I had a tiny epiphany the other day (while walking down the canned foods aisle at Co-op, don’t ask me why).
It’s been a bit of a mystery to me why so many older fantasy readers, and especially older women who read fantasy, gravitate towards YA/New Adult fantasy.
And suddenly, there between the beets and the creamed corn, I got it.
First off, and possibly most important: those are the stories that are mainly written by women, about what it’s like growing up female.
But then there’s this: those are the stories that are written the way fantasy stories were written when those women were just getting into the genre.
Newer fantasy aimed at adults is, well, adult. There’s a lot of cynicism and there’s a lot of rather ugly, unromantic sex in modern fantasy, and the big names are all essentially middle-aged white men who valorize and centralize teen age boys as saviors of the world.
But the worlds presented in YA are ones where girls can make a real mark – Harry Potter might be in the title of every book, but Rowling managed to put Hermione in at least as high a position as Ron, if not higher (she was certainly more competent than either of the boys were, to be honest.)
Even Twilight. Love it or hate it, it prioritizes what the girl wants. You might not like what she wants, or approve of it, but at least it’s about her, and not about the boy – not really. Edward is *her* fantasy ideal.
YA recognizes the reason that Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffery became such big names in the fantasy of our youth, by acknowledging that a large part of their readership was and always will be female.
YA writes in a way that allows women some space.
But more than that, and why male fantasy readers also gravitate towards YA, is that these books don’t valorize villains. They don’t agonize over possible shades of grey. Their morality is clear – while the characters may worry about what the right course of action is, the underlying ethos stays true to core values that many adult readers find missing in modern fantasy aimed at their age group.
No matter how hard a writer tries, making the villain out to be just “misunderstood” or – even more preposterously – justified, is a fool’s gambit.
Because evil isn’t justifiable, and villains are understood perfectly: we know them when we see them.
And we want our fantasy to reflect that. We are already well-aware that in real life, cheaters often do prosper, and that evil can triumph. In daily life, we are constantly confronted by those evils, big and small, flooding over all we hold dear.
Sometimes it must seem like a pointless battle.
We need to remember that there are good reasons to stand against that rising tide, and that we can, sometimes, win out against it.
YA fantasy agrees.