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This could be a misconception of mine, but I've noticed that the popular fantasy novels of today seem to nearly all have main characters who are children or teenagers. I have a list of some off the top of my head below.

Why is this? Is there a drawback to writing a fantasy novel with an adult as the main character?


List of Fantasy Novels:

  • Fablehaven - main characters are two kids.
  • Harry Potter - urban fantasy but features a kid.
  • Inheritence Cycle - Features a teenager
  • Twilight - probably more romance than fantasy, but still features vampires and the like. Features teenagers.
  • I'm sure there are plenty of other examples.
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    The better question to ask is "Why is fantasy so popular with the YA audience?" – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Nov 9 '16 at 11:25
  • @LaurenIpsum That's the thing though. I don't know that it is. An answer could easily start with, 'Fantasy is popular with YA audiences. Here's why.' That would answer the question beautifully. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Nov 10 '16 at 16:57
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It's somewhat of a misconception, and a crossing of borders in audience as well.

Those you've listed all fall into the bounds of Young Adult books - the target audience are teenagers and/or casual readers. The only possible exception are the latter Harry Potter books (but that is by deliberate design).

All these stories are 'coming of age' stories, and are designed to resonate with their intended audiences (often teenagers). Having the main, focal characters be teenagers automatically allows the vast majority of the intended audience to draw a connection with the story. They are mostly about the growth of the character and them discovering who they really are, something most teens (and young adults) resonate with.

The Inheritance Cycle and Twilight are also very simple books. Very simple concepts, no real depth and really, really simple writing. There's nothing challenging or confronting in them, they don't ask questions of the author and frankly aren't that memorable. They were successful because they were well marketed and written to a predictable formula and the popularity only really took off when movies where made of them. They were also relatively short-lived phenomena (anecdotally, I don't know anyone personally who finished reading the Inheritance Cycle - I personally lost interest partway through the third book). The same can be said of The Hunger Games and Mazerunner They are quick reads where you don't have to invest a great deal of time, effort or thought.

They are, in short, popular because they sell. They sell because they are marketable and they're marketable because they're light, easy reads that have no real depth but just enough sprinkling to make them "edgy" but not controversial. They are also aimed at and developed for a specific target market and the success is often dependent on feature films and associated merchandising.

Stephen King has this to say about them, and I think he sums it up quite well:

"I read Twilight and didn't feel any urge to go on with her. I read The Hunger Games and didn't feel an urge to go on. It's not unlike [my novel] The Running Man, which is about a game where people are actually killed and people are watching: a satire on reality TV. I read Fifty Shades of Grey and felt no urge to go on. They call it mommy porn, but it's not really mommy porn. It is highly charged, sexually driven fiction for women who are, say, between 18 and 25."

Harry Potter, and is a somewhat different beast and done so by deliberate design. The story grew up as the character and the audience grew up. It's still a coming of age story, but there is a depth to the latter books that simply doesn't exist in the other series. Many comparisons have also been made regarding the abilities and motivations of the authors themselves, but that's getting wildly off-topic.

In short though, the "Popular" Fantasy novels (that is to say the main-stream media reported ones at any rate) feature Teens because they are Teen/YA Stories.

As for Fantasy itself - that depends entirely on the story itself, and as many examples you can provide where teens are the focus, there are many, many more where they aren't:

  • Steven Errikson's and Ian C Esslemonts Malazan books (and all their offshoots) certainly don't.

  • Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive

  • David Gemmell's Drenai series

  • Steven King's Dark Tower

  • Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series

  • Brian McClellan's Powder Mage trilogy

The list goes on

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I think Lauren's suggested reformulation may be a better way to express the phenomena. YA is a very popular genre today, and much of YA seems to be in the fantasy/sci fi realm. So there is a lot of sci fi/fantasy with adolescent characters out there.

I can see two factors that help explain this. First, most fantasy and sci fi are power fantasies. The heros are endowed with magical or technological powers with which to face the monsters of the world. What kind of reader is most apt to find such works appealing? The powerless who feel vulnerable to the monsters of the world. Children are under the protection of their parents. Adults and experience and resources at their disposal. Adolescents are have no resources and are facing the monsters of the world for the first time.

(The fantasy and sci fi that is actually worth reading, however, is just the opposite: it is a warning against the lure of power. Thus LOTR is the very opposite of a power fantasy and it greatest heroes are those who resisted the lure of power.)

Another factor is that we are currently in a period in which we are encouraged to use literature as a mirror, not a window. We used to write books for children that encouraged them to look outward, and to aspire to adult virtues. (Notice that in the Narnia books, though only children can enter Narnia, they are expected to behave like adults when they are there.) But now literature for children is mostly focused on self-acceptance. It is neither outward looking nor aspirational. And so children and adolescents are offered heros who are as much like themselves as possible.

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  • The Fantasy novel I am writing is like LotR in the respect that it is a warning against power, so to speak. Would you say teenagers are still the target audience there? It seems to me the target would be the people with power, the adults. – Thomas Reinstate Monica Myron Nov 11 '16 at 18:09
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    Interesting question. LotR belongs to the post WWI disillusionment with the technological utopianism of the Victorians. We are now in a new era of technological utopianism. There are many adults who fear the rising power of the techno state. But that is not the same thing as a warning against the corrupting effect of power on the individual, which is at the heart of LotR. Seize your power is more of the rallying cry of the moment. You can do the heroic state (Star Trek) or the hero who takes power form the state (Hunger Games). Can you still do the triumph of humility (Sam Gamgee)? Don't know. – user16226 Nov 11 '16 at 18:29
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This is a variant of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. Adolescent characters are hardly new, Dorothy from Wizard of Oz, Jason of the Argonauts, Theseus (of minotaur slaying fame), and more recently the kids from Narnia, Garion from David Edding's Belgariad, arguably Frodo from LOTR, etc. These characters have the advantage of little to no backstory of merit, other than perhaps their parentage. So the audience gets their entire arc, as opposed to something like Odysseus, who had prior adventures before the Odyssey. The Farm Boy to King plot arc is pervasive and very compelling, even to adults. They serve as a readers entry into a fantasy world as well.

Specifically marketed towards kids/teens, a protagonist of their age/experience allows the reader to more fully relate to the story, like having Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island, with every other character being an adult what is the appeal for kids? Perhaps super-hero fiction deviates from this more than other youth media, but even then there is Robin, Spider-man (the most commercially successful superhero by a mile), Jimmy Olsen, etc, all young heroes/sidekicks that serve as a stand-in for the youthful audience. And of course comics have been trying to kick the "it's all for kids" association for decades!

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  • Long ago and far away, I read a lot of SciFi. As I grew up, I became tired of all the stories with very young protagonists - this certainly isn't a new problem! More recently, I have seen movies or read things with some more mature characters. Phil Coulson from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. comes to mind. – Joe Nov 16 '16 at 0:14
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The main drawback you ll have is you ll not get the same audience. An adult character is more mature and have another conception of life, that means different choice based on logic more than affect.

Young character are popular in YA fantasy cause it allows author to touch more easily young reader who feel the same thing. Moreover the novels you use in exemple are what i classified as "low level fantasy" (except for HP) --> easy to pick, easy to read and easy to forget.

YA fantasy is like our society, fast and easy enjoyment.

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The question sounds to me like an opinion query. My opinion is that like many other forms of media like movies and music, novels have adapted to the general trend of media where the better looking people (young) get the job done cheaper, etc. I believe it's a management and business decision. You could probably research the topic and find some interesting things.

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