Don't get me wrong, they're all over videogames. Naga are everywhere, and centaurs, but mainly naga. Even the everpresent elf is on the decline- in fact, popular fantasy has almost entirely sidelined the faye realm. But the last story I read about, say, a faun in- well, that would be C. S. Lewis's work. There is the odd reference, or the use of a magical creature I've personally never come across before. But by and large, the grand spectrum of magical creatures in fantasy is fading.
Prehaps, it is simply the fact that my reading material as aged- matured- as I have. I no longer read the works of Lewis, instead listening to Brent Weeks, or Abercrombie, or George R. R. Martin. I no longer see magical creatures because what I now read is not so much fantasy as political drama set in a fantasy world. No longer do Tolkeinien heroes rise from nowhere and strike down the great evil, instead Lordling bastards watch from the shadows as Lords and Ladies play war, scrabbling for every tiny ounce of power.
And yet, despite that the current grimdark fashion has squashed the mighty phoenix, magic is still a major factor in contemporary fantasy. And herein lies my confusion: If we can suspend our disbelief to accept an old bearded man striking down armies with fire, why have we allowed the great balrog to fall into out of memory? Is it somehow less believeable? If men can utilize a extraordinary power to truly blend into shadow, to completely silence all sound, and become the perfect assassin- why can nymphs and fair eleven maidens host grand parties in deep forests, which completely vanish at the appearance of a bumbling mortal? Are fearsome sirens and the mighty cyclops no longer sufficient to cause us concern for our mighty hero?
And yet, not all fantasy creatures truly fade. Zombies, once the mindless hands of evil necromancers, now threaten to wipe out humanity simply by being, through their endless desire to feed.
This loss of the magical menagerie would be a great blow the the genre. So much of what fantasy is, is anchored in giants and dwarfs and faeries, dragons and basilisks and cockatrice...es. Such a thing should not be allowed to go quietly into the night. We have other plans for them, yet.
Or at least, I like to think I do.