Looking back at the Big Fantasy Throwdown of ’07, I decided that I don’t want to go down in history as *quite* the asshole I was there. I wrote the post in a deliberately bitchy way, just kind of slagging for the fun of it, but my actual views on fantasy and literature are, believe it or not, a bit more nuanced. So here’s what I wrote in the comments section of that post in response to the critical comments. (It is admittedly sort of a wimp-out compared to this.)
Oh and Re: “Neal Fucking Gaiman,” I don’t really hate him, OK? So you fangirls can calm down. That was a joke about how I get sick of hearing people fawn over him all the time. I do hate Terry Pratchett, though.
On Genre fiction vs. “Literature”: What I’m really talking about here is the difference between books that satisfy you in a fairly predictable way and books that make you feel uncomfortable and force you to reevaluate your ideas about art and life.
I DO NOT BELIEVE THE LATTER ARE “BETTER” THAN THE FORMER!
A good genre title is a truly sublime reading experience. It’s like a 1930s Hollywood romantic comedy — elegant, creative, and a perfect expression of the form.
That said, to continue the movie metaphor, Howard Hawks isn’t Godard. Not that Godard is more significant, necessarily, but his movies are actually difficult to watch. They don’t provide neat little doses of tension and release the way a good Hawks pic does. If you choose to devote a precious evening after work to *Weekend* or *Alphaville,* you have in fact completed a challenge.
And FYI, speaking of delightful and clever books that deserve to live on even though they are not challenging, can I just mention Georgette Heyer? She’s like Jane Austen with all the angst removed. Try Frederica, Black Sheep, and The Grand Sophy. Great stuff.
Yeah, I picked on this Once Upon a Time reading challenge pretty randomly. I was just feeling bitchy. I know that events like this are meant to be just for fun, etc. But if you have to set a goal in order to complete Inkheart or Goddamn Terry Pratchett, then you’re either slow-witted or working 70 hours a week. They may be delightful, well-written and engaging (well, Inkheart, anyway) but they are not deep books, people.
On the quality of fantasy: I do like some fantasy, you know. I just read the first two books of George R.R. Martin’s big thingy, but I had to stop because his formula of “good person = agonizing suffering” was such a drag. (Frankly I think he does that because he’s trying to appear “serious.”) But I really like attacking fantasy too, because it’s just so dorky. Somehow having a fetish for swords/medieval-tymes/fairies/magic is just dorkier than having a fetish for guns/dames/gross-corpses or for interstellar-travel/time-travel/miscellaneous-science-stuff. I think you guys are stuck with that. It’s just your cross to bear.
But hey, at least you’re not reading romance novels. Romance novel readers are pretty much the bottom of the heap, prestige-wise.
“On Genre fiction vs. “Literature”: What I’m really talking about here is the difference between books that satisfy you in a fairly predictable way and books that make you feel uncomfortable and force you to reevaluate your ideas about art and life.”
So, the definition of literature is that which makes you uncomfortable and gets you to reevaluate your ideas about art and life?
I’m not looking for the difference between genre fiction and literature; I know what it is. I enjoy both. What I’m questioning is WHY those differences have to be there. Why is something that “challenges your ideas about art and life” necessarily “higher” and more “lofty” than something that is “just” a good story and pleases you.
To keep going with your movie analogy here (which I can totally see), why is it that when Martin Scorcsese wins the Oscar everyone says “Oh, yeah, he deserved it” but when Return of the King wins, everyone says “What the — why that?!”
What I’m challenging here is the defacto assumption that genre fiction is — by nature of it’s genreness — something less than “literature”. Because, if it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be making these kind of arguments in the first place.
“Can I just mention Georgette Heyer? She’s like Jane Austen with all the angst removed. Try Frederica, Black Sheep, and The Grand Sophy. Great stuff.”
Okay, I’ll give it a try. I’m always looking for more books to read, anyway.
I agree with you about genreness. Like I said, I think plenty of “light” Hollywood movies are going to be remembered a lot longer than overwrought Best Picture-winners. What I was trying to say was that if you do happen to read a lot of genre fiction or watch light movies or whatever, don’t build it up in your mind into an impressive feat. I’ve read a bunch of Georgette Heyer, but I’m not — to go back to the original post — going to give myself a medal for it. It’s OK if people want to, I guess, I just think it’s dumb.
I shouldn’t have said “If you do happen to read a lot of genre fiction, don’t build it up into an impressive feat.” I don’t want to issue some kind of moralizing edict. I should have said, “if you build it up into an impressive feat, you irritate the living shit out of me.”
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