Good question. Spend five minutes on BookTok, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that no one writes books other than fantasy. All the titles look the same to me, and all the covers. When did fantasy become so popular? It seems to have snuck up on me - admittedly because I've always had my head in historical, gothic or ghost fiction.
Fantasy elements have been around for centuries: the Epic of Gilgamesh, One Thousand and One Nights, King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. Modern fantasy was perhaps kicked off with Scottish author George MacDonald's Phantastes (1858), a coming-of-age story about Anodos and his adventures in fairyland. His writing was said to have influenced C. S. Lewis. Then, of course, you have The Lord of the Rings (1954); The Wizard of Oz (1900); A Wrinkle in Time (1962); A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), to name merely a few.
While I was wondering if I've shot myself in the proverbial foot by sticking with historical and gothic fiction at the expense of tackling a fantasy novel, I had this memory of pre-Harry Potter days. When I was growing up, the book world was dominated by Wilbur Smith, Robert Ludlum, John Irving, James A. Michener, Tom Clancy, Martin Amis, Sidney Sheldon, Amy Tan, Anne Tyler, Susan Hill, and Stephen King. I don't remember 'genre fiction.' You just read authors you liked, and for me, many of them were historical/adventure fiction writers or crime/spy writers. I don't remember going to a bookshop and seeing shelves labelled, Dystopian, Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy, etc. Instead, you searched via author surname.
So, I wondered whether J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter sparked the current TikTok generation's obsession with fantasy novels (and dark academia - kicked off by Donna Tartt's debut novel, The Secret History in 1992). Rowling's story of discovery is, in itself, a fantasy, and probably young writers on TikTok are hoping to become the next J.K. Rowling. But will the next J.K. Rowling be a fantasy writer?
I haven't read Harry Potter, but I did love The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb (mid-1990s), and I adored Alice Hoffman's The Red Garden (although this might be more supernatural/paranormal fiction).
I get why fantasy is popular: it engages with the imagination and can make observations about politics and society (e.g., class conflict, gender equality, prejudice, injustice, and so on).
I plan to read some fantasy novels soon. I edit a lot of fantasy novels, so I'm familiar with the tropes, but it's probably time to see what all the fuss is about. I have a very high TBR pile, though. Mostly crime, some dystopian and Cli-Fi books.