I still think comparing romance novels to superheroes bears weight in that there’s little competition in the same fields as these three hold a near monopoly/duopoly over the market. There are or were superhero publications published by other publishers such as Image and Dark Horse but not too many of these survived in the long run, that’s without being bought by either DC or Marvel. This is likely true for romance.
Harlequin in fact bought some of its competitors (most notably Silhouette and Kimani). Recall how DC bought Charlton, Wildstorm (from Image) and that it was a merger between National Publications and Action Comics. For another matter, Marvel bought Malibu. There might be horror, crime, fantasy and science fiction publishers that did the same, just not to my knowledge.
That’s not to say there’s nary their equivalent of Harlequin or DC and Marvel. The closest would be Tor but there are several more doing the same or similar like Penguin, Gollancz and the like as far as I know. Maybe even the Oxford University Press for classics (romance included). If a publisher has a near-monopoly on the market, the market will be associated with it.
Same with a duopoly.
Though I’ve heard of Harry Potter, I never read Harry Potter stories and barely if ever watched the actual films either. There are other people who might be in my position, either forbidden to read it or never really read it. I probably side with the latter as that’s my experience.
Now if you wanted me to be honest, the only fantasy stories I’ve read in earnest are fairy tales and my deepest, darkest secret Narnia. (I even planned on tripping on hallucinogens when wanting to read Narnia again at all.) I could’ve gotten into Harry Potter.
But despite knowing the appeal, I’m generally indifferent yet curious about it.
I actually think when it comes to shapeshifting characters who do transform into a smaller beast by vomitting or something similar (though by stripping naked beforehand), that could’ve been attempted before. Though just not as often even if it seems much more believable/plausible. (You know there are people who lose weight by vomitting/purging so there’s that.)
It’s like with spy disguises where it’s easier to add on something than to reduce it. Likewise if Christian Bale’s any indication, in order to play the skinny bloke in the Mechanist he probably vomitted/purged a lot before getting back to a normal weight again in subsequent roles. It’s like a more plausible version of shapeshifting.
Especially if it’s by reducing body mass, you have to do it the ugly way (vomitting, surgery, what have you). But I think it’s done so rarely’s because it’s just not cool even if it’s much more possible/realistically feasible. Consider this. If a human vomits when turning in a dog or if a tiger vomits when turning into a human, that’s analogous to real life purging behaviours.
It’s just not that flattering, even if it doesn’t violate physics this badly when you think about it.
I think writing about taste in fiction made me realise my own. It’s not that I like more fantastical stories. But it seems what I like more tend to be much more grounded in reality. I think if I did have my ideal fantasy writer, I’d go for Angela Carter. She’s the one who wrote the Bloody Chamber among other things and is kind of in-line with the other things I was into.
It could be that I’m probably either too pragmatic to enjoy a more fantastical fantasy or that I find the real world to be much more interesting. Probably both. I suspect because for me, coming up with a more fantastical world’s going to take much more work than placing the character in a more real world setting.
That still ties in my point that it’s not so much that normies don’t want escapism as much as they don’t want escapism to be further removed from their experiences and sensibilities (same for me). I guess that’s possibly the same for writers considered to be magical realist like Carter. They do appreciate ghost stories and the like.
But they’re not going to like something further removed from reality that I suspect there’s a lot more ease at just putting fantastical elements in otherwise mundane settings than to explain things and build a world around it.
It’s not so much that normies can’t appreciate escapism. They do but generally don’t want it to be too far away from the world they live in, which is reality. It’s not that they don’t want escapism. Thousands of crime and romance novels should attest to it. They just don’t want it to be too far removed from the real world. It could be me projecting since as I get older, I prefer mine to be very rooted in reality.
But that’s also telling that logically most nerds are capable of appreciating a more fantastical world. Again not always exactly nor consistently the case. It’s one thing to want a more fantastical world, it’s another to want to escape from but not entirely leave reality (to paraphrase Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’).
I think most crime, historical and romance novels as well as some speculative fiction (especially ghost story, folk tale and magical realism) fall into the latter. The more fantastical sorts like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones are the ones that attract a more cultish audience. Again not always the case but still very much so.
I could be cherry-picking when it comes to X-Men media in how and why they portray female characters but upon watching the video clip ‘What is the Goth Rebel Pixie Dream Girl’ it does help shed some light into the way they’re portrayed. Whilst not always, entirely or consistently the case it still explains a lot of things. Something that not too many make the connection even if it does show up.
Wearing black doesn’t make you Gothic but when the X-Men are almost always depicted as outsiders who do wear black from time to time (most of the time in the X-Men films) with Emma Frost and sometimes Mystique (and rarely Storm) being big outliers the connection between them and the Goth subculture feels subliminal enough to portray some as such. Strangely enough, Kitty seems exempt.
Even though of all the X-Women, she and a few others (including her friend Illyana) wear black the most or more often. That Kitty herself’s a tomboy (even if she wore pink at some point) sort of plays into the points the commentator’s making. Naturally her enemy Emma Frost wears white. The one X-Woman that’s got the short end of the stick the most is the pink-clad Psylocke whose racebending was recently undone.
Whilst not always the case as there are some heroic girly girls or blonds like Psylocke, Dazzler, Emma Frost and Mystique at times. But considering Mystique’s initial introduction as someone who wore a white dress, Psylocke a blatant girly girl and Dazzler being a pop star it’s not hard to see that they seem somewhat warier of them to a degree.
Not necessarily or overtly antagonistic but more in the sense of being too feminine for nerd men to appreciate (yet they themselves don’t want butch women for fear of being emasculated). It makes sense when you realise Kitty gets paraded as the Goth tomboy next door (that too’s imprecise as Rogue’s the one who’s made Goth even though Kitty wears black more often).
It also unconsciously makes sense that Jubilee receives a polarising response. Not necessarily any less sexualised or entirely hated (she’s got fans) but when the character they’re more attached to’s moody and dresses in black (almost a stereotypical Goth) that Jubilee’s unconsciously hated also because…she’s a Valley Girl.
Maybe not necessarily always the case and some X-Men fans aren’t into Goths at all but still makes sense given the context as to feel subliminal enough to make the connection between X-Men and Goth with Emma being an outlier when you think about it.
That’s not to say writing about magic in stories is bad (although there ought to be morally grey characters or at least those who make mistakes and/or have good sides despite dabbling in something dubious). I haven’t read Harry Potter yet but I suspect the biggest real issue in creating fantasy works involving magic at all, especially if/when written by Christians, is having to compromise pagan innocence with Christian cynicism.
The former being young and dumb with what it’s doing. The latter being made wary of people’s intentions to the point of being bigoted (I’d say Evangelicals and Pentecostals can seem like massive hotheaded killjoys). Narnia seems like a decent enough compromise between the two conflicting sentiments. Maybe not entirely perfect but still possible.
Harry Potter’s another matter where although the author’s nominally Christian, it seems to indulge in heathen occultism enough to allow polarising responses to it. The magic in Harry Potter might not be real. Though the only other way to reconcile Christianity with paganism/magic is to study demonology and incorporate it into the story even with sympathetic magic characters.
Not to mention being influenced by Narnia and the Divine Comedy helps in allowing a bit of a loophole should anybody want a sympathetic magic character at all. But alas sometimes pagan innocence and Christian cynicism can never be reconciled neatly.