I was bemoaning the fact I was finding it difficult to get my fantasy novel published, when someone said ‘Well, why don’t you write a proper book instead?’ This got me rather angry……
Good thing no-one ever said that to Shakespeare, or Lewis Carroll, or Kenneth Grahame. Then we’d no longer have Midsummer Night’s Dream, or Alice in Wonderland or Wind in the Willows. I know people say they are allegory – perhaps they are, but at their heart they are glorious, wonderful fantasy.
The best-seller shelves are full of Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling – all fantasy authors.
So why do people think they’re not ‘proper’ books? Well, mostly because what happens in them could never happen in real life. They’re not ‘true’. They’re an escape from real life, not a reflection of them.
Fair enough. But if I wanted real life, I’d look out of the window. What fantasy does is push back the accepted boundaries. It shows us not only worlds, but lives, and actions and possibilities we couldn’t even imagine in our day-to-day life. J.R. Tolkien writes of a woman who wants to fight, who can fight (Eowyn) at a time when women were kept as far away from the mess and dirt of war as possible. C.S. Lewis creates a wonderful world – and destroys it again. Terry Pratchett holds up a mirror to the way our world works, and makes us see the absurdity of it. Lemony Snicket deals with death and darkness, and loss, at a time when we want our children protected from this.
Philip Pullman made a remark that at a time when adult novels are about looking good, flirting, shopping, sex, it’s the children’s books that deal with pain, loss, war, death and love. And fantasy, no matter what it’s about, is always shelved in the children’s section. In the middle of our wars and lying politicians and scandals and mistrust, who is dealing with these issues? The fantasy authors – J. K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Garth Nix. Adult novels? Shopping and losing weight.
And in the end – what’s wrong with escaping from the real world? To be honest, it’s boring. I’d rather read about vampires and werewolves, golden compasses and cunning children, strong women and the men who love them, swordfights and passion and dragons and fear and fairies and trolls. It’s just so much more interesting than who’s sleeping with whom, and the is so and so gay, and the internal conflicts of a bunch of heavily self-obsessed dullards.
Charlotte Bronte, my favourite author, recently had some of her juvenelia printed. Imagine my joy – they’re fantasy. A fantasy world of Angria and Glasstown, with 4 Supreme Beings, with spells, and spirit beings and secret passages and islands. And they’re good! (They could even be fanfic, as they have the Duke of Wellington as a character). And today – I bet she’d have written a few more fantasy novels, and be on my bookshelves alongside Garth Nix, Jonathan Stroud, Eoin Colfer, Tamora Pierce,Tanith Lee and all the others.
I enjoy other stories. A good crime novel – even just a good novel, is always a good read. Period novels, modern novels, Booker Prize nominees – I all enjoy them. But fantasy shoudn’t be shoved aside as ‘just silly made-up scribblings for kids’. Some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read was in a fantasy novel – and so were the best characters. So, if you really want to, you go ahead and write fantasy, and ignore those people saying ‘Why don’t you write a proper book instead? You know, one with real people?’ When it comes down to it, I’d rather read about Eowyn, Hermione and Sabriel than Bridget Jones.