f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Gaiman and Clarke: Fantasy Interview

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

Monday, October 10, 2005

Gaiman and Clarke: Fantasy Interview

Neil Gaiman and Susanna Clarke (of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell fame) were interviewed together by Salon.com. Worth a read.

Here's a bit:

What about all the association with all those Tolkien imitators?

N.G.: That's so recent. One of the things I tried to do in "Stardust," and Susanna did do in "Strange & Norrell," is write a book for which there's an absolutely solid tradition in English literature, but it predates the idea that there was a part of the bookstore marked "Fantasy." When Tolkien published "The Lord of the Rings," those were books, published as books. There weren't "Fantasy" shelves because there was no genre.

S.C.: The fantasy we're both writing is drawing not just on the things that came after Tolkien, but on the whole of these things that came before. We're most interested in the things that came before the genre -- that's really it.

N.G.: Once people realized there was a genre, they started "doing" other people, doing Tolkien. They became faint photocopies. You get these great big books which are set in a medieval kingdom that is basically somebody's impression of what they liked about Tolkien, combined with what they enjoyed about playing Dungeons and Dragons as a high schooler. That's not what we're doing.

Still, you wind up being lumped with it because of the genre label.

N.G.: I don't know that there's any way around that besides market forces. I read a review yesterday in Bust magazine, which I'd picked up in a supermarket. I used to quite like it, but it looked like it had been bought by somebody and completely overhauled. They had some reviews in the back, and I said, "Oh look, here's a review of Kelly Link's new book. I wonder what they say." And what they said was that the book was really horrible because it was filled with things that were made up, zombies and things and a handbag with a world in it, and how could this possible relate to anybody's life? It was basically a review written by someone who could cope with neither similes nor metaphors.

Are either of us fantasy writers? I don't think so; we're both writers. But we make things up, and I like the privilege of being allowed to make anything up.

S.C.: It's about imagination. Jay McInerney did this interesting response in the Guardian newspaper to V.S. Naipaul saying that fiction is dead. It was quite good as far as it went. But there's this assumption in what he said that what you're writing about is the world now and that the important thing is to examine the world now. I kind of think, Why? Shakespeare didn't think it was important to write contemporary Elizabethan plays. Dickens tended to write about the society 50 or 20 years earlier. It seems to me that what writers are supposed to do is use their imaginations. Imagination is one of the most important things we have.