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Author Topic: In Defence Of Fantasy Literature - An Essay  (Read 1639 times)
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Athviaro Shyu-eck-Silfayr
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« on: 25 October 2011, 05:39:28 »

I wrote this and I just thought I'd share it with you all. Any thoughts - agree, disagree? I'm completely open to being picked up on any and all of it. It's 760 words long, and I think finished. If I missed anything, do make a suggestion.

(Comments of clarity, style and grammar are also always appreciated)


In Defence Of Fantasy Literature

   There is an idea, popular among literary critics, teachers of English and those who wish to appear sophisticated, that certain genres - and  one particular genre above all - of literature do not merit the term, and cannot be regarded as serious works. While most literature is judged on its merits, there is a consensus that can only be called snobbish, and it is that despite the merits of any particular work all fantasy is automatically second-rate literature. This perception is harmful to the field of literature and demeaning to the excellent works of fantasy that are unfairly belittled because of it. To suggest that Terry Pratchett is not as humorous and satirical as Cervantes simply because he created the world as well as the events of his books is absurd, as is the idea that Tolkien's tale of a struggle against evil is of a lower order that that of Dumas simply because Tolkien wrote of an evil god and Dumas of evil men. If anything, Tolkien's work shows the universality of evil, but also its very human underpinnings, and Pratchett's gives him even more room to display his humour and inventiveness than a realistic setting.
   Those who oppose fantasy fail to comprehend what a medium it can be, how powerful a means of confronting our inbuilt prejudices in a way that familiar works in familiar worlds cannot. Where else but in fantasy - or its slightly less demonised cousin science fiction - can an author truly explore the implications of issues such as immortality? How could a world whose inhabitants are all sexless be categorised if not as fantasy - and yet why should the questions of sexual identity that it asks go unasked? Ideas of race, conflict and evil are freed from real-world restrictions and connotations, allowing them to be played with in new ways to raise new questions, while acting as a commentary on real-world practices and events. When works confront such ideas as the nature of existence, the dualism of being and seeming and the fundamental nature of evil as a creation of mankind, how is the fact that they do not strictly observe the laws of physics sufficient reason to disregard them?
   Many criticise fantasy because they regard it as a childish genre - they understand the word fantasy to mean the same as fairy tale - and so they presume it lacks the depth and seriousness needed for real literature. Some fantasy is written for children - often as a result of this prejudice among literary purists - but much is not; likewise, some real-world works are written for children, but many are not. To say that all fantasy is childish because some fantasy is written for children is like saying that all books are incomprehensible because some are written in French.
   There is a suggestion that because fantasy is not set in the "real world" - inexplicably, the real world is held up as the ultimate good - it is somehow not serious literature, and doesn't require any skill or art to write. As anyone who has read a really good work of fantasy will know, this could not be further from the truth. Fantasy requires that the reader be convinced of something they know is not only false but impossible, and the least faltering of consistency across an entire world can be enough to break the spell. There is bad fantasy, but it is bad because it is bad, not because it is fantasy. To borrow the words of Ursula Le Guin, "to think that realistic fiction is by definition superior to imaginative fiction is to think imitation is superior to invention". Why is the genre that gives writers the most freedom the least respected?
   The literary establishment, however, continues to regard fantasy as something not quite good enough - something trying very hard to be literature, but not succeeding because it simply can't. This perception of an entire genre held by the rest of the field is shockingly similar to the perception of "savages" by the civilised - read white - men who regarded themselves as innately superior, or the perception of non-WASPs by the Ku Klux Klan.
   This notion is, in short, dangerous. It is dangerous because judgement based not on merit but on preconception is the ultimate basis for racism, racial violence, and unforgivable acts of prejudice from Utøya to the Holocaust. When literature is viewed through lenses that applied to race lead to genocide, how can the consequences be anything but ruinous?
« Last Edit: 25 October 2011, 05:41:26 by Athviaro Shyu-eck-Silfayr » Logged

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Ta`lia of the Seven Jewels
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« Reply #1 on: 25 October 2011, 20:01:15 »

Hmm, nice essay, but as I'm far from being educated in the matter of essays and the like, my voice can't be count.

My question was though, while reading this essay - why did you write it? For I thought that fantasy literature needs no longer defending, is not longer seen as 'lower' as any other more common part of literature. At least since Ray Bradbury and his books.

"For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path  that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel looking,  breathlessly. ~Don Juan"
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Rayne (Alýr)
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« Reply #2 on: 26 October 2011, 04:00:06 »

Although an avid reader and a passionate lover of language, I share Talia's bewilderment--perhaps because I'm not up-to-date on the most recent literary criticism (though I do know the academic community treats the genre with scholarly respect, from my own experience). Fantasy, in the definition with which I am familiar, maintains a great deal of respect and recognition--most recently with authors like Tolkien, but into antiquity as well.

If we take fantasy to mean stories in which there is magic or some supernatural phenomena, then the Mahabharata of India, the Monkey King stories of ancient China, and even Beowulf and Dante's Inferno may be categorized as fantasy, not to mention the myriad of mythological stories budding from Africa, ancient Greece, and the Americas.

I would recommend beginning this essay with a definition of fantasy. If Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or the Ramayana or the stories of King Arthur do not qualify as a fantasy, perhaps you might elucidate upon this. From here, you might make an argument that, in fact, there are critics who deprecate fantasy as childish. If you have quotes or some evidence in this regard, you can use it to support this argument before launching upon your main argument.

I might also soften the tone of this essay. Rather than reason, this essay seems to try to persuade through insult, implying that those who have views of fantasy contrary to your own are ignorant, narrow-minded, prejudiced, etc. You link such individuals to bigots/racists, Ku Klux Klan members, and even Nazis! This means of persuasion, I think, diverges markedly from one built of a respectful tone and the voice of reason.

I realize, of course, that I'm shamelessly guessing at your intentions with this essay.  undecided Perhaps you do not mean at all to persuade, but have a different intention all together (perhaps this is a cathartic piece?). I hope you'll forgive me if I've misjudged.  undecided You do write with a great deal of passion, which demonstrates sincerity of emotion. With so much apathy in the world, it is refreshing to see one incited by a topic close to his heart.  heart

"There is much misjudgment in the world. Now, I knew you for a unicorn when I first saw you, and I know that I am your friend. Yet you take me for a clown, or a clod, or a betrayer, and so I must be if you see me so. The magic on you is only magic and will vanish as soon as you are free, but the enchantment of error that you put on me I must wear forever in your eyes. We are not always what we seem..." -Schmendrick the Magician, The Last Unicorn
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« Reply #3 on: 26 October 2011, 04:23:32 »

You're quite fervent in your defence, Ath :) I assume it's an essay written for school, and definitely an interesting subject. It's a bit too strong perhaps on the defence side, and in general I'd advise also to try incorporate arguments against fantasy literature and why this is so.

I guess one of the main criticism is that fantasy is just mere escapism with no direct connection to reality and that things are painted black and white, good and evil. Which is different, say, from science fiction, because serious science fiction is about things that might actually happen, moral dilemmas etc. Then again there are a lot of exploitive science fiction texts, where science fiction is only a label, and it all gets down to defeating monsters. And in the case of fantasy it's very much the same I'd say. The problem with fantasy perhaps is that escaping that good/bad clichee formula and have more to say is very difficult, and that there is a flood of books, which doesn't have an epic world behind, but nurtures the escapism allegation.

Besides, fantasy (unlike crime or horror e.g.) is, as you say yourself, a good way to reach children and adolescents, so it always has that touch not to be quite serious literature. "Adult" fantasy therefore loses. On the other hand you could argue that books like "Harry Potter" got a lot of young people to read again, so there is some merit to that. However, personally for example I don't think very much of Paolini's "Eragon", though, as it's just the work of a very young, not yet fully developed writer, and he presents a collection of clichees if you ask me, so I didn't bother to read a second book from him. And with this example you see the trouble I think, because serious fantasy for me is something else. If adolescents can write bestsellers in a genre, it means the genre has a problem to be recognized properly.

I hope BTW that we go a step in the right direction with Santharia, and personally I would consider some of my texts placed in the world of Caelereth as more than just fantasy works. I think you always need to try to get beyond just trying to be entertaining or write something to let people escape elsewhere. If you look closely you'll see postmodern approaches in my texts, philosophical implications, even very experimental ways of writing. The fantasy world is used as an elaborated background to make people of this world think. You will also see that approach e.g. in the story I'm going to post soon. However, that's just my approach on it, and not all fantasy works aspire such high goals and are more entertainment than anything else.
« Last Edit: 26 October 2011, 15:22:21 by Artimidor Federkiel » Logged

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Athviaro Shyu-eck-Silfayr
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« Reply #4 on: 26 October 2011, 06:20:37 »

Naturally I'm fervent. I'm always fervent.

In order then:

Ta'lia, I wrote it for a competition at school, and I chose this topic because a) I believe it quite strongly and b) It just might annoy my English teacher a little bit. He's one of the ones who doesn't regard fantasy as serious.

Rayne, I think you misunderstand. A lot of those tales are fantasy, but I would not classify myth - Christian or otherwise - as fantasy. As to the tone, I am strong. I might cut the bit about the Klan because on reflection, that does come across badly. As to the other parts, I would disagree. Have you ever read Milton's Areopagitica? He accuses those who support book licensing of first homicide, then massacre and finally something akin to deicide.

Arti, I agree with you almost completely. The problem is that the perception is all black/white etc. when the reality is rarely that. I would only say that an essay supporting a position does not need to be balanced.

Lastly, I think we have it very much right here in Santharia. Fantasy allows our creativity free rein.

« Last Edit: 26 October 2011, 06:29:53 by Athviaro Shyu-eck-Silfayr » Logged

"I don't care what you did as a boy."
"Well, I did nothing as a girl, so there goes my childhood." - Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, The Gay Divorcee, 1934.
The Life and Works of Athviaro Shyu-eck-Silfayr
Kalta'hnk - My ramblings on anything to do with the Glandorians - The Glandorian Men (Proposal)
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