First, and unrelated: this is a great post about toys, buying, making, all those concerns brought up by recalls lately. I know it’s old, but still good — and I wanted to save it on my blog. Read it.
[This post began as a comment on this post over at Kerflop. However, as is wont to happen, it started to get lengthy and I decided I needed to just move it on over here. And then, as is also wont to happen, it languished in the drafts for a while. (This is why I will never be a news reporter – not so good with the “timely” thing. Also because it is random and doesn’t really hold together.)]
I am a definite PZ4 — a term I first heard here, and I find it positively endearing, so dorky and intellectual and perfect — a fantasy/scifi fan. I read Lord of the Rings (including the appendices) for the first time in fifth or sixth grade, and then scores (possibly hundreds) of times after that. In eighth grade we had to make a newspaper (ah, the basically pre-computer days still, no desktop publishing programs, just cutting and pasting onto big sheets of paper — though I did include a few pixelated graphics/clipart) and mine was the Hobbiton Herald. It was awfully fun to do, too — making up ads for hobbit holes and wagons, lost and found classifieds, articles about arcane pieces of hobbit history (some of it from the appendices of the books, some that I made up myself).
So much in my sense of how-a-story-should-be, especially anything fantasy, was shaped by Lord of the Rings. For example, I can’t stand it when the pace is TOO fast, when the characters never get to eat or rest, ever. I don’t find it exciting, it just exhausts and unnerves me. Chalk it up to all the Tolkien in my formative years. In fact, in my early English literature class in college we read Beowulf in a prose translation. Something about it — not the story, but something — seemed so familiar to me. Eventually I figured out that it was the rhythm, the style of the language — it was just like Lord of the Rings. (Tolkien the tremendous Old English scholar, go figure.) And so when I took an Old English (the language) class my junior year, for the final translation project I was one of only two people in the class to choose to translate something in English into Old English — I picked various poems and riddles from the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. It was sort of almost easy.
(The other person was my friend John – remember John, in Ireland? – and he picked the harder task of translating Dr. Seuss’s book about the Sneetches into Old English. Because he’s cool like that.)
Kerflop talked a little in that entry above about finding Twilight et al more “believable” than most books of its genre, that maybe that was why she liked it. Now, just about all of the fantasy/scifi I read, I would say is “believable,” as far as characters experiencing a story goes. (Some of that is in how well it’s written, I suppose, and of course it varies depending on the book, just as it does in any genre, including “mainstream” or whatever the heck you want to call it. I like to think this means my taste is impeccable, though I suppose it could just mean my standards are low and I am easily drawn into a story. Not so much now though, now that I am a crochety adult.) Of course, the world they inhabit is not always (in fact, usually not) ours — and for most PZ4s that is a major part of the appeal, gradually discovering and finding out about the fantastical world. Maybe for those who aren’t usually “into” fantasy that’s why Harry Potter (and apparently these Twilight books) are more accessible, because they start in the “real” world? Even if later they basically segue into something completely different (the wizarding vs. Muggle world, etc). But maybe they can still refer to familiar reality as well, something that a lot of fantasy (Lord of the Rings for example) can’t. Hmm.
It’s funny actually, so many things, especially TV and movies, are now incorporating scifi or fantastic elements in them, that people are much more familiar with that sort of thing than they used to be. I am (not so?) woefully television-ally ignorant, so I’m hardly one to start making a list, but there’s the overtly fantasy shows (like Heroes) and those that are more subtly so (Pushing Daisies? ok, that’s pretty overt, or so it appeared from the five minutes I saw the other night; but LOST, there’s a good example). “Science fiction” is so often fantasy anyway, the magic is just done by pushing a button instead of by waving a wand. All stories are pretty much fantastic, more or less, I suppose that’s what makes them fiction (and yet we all know those true stories that are really stranger than fiction, that you would never accept in a movie without rolling your eyes, and yet they happen — what does THAT say?).
Finally, two quotes from fantasy writers, and then I must shut down my ridiculously laggy computer:
by Gene Wolfe:
Fantasy is the easiest thing to write, and one of the hardest to write well. It is hard because good fantasy, like good art, demands that we depict what we see.
And not what we “know” to be “true.” I once put a witch and a private detective in the same book, and I have been told ever since that I am not to do that by people who will not see that the private detective and the witch often live in the same block.
The universe is extensive, and time wider than any sea; it is our good fortune, Horatio, to live at a time and in a place vastly richer than most in those things that are not to be found in your philosophy.
My editor says, and says truly, that he has become the man he wanted to be as a child. I, too, have been fortunate. As a child I wanted very badly to have adventures and go to Oz. I have had many and look forward to more; and on the tenth or it may have been the twentieth occasion that I watched Bert Lahr rescue Judy Garland from the pigs (the newspaper I read every day does not even know that pigs are dangerous) I realized that I was born here: Kansas is black-and-white, and that’s not where I live.
Not so long ago I saw a magnificent German shepherd lunge from between two parked cars, held in check by a blonde who could have played first base in the National League. And it struck me that a fantastic adventure could have been filmed on the spot simply by hanging a skull about that woman’s neck and equipping her with a broadsword – but the woman and her dog are everything, while the skull and sword are nothing.
Fantasy is life seen whole, and reading fantasy enables us to do it. (I will not say “only life seen whole,” because life includes all that is and is not.) We have heroes and heroines, castles and curses, seers and sorcerers, angels and alchemists, and invisible airplanes. We have that woman and her dog and a million more wonders, and all that is necessary for fantasy is a visitor from Kansas.
by Patricia C. Wrede:
Technically, all fiction is fantasy. It hasn’t happened in “real life”; it has been invented. But there is a divide between fantastic literature and other, more realistic fiction.
Most fiction is like a pane of glass, a window that we look through to see another view of the world outside ourselves. It is not a tale of real events, but it looks real. Fantastic literature is not merely not-real, it is aggressively not-real. The events in a fantasy novel are not simply things that have not happened; they are things that cannot happen. Dragons and unicorns exist only as metaphors, and the daylight world suffers a serious shortage of magic swords and flying carpets.
Thus, fantasy does something different from realistic mainstream and historical fiction. Fantasy takes the window and coats the outside with the silver of wondrous impossibilities – elves, dragons, wizards, magic. And the window becomes a mirror that reflects both ourselves and all the things in the shadows behind us, the things we have tried to turn our backs on. More: In the best tradition of magic mirrors, fantasy reflects not only ourselves and our shadows, but the truth of our hearts.
I think this is one of the reasons some people fear fantasy.