On fantasy. . .

Inevitably, when someone discovers that I read fantasy, science fiction, or anything that falls under the umbrella of the all-encompassing speculative fiction genre for pleasure, they look at me uncertainly, brow furrowed in confusion and disbelief.

You see, I'm no dork or geek. Supposedly, at least that's what I've been told for years, that kind of crap only appeals to that sort of people. Guys like me are not supposed to read, let alone enjoy, fantasy books. I'm considered a cool and intelligent fellow, and that should, according to many, preclude me from liking such drivel. For some unfathomable reason, I always have to "defend" myself when some begin to question how such a rational and cynical Law Grad can waste his time reading that shit. How can this outspoken, politically incorrect guy who's so into international politics, who rants against Leftists and socialism, can even deign to open such novels?

For the simple good reason that I love it. SFF has been blowing my mind for over two decades, and I have no plans to quit reading such works any time soon!:-) Yes, it's escapism for me, and fuck M. John Harrison for thinking that there's something wrong about that!

As I mentioned, I'm constantly trying to find ways to explain how great fantasy can be. Alas, I'm afraid I haven't convinced a great many haters over the years. . . Be that as it may, I'm currently reading GRRM's excellent Dreamsongs, and there's a quote from the author which I need to share with you guys. It was taken from Pati Perret's The Faces of Fantasy:

The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real ... for a moment at least ... that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I'd sooner go to middle Earth.

More eloquently than I could ever hope to do it, George R. R. Martin was able, in a few sentences, to capture the essence of what fantasy means to many of us.

27 commentaires:

Larry said...

Not surprisingly (I suppose :P), I disagree with some of what you say, Pat. Maybe it's because I'm one of those darn pesky Leftist Dem. Socialists ;)

Fantasy doesn't have to equal "escape." I think it also can (and some of the best ones in certain forms of it do) engage the world on its terms and not necessarily those of others/the world. I know I read it to discover more about this often wonderful world around me, as the ways we come up with symbols for our quests to manipulate our environment is so fascinating!

Just thought I'd put in a friendly disagreement here. And about MJH, I'm going to guess you aren't going to offer him a complimentary reach-around, are you? :P

Maria A said...

That beautiful passage struck me also in my reading of Dreamsongs. I often find the meaning of 'fantasy' difficult to define--how to desribe the genre without equating it to its stereotypes?--and I think GRRM comes very close here to the the truth and essence of what draws many of us to the fantastical.

Anonymous said...

What will they think when they find out you write fantasy also? :)

Stranger said...

I'm with larry on this. I think Fantasy is fascinating and great because it's not a rupture from reality. Everything that I love reading in SF/F is in germs in the real - concretely, metaphoricaly, symbolically... whichever. The duality of the gritty and the wonderful, the common and the extraordinary is a constent dialogue, a constant reciprocal definition, not an opposition. Transposing things in another world, a secondary world or the future, or whichever helps us see the wonderous - or the horrendous - more easy. But it was always there. Right here. With us.

That said... you shouldn't be ashamed to be a geek :p

Anonymous said...

Perhaps I'm speaking with undue emotion because I feel a little stung here. But you seem to imply that the people who enjoy reading your blog — and those you presumably hope to buy your fantasy novels — are "geeks" and "dorks."

I do jokingly refer to myself as a geek and dork, but I guess I didn't expect to be called one (in a negative fashion) by the author of this blog.

Gabriele C. said...

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I'd sooner go to middle Earth.

Absolutely.

Maybe Shadwofax has sired a few sons in the meantime. I so want a Rohirrim horse. :)

Anonymous said...

Well, that hit the target quite well for me. Fantasy doesn't necessarily equal escapism for me, but I find that is what I like best about it...then again, I'm a big daydreamer, and to give focus to that dream is a wonderful feeling, and is probably the root of why I enjoy fantasy so much. I certainly enjoy other forms of literature, am a big history buff, and enjoy politics, but I always come back to fantasy for pure pleasure reading.

I've read that passage before and it always brings goosebumps.

Gabriele C. said...

Anoymous, some historical fiction has the same effect of spending time in more colourful worlds to me. Autors like Dorothy Dunnett, Rosemary Sutcliff, Colleen McCullough's Rome books, some of Bernard Cornwell's work, the promising newcomer David Blixt (Master of Verona), Jack Whyte, German writer Rebecca Gablé - to name just a few - make me lose myself in their books the same way I travel to Middle Earth, Westeros or Katherine Kurtz's alternate Wales and England.

justkim said...

I have my Master's in English, and when people ask me what I read, I usually smile and say, "I only read books with dragons." Usually that stops them in their tracks, but if they ask why, I explain that its for the same reason I don't watch the endless iterations of Law & Order: I already know what the world outside my window looks like. I know that the world often sucks and that I hate my commute. I read fantasy to escape from the world outside and to observe another world through someone else's eyes. Sometimes I can relate the story back to something going on here, but, mostly, I want to read about pretty people having adventures. With dragons.

Jebus said...

I read fantasy 'cause I like it. I think many, if not most, fantasy novels cover the gamut of what you can find in every other kind of novel from romance to political intrigue, from spy to war novel.

Its fun, its an escape, it makes me think and it makes me not think. If people want to label me a geek or dork then that's fine by me. One of my best friends is a dead-set sexy and beautiful woman who also happens to share my love of a great fantasy novel, no one would call her a geek from looking at her but damn it she's proud of the fact that she is!

So should we all be.

Anonymous said...

you would think that someone who rants against Leftists and socialism would enjoy nothing better than reading a terry goodkind novel.

Patrick said...

Larry: Ah, those pesky Leftists!;-)We've talked about this on wotmania.com a while back, and I hear and respect what you say. The problem with MJH is that he claims that reading books for escapism is wrong. I believe that we all read for a variety of reasons, and none of them are better than others. As for that reach-around, it will have to wait a while!:p

Maria: That quote really moved me, especially since it caught me by surprise. I agree with you wholeheartedly!

Anonymous 1: What will they think indeed!?!

Stranger: I agree with you on that duality you alluded to. Those who do that well, authors such as Erikson, Martin, Kay, etc, create living and breathing universes. Also, we all possess an inner geek, and it's good to let it out every once in a while!;-)

Anonymous 2: I'm not calling anyone a geek or a dork. But to the world at large, it does appear that anyone who picks up an SFF title is. Which was the point I was trying to make...

Gabriele and Anonymous 3: You know how I feel!

Justkim and Jebus: As much as I attempt to keep up with the events of the "real" world, I feel the need to get wisked away to another universe, just so I can momentarily forget about my life and what goes on around me.

Anonymous 4: I do not let my political views influence my reading. Case in point, Morgan's Black Man will likely end up number 1 in my top 10 of 2007. If I'd let that happen, I would be no better than Goodkind... Plus, come live in Quebec and you might find that ranting against Leftists and socialism is inevitable! Even Leftists rant after Leftists here!

TK42ONE said...

You mean you aren't a dork? Damn. And here I thought I was just like you.

Anonymous said...

Pat, do you have any links to articles/interviews/etc where MJH talks about reading for escapism being wrong?

I don't doubt it, I just find it shocking that it never occurred to me that there are people who feel this way.

Anonymous said...

MJH once said that at some point it is undignified to continue reading fantasy just for escapism.
Just another stupid quote to add to dozens this douchebag has said over the years. I totally agree with you Pat; fuck him.
I just wish that people would stop giving such importance to the guy.What has he done to deserve it?

Mihai said...

People around me want to look smarter than they are. When they ask me what i read and heard about fantasy they look at me like I'm a child. They think that literature means only Dostoievski, Balzac, Hugo and many other classics. Don't get me wrong, I love to read, I loved since childhood. I read it books from all genres. I liked Dostoievski, but my favourites are fantasy books. They help me to keep alive my childhood dreams, to face the ugly parts of my life easier, to keep smiling and enjoy even the little things. I love fantasy because, indeed, it helps me "escape". I've read somewhere that you can take everything from a man but not his dreams. So, if I will lose everything, I will have a pile of great reaches and a dragon to guard them in my mind.
And when I die, I want to go not only in middle Earth, but I want to travel to Icewind Dale, to Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, to travel with Rand al'Thor and so on...

Zero said...

I would have to agree with a lot of what's being said here, but I think you're all missing another point about why fantasy is so great...

Unlike any other genre, fantasy can give limitless scope to a writer's vision. You're not constrained by how people expect the real world to behave, because you're not writing about the real world. For once, it is entirely up to the author to decide how things are. That, for me, has always been the appeal of fantasy, both as a writer and as a reader.

Tia said...

Nicely put. And I'm glad to find I'm not the only right-winger in this corner of the blogosphere.

Anonymous said...

I like the way that fantasy speaks in universals; it doesn't have to centre itself on a specific person in a specific place that we know and already have formed opinions about, but can speak to the things that speak to us all and apply to everyone. Fantasy is philosophy applied to fiction. You can't get a job reading philosophy either, but nobody says it's not important without dismissing another whole gamut of signficant historical figures and events that have shaped the world we live in today. Fantasy reflects and speaks to our values in a similar way, exploring the what-ifs and could-bes. Morals are never so easily transmitted as through fantasy, and a fantasy setting renders the lessons timeless. In writing it, I find realism reflects what I see outside, but hasn't the power of fantasy to convey what I see inside.

Anonymous said...

And how I hate explaining me... Thank you for sharing these words.

Shane said...

So, wait. You're not a dork?

Time to find me a new blog...

Sea-Bass said...

Yes, yes, I remember that excellent passage of Dreamsongs. It gave me goosebumps and it does it again.

Justkim explains it well and truly, why read about the world if you know how it is already? I rather lose myself in another world, instead of this one which at times can be cruel.

Add to this that Fantasy novels can be plain fun to read, Pratchett anyone? Or Darren Shan for that matter, written for kids of twelve but I can enjoy it still is a seventeen year old.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

I'm neither a geek nor a dork! Funny how many people who read fantasy aren't dorks or geeks ... :D

~Chris

Larry said...

Dear Anonymous (3:58 AM):

It is one thing to express a disagreement with MJH's viewpoints; that is perfectly acceptable. It is another thing, however, to denigrate in such a sweeping fashion without at least pointing out to the audience that not only has MJH's latest book, Nova Swing, won the 2007 Arthur C. Clarke for Best SF Novel, but that MJH has been a major influence on China Miéville among many other authors writing in that nebulous "New Weird" style. So to ask "what has he done" might be more indicative of a person's lack of awareness of MJH's accomplishments or an intentional desire to distort by omission reader perceptions of MJH in order to make your case.

Needless to say, I disagree with your stance.

And Pat, yeah, we've had some interesting discussions about this topic over the past year or so. But still, Christmas season is approaching...a reach-around is the least you could do for him...besides reading/reviewing Nova Swing, award winner that it is ;)

Mark Newton said...

I think, regarding MJH, I have to agree with larry. And also to add that, like him or not, you need people like MJH, you need a wide range of sometimes controversial viewpoints -- because it's what keeps the genre rolling on, changing, reaching new territories, inspiring (i.e. China Miéville, Neil Gaiman), keeps people debating. People become passionate then. The amount of times MJH has said something, and caused backlash and debate, is quite amusing. You would almost think he did it on purpose. He's always been controversial, even in his reviews back in the Seventies.

But I will say to anyone: read fantasy for whatever reasons you want to; at least you're reading fantasy. We live in an age where there are so many people not reading anything...

Ian said...

Not read any but "who rants against Leftists and socialism" would seem to imply less than incoherent? I'd say I'm a lefty but consider the world borders more on dystopia than being wonderful! A question, why shouldn't a side affect of reading for escapism be that you are made aware of divergent perspectives? They can shine light on the world and sometimes yourself? Currently reading recluce series by Modesitt which I believe does both, but I get to escape from the "real" world. By the way where can your rants be viewed? TTFN Ian

Patrick said...

Ian: My political rants cannot be viewed anywhere, I'm afraid. But you can hear them whenever I talk politics with anyone!;-)

Though I've been invited to participate in a new project involving politics (provincial, federal, and international), so this could be interesting...