f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 5 of Genre – Fantasy

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Monday, August 02, 2004

Day 5 of Genre – Fantasy

In a lot of ways, fantasy and science fiction often get lumped together. I’m not necessarily sure why this is case, but I’m guessing there’s two reasons behind it. First, I suspect that there is either the assumption or the fact that a good deal of fans of one are also fans of the other. Or could become fans of the other. The second reason fuels the first—these are the stories that stray from some aspect of reality as we know it. This “fantastic” element is the escape offered to readers who either are sick of their real world or certain that there’s something going on behind the curtain.

In fantasy, this most often reveals itself in the creation of an “other” world. Narnia from you know who. Middle Earth from you know who, too. Hogwarts from you know who, three. Wonderland from Carroll. Summerland from Chabon. The “other” earth of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials sequence. There’s plenty of others.

What’s strange, and I didn’t do this on purpose, is that I’ve listed books off the top of my head that are usually considered “children’s literature.” Adults love these books, too, but it points to an obvious prejudice against the realm of the fantastic. It is “childish” to not want to face reality. To need talking animals and lands of endless baseball. We’ve followed Paul and put away childish things to stare the cold hard facts of life in the face.

Ask any great fan of fantasy, however, and they’ll tell you that typically what they love about such books isn’t just the possibility of escape, but what such escape tells them about their own reality. Vast amounts of wisdom are mined all the time from Narnia and Middle Earth. Philip Pullman does his best to counteract any such wisdom with his series for non-believers.

Fantasy gets tied up with symbolism and allegory which makes it very attractive for Christian writers who want to be the next Lewis and/or Tolkien. I’ve seen a LOT of bad ideas/writing down this path though and just want to warn people that STORY and CHARACTERS need to come first. Karen Hancock’s Arena is getting lots of praise for fantasy. Stephen Lawhead writes in the genre, too. Otherwise it’s a genre that is both quiet and loud. Loud because the fans who love the genre and the writers who write are pretty vocal, especially on-line. It’s quiet though because there just doesn’t seem to be a critical or sustainable mass of them that CBA publishers have figured out how to reach.

My own interest in the fantastic is somewhat limited. I’ve done most of the major children’s authors and have now taken up Neil Gaiman, but it’s much more dabbling than any full devotion. I tend to like stories that twist reality rather than try to fully create new worlds. Gaiman’s Neverwhere is brilliant at this. For me, Middle Earth grew wearying, what with all the elf poetry going on.

I’m in the midst of listening to Narnia unabridged on tape. They’ve been rerecorded with wonderful British actors doing the voice work. Kenneth Branaugh, Lynn Redgrave, Michael York, and Jeremy Northam are among the readers. This is my third time through, I think, and I know this his bordering on heresy, but some of the stories just aren’t doing it for me anymore. Prince Caspian and The Horse and His Boy in particular just seem so-so. (Looks up for lightning.) Not that my opinion means much. Just thought I’d share.