Friday, July 24, 2009

Urban fantasy - a new form of spirituality?

So, what is it about paranormal and urban fantasy that appeals so strongly to teenagers?

Bookstore shelves are groaning under the weight of these series – mostly involving vampires.

Of course, the better ones can be equally enjoyed by adults, but there’s no denying most of the bestsellers target the YA market.

Yes, there are the usual YA elements: the coming-of-age angst of finding acceptance, falling in love and finding meaning in life … but why are these aspects so much more appealing to teens when woven into a story about vampires and werewolves?
Is it a natural progression from classic horror stories (I certainly spent plenty of hours reading Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Peter Straub as a teenager), even if most of the new breed of stories aren’t actually about horror?

Or is it a symptom of something else? A need to live – albeit fleetingly – in a world where there is more to reality than we can see? A place where greater forces are at work and ordinary teenagers can discover they have epic destinies?

Which leads to me to wonder if these stories are, in some bizarre way, replacing religion (there’s no denying the religious-like zeal associated with the Twilight series). I’m not talking about urban fantasy themes as a doctrine, but as an experience.
In these alternate worlds, there’s meaning in life, death and suffering, even if it all takes place as part of a narrative far removed from reality. For a while, teens can exist in a world where there are clearly defined rules (even if the characters break them).

Otherworld fantasy also offers this level of escape, but seems to be the domain of older readers, with teens more interested in stories taking place in worlds that resemble their own (happy to be corrected on this one).

Personally, I enjoy both forms of storytelling, but I’m curious to know if readers of these types of stories prefer one type over the other – and if so, why?

And do you have any theories on why teens (and adults) are drawn to this new genre?


Anonymous said...

My theory is that fantasy works because it is pure escapism. It's like our world, but not - a world existing in another. There is also the excitement of a romance happening between the ultimate 'bad boy'.
I think Catherine Hardwick said that if Twilight was made in the 1950's Edward would not have had to have been a vampire - he could have been the rebel on a motorbike.
In this day and age though, with so much freedom and the choice to be really, whoever you want to be, the scope for teenage rebellion and danger is a lot less. So we have to get into the supernatural world for our hit of excitement. That's what I think anyway!

Bec said...

Hmmm, well I finally relented and read the Twilight series recently. And I was instantly obsessed. Not with Twilight itself, but with finishing the story - finding out what happened. I was so engrossed in the story I actually ended up skim-reading to find out what happened. So I know I will go back and re-read in a more leisurely fashion in the future, and will savour the bits I 'missed'. But while I found the romance angle very addictive, it was the mythology that was explored more in the last couple of books that I really loved. And I wonder if part of that is based on my love of science fiction in general. Do I prefer worlds similar or different to my own? I really don't know. I do love reading about a totally different world - if it's done well. I enjoy the experience of mentally placing myself in a totally alien environment. But otherworldly stories set in the real world do add a bit of spice to everyday life, where you get to wonder if just maybe everything is not as it seems. As a kid Enid Blyton planted that seed that just maybe there really are fairies in the garden, if only I could look hard enough. And Twilight is a little bit like that. Perhaps the world really is a little bit more exciting than it seems, if only we are open enough to see it.

Whew - I think I've made up for 6 weeks away in just one comment. Sorry about that. Have really enjoyed catching up on our posts though. Hope you are well and happy XXX Bec

PS. Will I be banned from this blog if I admit that I have even been reading some Twilight Fan Fiction???? Really, some of it's very good!!