For hundreds of years, novels have followed distinct trends as genres and styles rise and fall in popularity.
These literary trends might appear in the form of stylistic movements like romanticism or stream-of-consciousness writing, the emergence of new genres like the Gothic novels of the late 1700s, or interest in certain subjects or themes (vampires, anyone?).
One movement sparks another, and when a certain type of book meets with great success, many similar tales will follow in its wake.
The Impact of Culture
So what fuels these literary trends? While many factors play a role, ultimately cultural forces propel literary movements. The popular books and the trends of certain genres or styles reflect the dreams, desires, and fears of a culture. Combined with current events and world circumstances, literary movements are born.
In our time, a number of cultural forces have impacted speculative fiction. We see pessimism growing with every report of disaster, deception, and corruption in the world around us. At the same time, there’s a search for hope, for something to believe in beyond the troubles of the world.
These desires and fears have helped support two distinct (and very different) subgenres:
Retold fairy tales
Although they’ve always been popular, the burgeoning number of fairy tale novels and the numerous fairy tale inspired films and television shows demonstrate the current level of high interest in these stories, which I believe reflects a desire to find hope. People want to believe that all will be well–that in the end good will ultimately triumph over evil. And however dark the retelling, most fairy tale stories support this view of the world. That’s why Edward Kitsis of Once Upon a Time wanted to create a fairy tale themed show–because he felt through exploration of these stories he could convey a sense of hope.
The soaring popularity of The Hunger Games and the appearance of a number of other dystopian novels on bestseller lists highlights the rapidly growing interest in this subgenre. In some ways, this trend reflects opposite side of the desire for hope. People need hope because they’re disenchanted with the current state of the world. Dystopian literature captures a bleak view of the world and its corruption, and it carries this view to an extreme, offering a cautionary look at where we might be headed as a society.
Do you have anything to add about what might be heightening interest in these subgenres? Have you noticed other ways culture has influenced literary trends (of any kind)?
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