Someone in my hometown is putting together a reading series and sent me an email asking whether I wanted to participate.
I said sure, and asked if they had any criteria as to what was to be read, noting that I am primarily a fantasy writer. I got back an apologetic email telling me that the academic authority behind this new project has made a rule, “literary” writing only. No fantasy. No genre.
I write fantasy that’s literary enough to stand against any work of literature that you choose. Well, unless it’s the really rarefied New Yorker Short Story stuff. I don’t GET half of those, and half of the rest leave me pretty meh. If your yardstick for “literature” is incomprehensibility and a nothing-happens story, then no, I don’t write it and I’m proud of that.
All literature is fantasy
But as I must point out – all literature, all fiction, is fantasy – by definition, because *it isn’t true*.
While I can understand the intention of an academician to keep out the REALLY out-there fantasy stuff, would he really throw out most of Tolkien, and his totally invented LANGUAGES? Or Guy Gavriel Kay? Or Ursula Le Guin? Or Neil Gaiman? Would he throw out the Odyssey, because it has Greek Gods in it?
I get so tired of this.
There is stuff out there that is BEAUTIFUL. It is still beautiful even if it has a dragon in it.
Sure. there is stuff out there that is penny-ante fantasy which can and frequently does get blasted for overuse of tropes in bad ways (I’m looking at you, “Twilight”). But the proper criterion isn’t whether or not something has a fantastical trope in it, but whether it is GOOD WRITING.
A good deal of ‘literary’ writing is equally bad. Literary is simply another genre with its own conventions, own tropes, and with a wide range of writing quality.
Where DOES the ‘literature’ line get drawn? Is anything without something supernatural in it ‘literature’ by definition? By THAT definition, “50 Shades of Gray” is LITERATURE, and Ursula Le Guin isn’t. Writing about love and friendship is writing about the human condition – and I am honestly bewildered by the fact that it isn’t acceptable as literature if it takes place on a different world than the one you’re standing up in, but IS acceptable, presumably, if it takes place in a rich man’s secret S&M playroom in a Seattle penthouse.
Please explain to me what disqualifies the works of some of the greatest literary writers the world has ever seen from writing ‘literature’ while things that are barely writing, qualify on the strength of the fact that some authors apparently didn’t have the imagination span to take a small person out of a small place and tell a BIGGER story?
Again, all fiction is fantasy by definition because every book of fiction is a passel of lies, otherwise it wouldn’t be fiction, but memoir, or biography, or some other non-fictional species.
No dragons? Silly rule, but OK
I can understand perfectly that a reading series can set their own rules, ‘no dragons’, for example. I might still have issues with it, but I can understand it. But to dismiss fantasy from ‘literature’ because someone in an ivory academic tower feels that it is somehow beneath them?
Two of the best-known fantasy writers ever, J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis, were college professors. What are you going to say to them – that their life’s work is somehow… beneath you?
A friend writes on Facebook, “Tell them that means that A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest are out. Ditto Doctor Faustus. H.G. Wells? Nope. Gulliver’s Travels? Hard pass. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court? Sorry; no fantasy allowed. No Pygmalion. No 1984, or Animal Farm. No Iliad, Odyssey, Christmas Carol. Goodbye to Kafka, Bradbury, Carroll (Lewis AND Jonathan), Spenser, Atwood, Butler, Calvino, Verne, Lessing, Wells. Books by Steinbeck, Updike, Wilhelm, Lethem, Chabon, and on, and on, and on…”
Yes, this. EXACTLY this.
I write very literary fantasy. It isn’t just the disinvitation from a reading series because I am somehow perceived as “lesser than” that disturbs me. It’s something much bigger, I belong to a tribe of luminous writers who are being sniffed at by people who really may not know any better. Does anyone have any ideas how to stop this blight?
And by the way
Being uninvited from the local reading series, had an unexpected and surprisingly positive outcome. It goaded me into doing my first podcast on Facebook.
I read two stories from my current WIP (fantasy, naturally).
Podcast link HERE
It was so well received, I’m going to do others. My husband and taskmaster is demanding that I do them regularly. We’ll see. Stay tuned.
Dragon Image by KELLEPICS on Pixabay
If you’d like to read more of mine – please go to AlmaAlexander.org and look under “My Books” for a range of reading material. And do consider sticking around and joining the Patreon family here.