Monday, February 19, 2007

Does Fantasy Have Credibility?

Crunchy Carpets wrote a post a couple of days ago about author Guy Gavriel Kay and said he talked about the fact fantasy writers don't have as much credibility as writers of other genres. I wonder why? I love fantasy, I always have. I've been an avid fan since childhood and if I could be a successful writer of any genre I'd pick fantasy. But there is that little part of me that not only wants to be a successful writer, but a critically acclaimed one as well. Can this be done as a fantasy author? Harry Potter has been a commercial success if not a critical one. I can understand that. Crunchy mentioned in the past how many elements of the story seemed to be blatantly taken from other books. I've read critical reviews that dislike the use of clich├ęs in the books and feel the story isn't original. I get all that. But there have been critically acclaimed fantasy authors. I rarely hear a negative word spoken about Neil Gaiman or China Mieville though they aren't always my taste. I think ultimately if a book is entertaining and well written that should in itself lend credibility to the author. But apparently there is a bit of literary snobbery out there. I wonder what genre is considered to have literary merit? I think I can say with some certainty that romances are not given much standing despite their popularity. And does success somehow mean that the literary elite will now look down upon a book as if somehow monetary achievement has tainted it? I certainly hope not, though I wouldn't be surprised if this is the case. And if so, as an aspiring writer there is something a little disheartening about that. I would like to think I could write something entertaining that could have both critical and commercial success; though if I had to choose between the two... Well, I do have bills to pay. But I have also heard that once an author is pigeonholed into a genre it's really tough to break out. Doesn't it figure? You do what you have to do to get published by writing something commercial and then the publisher won't let you broaden your horizon's? What's an aspiring author to do? I know I know.. write what you love; and that's what I plan on doing. But will I be viewed as something less if I write fantasy? I hope not.


ShadowFalcon said...

Interesting point, I think you may be right - look at Tolkien - he wrote fantasy and though he recieved some acclaim people don't put him in the same league as say Thomas Hardy...(even though I think he's better, buts thats my humble opinion)

deslily said...

aside from the few break throughs due to movies it does seem Fantasy writers don't get a lot of recognition.. just like the few movies made don't get the awards other movies get..yet generally they make more money for the studios.

Maybe it will get better though now that the studios have latched on to making more fantasy movies.. maybe a good trend for fantasy writers will come from it.. I sure hope it opens some doors for fantasy writers to find agents and publishers..

Stewart Sternberg said...

It's not about fantasy, it's about the quality of writing, the ability to tap into the psyche of the reader, the overmind.

Let's look at some fantasy writers and see if they were taken seriously, shall we? Lewis Carroll (Alice In Wonderland), Jonathan Swift (Gulliver's Travels), William Shakespeare (Midsummer's Night's Dream, The Tempest), Dante Alghieri (The Inferno), Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), Nathaniel Hawthorne (Rappaccini's Daughter, The Marble Faun, Young Goodman Brown), Ambrose Bierce (An Occurrence At Owl Creek). Or let's look at something more contemporary: John Steinbeck (The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights), Shirley Jackson (The Haunting of Hill House), Banard Malamud ("God's Grace).

crunchycarpets said...

And we do have to admit there is a lot of crappola sci fi and fantasy writing out there that inexplicably GETS published.
Is it on purpose? Is there a conspiracy?

Kay's early work wasn't well recieved...a lot of people found the finovar tapestries weak.
It wasn't till he tapped into the whole 'alterna' history thing that it seemed to really speak to people...the idea of history and art and magic mixed together.

S.M.D. said...

I think Fantasy gets a bad rap (and scifi too) because it is seen as 'escapist' by normal fiction readers. Personally, I can't stand normal fiction. Normal live bores me to tears and I could really care less what Joe Smith does from day to day. I want to know what Nix Gathrin of Beta Prime is doing about the sudden attack by the alien Zarthulans and the collapse of Beta Primes government in the process. I live every day life. I don't want to read about it.
I think Fantasy over the last few years has grown significantly stronger, what with Harry Potter and the like. Some of the problem I think with the credibility of this genre is in the fans of the genre (and not just in writing). We have Star Wars conventions, Star Trek conventions, Tolkien conventions, etc. People dress up at Darth Vader, Gandalf, and other characters. They reenact scenes and further the stereotypes of scifi/fantasy geeks everywhere. With the genre receiving that sort of press, it is really hard for it to gain critical acclaim. You don't see people dressing up as Hemmingway and going to Mark Twain conventions now do you? There just isn't that sort of devotion in normal fiction. The big fiction novel today, likely won't get much press in the years to come. But the big fantasy novel, if it really is big, will be remembered because fans will devour it, idolized it, etc.

But, that's all my opinion...I think people are just stupid and don't quite understand how awesome fantasy really is.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Fantasy writers are looked down on in the same way fantasy films are. LOTR: ROTK was the first fantasy film to win Best Film Oscar.

Lee said...

How's about L. Ron Hubbard? SOME people give him WAY too much creditability!

Lee said...

Creditability? Did I just make up a new word?

I am Stephen Colbert.

Avery said...

I wish I had something deeply insightful to say about this issue but I really don't care. The literary set can sniff and sneer and exclude me from their reindeer games because I write what I write. They're welcome to scoff at the fact yet another uneducated dolt made money off the gullible populace if I succeed, and they're free to do self-righteous, vindicated cartwheels if my book crashes and burns. It doesn't matter what they think, because I'm not doing this for them.

SQT said...

Shadowfalcon-- Having such a good interpretation of LOTR finally make it into theatres has helped give Tolkien a lot more repect; but it's been a long time coming.

Deslily-- I think that the popularity of LOTR and Harry Potter will continue to open doors until fantasy is seen as pretty mainstream.

Crunchy-- I read stuff all the time and wonder how on earth it ever got in print. I think the stuff that's currently en vogue, like occult fiction, is especially vulnerable to all kinds of way-below-par writing since publishers are just looking for somthing that sells.

S.M.D-- I think you make an amazing point about conventions. That has to play a role in seeing sci-fi and fantasy as something of a joke. There must be this lingering impression that all fans of fantasy dress up in capes and pretend they're sorcerers when no one's looking.

Jean-luc-- It was a long time coming wasn't it?

Lee-- You are Stephen Colbert!

Avery--Good for you. I want to make a living above and beyond all else, but I wouldn't mind having respect too. Though respect among my peers would be more than enough.

Kate S said...

Screw 'em. :)

SQT said...


I forgot to include you, whoops!

You're are right about an author needing to have the ability to touch the reader beyond a superficial level. But I have read lots of fantasy authors that I think are a heck of a lot better than many of the 'acclaimed' writers we all hear about.

Was Lewis Caroll taken seriously btw? I've always heard it was just a big drug induced fantasy.

To me fantasy alwasys seems to get short shrift compared to contemporary fiction-- which is pretty mundane and depressing to me. I could never join Oprah's book club, I'd end up suicidal.

Kate--That's the spirit!

Stewart Sternberg said...

I would kiss Oprah's feet if it meant getting a book deal. As for Alice In Wonderland being a drug induced trip? No, that illusion came during the sixties when people from the drug culture decided to grab hold of the mushroom and hooka references, not to mention Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit. Lewis Carrol, aka Charles Dodgeson, was actually well respect member of his community with one finger in local politics of both government and religion. In fact, Alice In Wonderland has numerous satirical elements to it aimed at Dodgeson's society.

SQT said...

Well you learn something new everyday.

We've always had copies of the original Alice in Wonderland lying around, but it never appealed to me for some reason so I never paid much attention to the story or Caroll. So when I heard these stories about Caroll and drug use I never really thought too much about it or looked into it. I don't claim to be an expert on the classics at all. I tend to be frivolous when it comes to my reading.

crunchycarpets said...

I grew up reading all the classic fairy tales (Grimms, etc) and things like Alice in Wonderland.....

I have always liked something with a bit of a dark edge...fantasy or sci fi....a bit of that dark side of humanity.....not all glittering heroes and heroines.

I guess I like a message in my stories....

What I hate about the attitudes towards fantasy and sci fi is that you ain't never going to find it on a book club list.

I never join book clubs.

SQT said...

I loved Grimm's fairy tales, still do.

Alex said...

Speaking of Neil Gaiman, why are the absolute worst fantasy authors the only ones who get any recognition from the big brains above? Some of my students write better than Gaiman, yet everyone seems to love him! Blech!

As for fantasy being an 'acceptable' form of fiction, it seems the British isles are much more disposed to it than North America. I think it's all this reborn puritanism in the U.S. that makes anything with an elf in it automatically the work of satan.

Alex said...

Oh, and Galactica was totally pointless tonight.


Alex said...

"Lewis Carrol, aka Charles Dodgeson, was actually well respect member of his community"

You mean aside from the suspicion that he was a pedophile, right?

crunchycarpets said...

I wondered when someone was going to mention that alex.

I haven't read Gaiman novels..but LOVED The Sandman series....I thought it was beautiful.

I think that is why he gets a lot of worship....that and his nerd look.

And you have guys like William Gibson who turns out pretty good novels yet after the hype of 'cyberpunk' never saw him again.

You know, there is a lot of really good Canadian sci fi and fantasy writers....interesting.

SQT said...

I tried to read Gaiman and it didn't click with me. For some reason I seldom like what the critics adore. I don't know if that's good or bad. I don't claim to be highbrow in my taste at all. Books are entertainment for me so I don't worry about it being deep or educational.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Alex, I have to ask your source. I don't believe there is any creditable proof to the charge of Dodgeson being a pedaphile.

Alex said...

SQT: Asimov and Bradbury didn't get much love from the critics when they were starting out. I don't give the knowitalls much credit, either.

Stewie: I only claimed "suspicion," but the photography and drawings of nude adolescent girls leads one fairly quickly to a conclusion we don't want to make. I always saw Carroll as the puer aeternus ("Peter Pan Syndrome" to the proles), outcast Victorian bachellor, archetype, which is exactly what this gent said in a lecture at Pacifica (which is where a buddy of mine is finishing up a PhD in Mythology, to create an eerie two degrees of separation scenario).

Anyway, here's the url, in case the webmistress has links turned off in comments:

Stewart Sternberg said...

I consider myself a serious historian. It's my academic background as well as my second love behind the language arts.

Having read much of what has been written about Dodgeson, there remains an enormous question as to his behaviors outside the public eye. I keep hearing or reading references to nude art of Alice, but have never read an eyewitness testimony by a credible source. Besides the writing of Alice In Wonderland, here is what we know as fact:

1) Dodgeson did photograph the children on occasion.

2) The Lidells did pull away from Dodgeson.

3) Upon Dodgeson's death, his surviving relatives ripped out several pages from the man's diary.

Speculation is that the Lidells pulled away from Dodgeson when it was revealed that Dodgeson was having an affair with Alice's mother. This was alluded to in an interview with Alice's sister.
If this is the case, it is reasonable to assume that Dodgeson wrote about the affair. The family destroyed such references to preserve family honor.

I believe the Lewis Carroll as pedophile rumor began with attempts by Freudians to try and look into Carroll's psyche.

I read the source page above, and could offer several equally literate and documented source pages confirming the information I have just offered.

I don't know why this has bothered me as much as it has except that I love Dodgeson (alice in wonderland) and Berry (Peter Pan) as well as Dickens, and resist what I feel is an attempt to belittle the work by belittling the man.

Alex said...

I think we agree in theory, but are coming at this in opposite directions, Stew. Then again, we seem to have similar academic interests.

When I was working on my first degree, I learned that it's often helpful to step back from the 20th C. convention of treating author and story as inseparable. Plato's Republic has been linked with modern fascism (by other people than that Popper joker, btw). However, this shouldn't put one off from Plato. The guy still had some great things to say.

Likewise, to use a more modern example, people rant and rant about what an arrogant prick Harlan Ellison is, but I still love his work. I'm sure if Hitler, Hillary Clinton, or Jesse Jackson wrote anything brilliant, I would read it, despite the unsavory character of the author.

On the flip side, there are people like J.K. Rowling who donate a large portion of their proceeds to charity, and are likely great individuals, but their writing is worthless and cliched. I'd rather read a talented devil than an inurbane saint.

But, back to the point: you've admitted that you have lost objectivity in your love of the author. I have seen examples of some of the less illegal-to-distribute photographs Carroll took, and I would bet you could find them on the internet. If you examine them with open eyes, I think you'd notice they are of questionable morality at best.

Maybe that would ruin your love of the land beyond the looking glass, but that's the sacrifice any true historian would be willing to make. I know I'm getting sick of Epicurus, and I agree with his actions wholeheartedly. Imagine doing a few years of research on someone of whose actions you don't approve!

Then again, I think a lot of the laws regarding sexuality in North America are a bit extreme. Non-violent persons who have sex with a fully developed 16 year old, who gives his or her consent, should not get a harsher treatment than someone who has assaulted multiple persons within a short amount of time. Hell, you get a stiffer sentence for drunk driving (an action that could lead to someone accidentally getting hurt) than you do for premeditated assault (an action that does lead to someone intentionally getting hurt)!

But that's a rant of a different color, I suppose.