It appears to me that wonder has gone out of style.
As I do debut announcements, I see little but dark and gritty. Many times, humor is laced between all the grit and dark, but still. The only "wonder" fantasies appear to be YA. And many of those appear dark and gritty as well. Look at Harry Potter. Plenty of wonder at first, but it got dark and gritty fairly quickly--certainly by book four.
None of the novels I've read recently have been particularly dark or gritty, however except as mentioned above, they also didn't have a memorable sense of wonder.
What sort of wonder do I mean? Wonder such as:
- When Lancelot is given his miracle in The Once and Future King.
- When Pakesnarrion returns to Brewersbridge in Oath of Gold, and the subsequent sessions with the Kaukgan.
- When the Companions encounter the Forestmaster in Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and when they reach Godshome in Dragons of Spring Dawning.
- When the hobbits reach Rivendell in Fellowship of the Ring.
- When spring arrives in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
- When Karigan encounters the Berry sisters in Green Rider.
- The first glimpse of the inside of the spaceship in Rendezvous with Rama.
- The scene where they establish orbit with Jupiter in 2001.
- The entire alien world in Sentenced to Prism (which I read at the urging of a friend, and I never expected to enjoy).
Some novels, like Tad William's Otherland series, attempts to dip the entire novel in a vat of wonder. I loved Otherland--Renie is one of my favorite characters, ever--but wonder, like chocolate, is best served in small doses.
Of all the debuts I read last year, I can only think of three that aspired to a sense of wonder. The authors may not have even done this on purpose. Interestingly, all three novels are at least partially derived from Christian themes. They are The Book of Joby, Auralia's Colors and Wind Follower. I found that interesting because only one or two novels in my above lists are particularly Christian.
I think all novels need that sense of wonder, even ones that are gritty, dark and snarky. After all, Arthur C. Clark managed it with hard science fiction.
If you are an author or aspire to be one, does your novel have an unforgettable "oh, wow!" moment? Will I be able to remember, twenty years later, the exact moment when the characters met the point of wonder? The grit and dark and snark might be diverting and popular at the moment, but will it all blend into the rest of the grit and dark and snark as I read other novels? Will I remember your novel as that one, or will I say, "Oh, yeah. I read that novel. What was it about?"
Will I purchase multiple editions of your book? Or will I eventually give it away?
To illustrate with a popular example, I enjoy reading Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, but after a while, they all blend together. I could tell you the plot of the first novel. The plot of another novel stood out because she went after an illegal alien, not a criminal. But the rest of the 11 or 12 Plum novels I've read sort of blend together. And one I remember because I hated the entire premise.
Give me a bit of wonder, and I'll remember your novel forever.