A Defense of Fantasy
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Dear lord, the first book they recommend is the slog Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? The article was great until that point.
Hey! I loved that book! Wanna arm-wrestle? :)
Good article, btw. Thanks for the link.
Better than recommending the slog The Lord of the Rings :) Or Jordan's idea of a long series.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is not for everyone but it hits the correct buttons for a lot of people (I loved it). And looking at the recommendations, none of them is what I would call traditional choices.
Besides - what a fantasy author likes is not always what the public will love reading :)
Thanks for sharing.
I've often thought that all fiction is fantasy, the portrayal of imaginary characters in a made-up world. Good article.
@2,3 & 4 - Each to their own. I love both LotR and WoT, but still can't understand how popular Martin's series is (tried the first book, gave up part way through).
It is a good article though.
Good article. I've definitely had that experience too - almost every time someone asks me and I say "fantasy," they expect me to love elves and talking dragons and vampires. 3 things I don't look for in my fantasy. I like the "imaginary characters in a made-up world." Why would I want to read about things that could happen? How boring ;)
I'm not arguing that Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell isn't a good read. It just wasn't for me. But for a first recommendation for fantasy for someone who's never read fantasy? That's like giving someone who has never read a classic Ulysses or Moby Dick. Bound to turn them off classics forever.
I'm not sure what I'd recommend but it wouldn't be LotR or WoT or Martin. Hmm....
I wouldn't recommend any long series. There's always the dreaded thought that you're remembering that it may've been book three which was really good, but maybe book one and two weren't as well done as you recall.
My first taste of fantasy was Dragonflight, bit of a switch from and all the horsie novels of my younger years (though I suppose Black Beauty sort of verges on it too). While I adore Dragonflight, I'm not sure I'd recommend it either as there is, after all, a lot of dragons. Which can get tedious if you're not a fan of the winged firebreathers.
I'm sure it would largely depend on the individuals past reading material and what they specifically dislike about fantasy in general. Like say "not liking magical creatures", then there's the odd one out there to recommend. If they’ve a problem with reading something where the "young boy/girl is newly come to magic", then there are just as many other novels without that very scenario.
I'm thinking that, what with there being so many genres crossed with fantasy, the best bet would be to offer something that's as close as you can get to a blend of what the person usually reads and fantasy. Then you'd be giving them the familiar to help ease them into the new.
>10 I agree. My thought was, "What does the person usually read?" It's much easier to make a recommendation from that. But the author obviously couldn't do that.
I was thinking something like War for the Oaks by Emma Bull. Not a perfect read, but might be a good introduction. It's a standalone with magic set in Minneapolis. A little romance. A little mystery. Some humor. And not a 500+ page tome.
Samuel Johnson wrote an influential essay in 1750 that turned everyone off the fantastic? We hatesss usss the Johnssson!!
Fantastic to see this side of Lev Grossman. I picked up The Magicians from curiosity but have delayed reading it, suspecting he was out to put down the genre. This article on the other hand indicates his genuine support, so now I'm very curious to read his attempt at it.
For starters I'd (jestingly) say at that dinner table "How about Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, The Illiad, Beowulf, Paradise Lost, The Sword in the Stone ... whups, you want something more modern. Okay, then (more seriously) I'd point to The Neverending Story, The Last Unicorn, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gormenghast, A Wizard of Earthsea and of course Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and The Fellowship of the Ring else you'll never understand where the genre is at today." If they mentioned Jane Eyre and Dickens as favourites, only then would I point to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
Recommendations like Martin, Abercrombie, Sanderson, etc I'd save for after their guard is down and they've become open again to enjoying action and adventure.
"If they mentioned Jane Eyre and Dickens as favourites, only then would I point to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell."
So that's why I hated JS&MN!
And I would throw Austen there - most of her fans like JS&MN as well... :) Or any of the literary English classics from the period really :)
This is an article written by an author and also, a book critic - he's bound to have strong opinions, being involved in both arenas.
I have gotten LOTS of people to read fantasy who don't usually - but not by trying to introduce them to the 'literary' merits of any work/or action/adventure/myth/or ANY one approach.
Like #10 and #11, I always start with what books they've read, that are THEIR favorites. Fantasy is so varied - it is DESIGNED to bust boundaries - that there is always a flavor that will suit their current taste. The trick is in being widely read enough to appreciate where THEY are coming from.
I have found, generally, (on inquiring into the 'glazed' look to see where that switch off - yeah, I've seen it - is coming from. In my observation that people handle 'fantasy' in 3 basic groups, (but a fourth one is currently sprouting).
Those who are TERRIFIED to blur the boundaries of what they THINK OF as 'reality.' They dismiss it, attack it/will not even peek.
Those who DISMISS it, fast - as already labeled - they tend to attach a fast box tag on the whole field - as 'like' what they've known before - be it mythology, childrens' tales, or Tolkein or Rowlings or (now, upcoming) Martin. Everything else is 'like that' and they are not anxious to sample that arena again. They've boxed it, tagged it, rigidly identified it and purport to 'know everything' - been there/done that/end of discussion.
(The growing fourth group is aware of paranormal romance's recent surge, and 'dismiss' this is 'just romance' in vampire/werewolf/whatever you pick that's 'not 'real' costumes.
The last category includes those who are genuinely open minded - curious - not frightened by plunging into a state of "not knowing" - and many times, unknowing, they've already kept alive that sense of exploratory wonder. They are not 'threatened' by the 'unreasonable' - not afraid to be plunged into 'ignorance' where none of the 'rules' work. They are not narrowly over-controlling or rigid, when it comes to freewheeling thought.
For most 'mainstream' readers - fantasies that track what they are familiar with work best - things that blur the lines gently/and don't get radical with the concepts that frame their 'fixed' beliefs.
I try always to stress that fantasy 'erases' edges, shifts perspectives, and ignores boundaries - so there is such a huge arena encompassed BY the field, there will always be one area where even the most rigid or diverse interests intersect. Bound to be.
Just hate when Anyone writes 'decisive' articles that dismiss any aspect - because there are many areas beloved by children and beloved by those who like the mythic - right now, fantasy IS coming into its own as an 'adult' read - Martin's works or Suzanna Clark's in Dr Strange, or Guy Kay's works ARE IN NO WAY children's literature, or written for adolescents.
Fantasy is 'graduating' finally - at this point in 'our' popular culture (when it had, but lost its 'prominence' in the past) - people are ready for more and deeper. But definitely NOT at the expense of those phases that found acceptance before (referent to our time and society and views).
I think we can embrace the strides in complexity and depth without panning or separating or distancing the road that the mainstream viewpoint may take to 'get' here.
>16, "... those who are genuinely open minded - curious - not frightened by plunging into a state of "not knowing" - and many times, unknowing, they've already kept alive that sense of exploratory wonder. They are not 'threatened' by the 'unreasonable' - not afraid to be plunged into 'ignorance' where none of the 'rules' work. They are not narrowly over-controlling or rigid, when it comes to freewheeling thought."
Janny, I realize you were speaking of the yet-to-be-converted, but this sounds like the most complimentary description of fantasy readers I've ever read. I'm going to quote this as such in future when occasion warrants, if I may (with due attribution of course).
#17, Cecrow - be my guest.
F/SF readers are THE MOST interesting people - always intelligent, always inquiring, never content with the status quo. Our visionary dreamers are not recognized as the forerunning personality they truly are. And the advantages gained by mental flexibility (reading) are far, far underestimated.
Thought/books/anything that reaches outside the envelope is needed, or nothing gets created, nothing evolves.
I do think the biggest 'problem' with enticing the unconverted is that very fear factor - they are afraid of the unknown, and many will shy off from that territory at any cost.
I just saw a 'survey' on happiness in the Sunday paper's Parade magazine - reading BOOKS (even a downer book) made more people happy than TV shows or games. :)
I don't know that I agree the unconverted are 'afraid' of the unknown so much as they've accepted the judgements of others who tells them what is worthy and what isn't.
Sadly, today, the US in particular, seems to have forgotten how to dream and imagine. Instead the country accepts limitations others impose without even kicking up a fuss about them.
To remove that barrier at the dinner table, we would need more brave novels in the genre where good-vs-evil and the fantasy setting are only incidental to the personal story of the lead character; where the advantage of a generic make-believe setting allows that personal story to speak to a wide range of reader's cultures and backgrounds, but doesn't slip into becoming simply a "sweeping tale of high adventure".
Or else, where other means are found of using the fantasy setting to try something another genre wouldn't so easily lend itself to. I don't pretend to entirely decipher Shadow and Claw, Sword and Citadel, but I admire how Gene Wolfe makes us depend upon his unreliable narrator for everything we think we know. The story would not be half so effectively told if set in our own world, where we could too easily judge true and false.
But as I've argued before (http://www.librarything.com/topic/98315), I don't know if our genre's audience would be ready for that, or appreciative. I don't think that's what they pick up a fantasy novel looking for. I don't think that fantasy can aspire to be both high literature and satisfy the majority of its fans, in our current climate. We have shown there can be a wide range of quality within the good-vs-evil model (consider game and movie tie-ins at the low literature end, up to Martin's bestselling series towards the higher end), but all still primarily geared towards entertaining the core fantasy audience that wants that established good-vs-evil template and doesn't understand anything that ignores or steers away from it.
This is not a problem unique to the fantasy genre. Mystery fans demand a mystery, thriller fans demand a thrill, romance fans demand a romance. Fantasy fans demand a fantasy, not something that strives primarily to look inside them and bring that out into the light. It isn't that our genre isn't capable of producing it, it's whether anyone primarily calling themselves a fan of the genre rather than literati would care. Do we want to raise the genre's image beyond its fan base, at the cost of alienating that fan base? It's probably not worth any author's time, effort and risk.
Of course (returning to the topic at hand), all of that creates this barrier, and "that look".
The problem I have with that article is that he seems to think sex and violence is something _new_ to fantasy. (There's been a recent spate of articles and posts which seems to paint particular sorts of fantasy as somehow more mature or better, rather than simply examples of a different sub-genre. There's types of fantasy to suit almost every taste, but it rubs me the wrong way to see some sub-genres put down in favour of others.)
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I am not a huge fan of the sex and violence lately...doesn't really do much for me. I started a new series yesterday and it's AMAZING!! I found it by chance. Anyway it's called: ULTIMATE FANTASY SERIES by J.G. Cuff and the first volume (the one I'm reading now) is titled: HEWN
Anyway, here's the link:
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