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This past week I came across several articles and blog posts on the topic of trending themes in Fantasy fiction – in particular, the shift from Black & White Fantasy toward Gray Fantasy. Naturally these articles draw obvious comparisons between classic works like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, and GRRM’s Song of Ice and Fire. These and other analyses of this apparent new wave in readers’ taste intrigue me and challenge my choices as a writer.

There is an inherent struggle for every author when it comes to story – we are taught to write the story that wants to be told, although we cannot help but worry if the story that wants to be told is the one that readers want to read. Do we write to the dictates of popular demand or do we answer the call of our creative instincts? Because the characters and story concepts that speak to me as an author happen to echo the more classic memes of good versus evil, I must wonder – is Black & White Fantasy dead?

It can’t be, can it? Without Black and White there is no Gray.  All of the moral gradations derive from our innate understanding of the absolute extremes.  Black & White (i.e. definitive evil and absolute good) are the polar opposites between which the nature of all things is explored – and this is true no matter what world or universe you are in. The defining boundaries of ethical high ground on one side and moral lowland on the other provide the context for story and character development to play out. All stories must come to an end. All conflict must resolve. Even the most morally ambiguous character must ultimately make a choice. This is the way of fiction.

What is really at issue is the state of the collective consciousness. There does seem to be a societal zeitgeist driving the masses toward the murkier depths of human nature. I confess that I don’t really understand that appeal, and frankly, it makes me a little sad. While I can appreciate (and even admire) the complex character-driven plots which examine the moral conflicts and the dark motivations that plague us all, in the end I need to believe that the best in us will rise. Is that an archaic idea? It may be, but I don’t care. I choose to embrace it.

While I might be brought to feel compassion for the most debauched self-serving and sadistic anti-hero ever written, I will do so only while rooting for his ultimate redemption or alternatively, a grisly death exacted by righteousness. Because none of us really wants to exist in a place where there are no moral or ethical pinnacles toward which to strive. The hope that the greater good will prevail is what empowers us all. Today’s heroes may struggle through the shadow and often get lost along the way, but they must always seek the light – because the rest of us are scared to death of the dark. And we should be.

So is classic archetypal fantasy dead? I don’t think so. It may be muddled fifty different shades of gray, but I think that deep down we all need to know that if we look closely enough, we can still plainly see the difference between one side and the other . No matter how blurred the lines become between black and white, wrong and right, dark and light- we will always need for good to triumph over evil, or at least believe that it can.

Other interesting articles on this topic: