Illustration by Nick Illuzada for TIME
August 21, 2014

When I was a kid, in the 1980s, Fantasy had, let us say, some unpleasant associations. It was fringy and subcultural and uncool. Not that this stopped me, or a lot of other people. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Piers Anthony, T.H. White, Fritz Leiber, Terry Brooks: I read them to pieces, and I chased them with a stiff shot of Dungeons & Dragons. But I did these things privately. In my suburban Massachusetts junior high, to be a fantasy fan was not to be a good, contented hobbit, working his sunny garden and smoking fragrant pipe-weed. It was to be Gollum, slimy and gross and hidden away.

But that has changed. Whereas the great franchises of the late 20th century tended to be science fiction–Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix–somewhere around 2000 the great eye of Sauron swiveled, and we began to pay attention to other things, like magic…

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This appears in the September 01, 2014 issue of TIME.

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