The Lord of the Rings, with its valuable insights into comradeship, can never be swept under the rug due to a nuance in fashion. Samwise’s relationship with Frodo can be studied for its truths so long as people are around to study it. To be timeless is to provide a very specific service, a service which, I argue, is what the fantasy genre does best.
The quality most important in making something timeless is a quality fantasy holds above all else.
Fantasy makes life more meaningful.
People, after a day of hard work in this world, can’t wait to get home to their favorite place in the universe–their fantasy world. Whether it exists in a book, a Netflix series or a videogame, their fantasy world, for them, has made the toughest of jobs bearable, the hardest of days worth living.
Even after HEMA becomes as popular as boxing and hockey, even after the average fantasy fan can no longer stand unlearned sword fighting choreography in movies, fantasy’s most important feature will be stronger than ever. Just because popular tropes are disintegrating, just because the niches known as low-fantasy and grimdark are becoming more popular, doesn’t mean the heart of traditional fantasy will change. At the end of the day fantasy must provide a service, a service which the word escape doesn’t completely give justice to. Certes, there is no one word to describe how a great fantasy movie can make you feel inside. Beauty, love, growth and understanding are all things we can gain from even the most unrealistic of fantasy stories. These, too, are all things we can gain from ultra realistic fantasy yet to be written.
The fantasy genre’s one everlasting quality is a quality that, to be fully understood, cannot be explained in words but must be experienced through the mind and heart.