If you don’t read fantasy, read this

The other day, I was sitting talking with a group of friends and I told a story about my childhood. One long time friend then said, “Oh, Glenda—why don’t you write that sort of thing instead of this – this other stuff?” This other stuff being fantasy. Despised pulp, less than literature, childish drivel, or whatever. What on earth can you say in reply to a remark like that?

I was on the Purple Zone this morning (the great online forum over at the website of Harper Collins Voyager Australia) and read what one writer was told when registering with the lecturer of a writing course: ‘Well, there’ll be people writing serious stuff and they may not want to read your work. But don’t worry, there’s always a couple of people writing genre stuff in each class who stick together in the corner!’

This prompted Alma Alexander/Hromic into an excellent reply on her blog.

And I feel a rant coming on, too.

We all start by reading fantasy. Cinderella. Fairy Tales. Mother Hubbard rhymes. Local stories of taking animals. All those delightful kids’ stories that have charmed generations of children, and the modern tales that are just as good. We all have a background in myths and legends from whatever the culture of our upbringing. Religious stories are – almost by definition – full of the fantastic.

Then somewhere along the line, people seem to drop out and start reading what is supposedly “real” (even though it is fiction and not real at all). Unfortunately, many do it under the mistaken belief that fantasy is only for children.

Er, why?

Because only kids have the imagination to appreciate it? Come on.

Or maybe you think fantasy is poorly written. Er, what have you been reading, ever? There is enough top notch fantasy writing out there to keep you reading a book a day for a year and never be disappointed by the quality. If this is what you think, then you are choosing the wrong books. Or is it, dare I suggest, that you actually don’t read fantasy and are just guessing???? Shakespeare wrote fantasy. So did Dante, Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, Rushdie, Dickens, Isobelle Allende…

Maybe you think that when you’ve read one fantasy book, you’ve read them all? Excuse me while I roll around the floor laughing. That’s like saying I don’t watch TV/go to the movies because it’s all the same. Fantasy can be modern, medieval, ancient, futuristic. It can be in this world or any other. It can be sad, funny, tragic, happy, violent or romantic; it can be about love or war or passion or principles or education or …anything.

Maybe you think fantasy has no relevance to your world. Rubbish. That’s like saying we have nothing to learn from “Animal Farm” because it was all about animals. Of that Tolkien had nothing to say about the human spirit because he wrote about Hobbits and Middle Earth. All modern successful fantasy books are successful because people can relate to the story they tell.

There was a lovely article in The Guardian (Saturday January 21, 2006) where an author, Francesca Simon, (who loves”literature”) and her son (who loves fantasy) challenge one another to read the other’s favourite. Mother heads off to read Robin Hobb’s Assassin trilogy. Son ends up with Trollope.

End of experiment: son is absolutely sure Barchester Towers is not for him. Mother is hooked on Robin Hobb and goes out to buy the next book in the trilogy. It was no contest.

I have nothing to be ashamed of because I write fantasy.

And you—if you have never read it, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you tried once and hated it, then try again. You didn’t give up on mainstream books because you happened to hate one, did you? That’s like giving up on oranges because you had one sour one.

And bear in mind, we fantasy readers and writers do get tired of being scorned by people who don’t even read the genre.

Originally posted in Glenda’s blog on Tuesday, 4 April 2006 (24 Comments).

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