Heroic fantasy used to be slim, once. Goddamn but it used to be lean and muscular, like the heroes and swordsmen it celebrated. It used to be dangerous. It used to tell us stories about ourselves that never appeared in the pages of respectable literary journals (with their stories of divorcees and martinis and quiet, stately dysfunction) but were nevertheless more truly a reflection of the times in which we lived, and the yearnings that impelled us.
No longer: heroic fantasy has grown fat. Bloated. We're not talking a few extra pound around the waist, here: we're talking serious glandular problems, shopping at special stores for the larger individual. We're talking about Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin and David Eddings, with their three or five or ten book series, each volume in the series containing seven or eight or nine hundred pages of plodding prose, dull exposition, unresolved plot threads and attempts to conjure up a sense of wonder so badly executed as to signal the final, lingering demise of the genre
Hear, hear! (Candidly, I even got bogged down for a while about midway through the widely - and appropriately - praised Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I'm very glad I eventually finished it, but a good editor could have lopped a few hundred pages off it without hurting the book one bit.)
Interestingly, Harnett absolves the usual suspect of blame:
Tolkien is no more to blame for modern fantasy writing than Jane Austen is to blame for Mills and Boons novels.
Instead, Harnett provocatively argues that Michael Moorcock is the true villain of the story:
Moorcock has convinced a generation of writers that the key to success is to marry his rate of output with Tolkien's bulk.
Ouch. Anyway, if you're looking for high quality fantasy of manageable length, might I suggest Charles Stross' contemporary fantasy The Family Trade, which clocks in at a relatively svelte 304 pages? (Be warned, however, that Stross apparently plans The Family Trade to be just the first in a multi-volume series of the sort Harnett damns.)