Fantasy is not a dirty word...
As a writer, I'm drawn to writing fantasy. More specifically, I'm drawn to writing urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is fantasy that takes place in an environment familiar to the reader, a place on Earth which is inhabited by humans doing the normal, everyday stuff that we human's get up to. Intertwined with this realistic settings are fantastical elements; portals to other worlds or fantastical creatures.
The novel I wrote for my masters thesis was based on Icelandic folkloric elves (which are more like Tolkien's elves, that Noddy and Big Ears - in fact, they're nothing like Noddy and Big Ears). Icelandic elves look human - they don't have pointy ears. Icelandic elves live parallel lives to humans in homes that are very human like on the inside - furniture, bric-a-brac, etcetera. Icelandic elves can be as rich or as poor as humans. The main difference is that they live inside stones, mountains and hillocks - or they camouflage their homes as such anyway, and they have the ability to disappear and materialise at will. The vast majority of Icelanders will not say the elves don't exist, even if they won't claim they do exist either.
When I proposed writing about the elves, even though they were based in folklore, I sensed a distinct shift in my potential supervisors enthusiasm for my proposal. They were happy for me to write a story about a girl struggling with a sense of identity and belonging, but when they heard she would encounter Icelandic elves in the Australian outback, they baulked.
Nevertheless, they did accept my proposal based on my thesis about introducing Icelandic literary traditions to an Australian context for first and second generation Icelanders. It was a struggle for me though because I sensed that fantasy was not as worthy as other forms of writing.
Last weekend I went to Deakin University for its Open Day to gather some more information about the Doctorate I'm going to apply for (by the end of September!), and it happened again. I said to the advisor, "I'm interested in researching the progression of Icelandic literary traditions in immigrants to Australia, particularly folkloric traditions" She smiled and nodded enthusiastically, so I continued, "I want to write a novel about Icelandic elves-" and then I saw her recoil. I mean, she literally jerked backwards as if I'd just declared an alliance with Satan!
I quickly pressed on with my description, emphasising Icelandic folkloric traditions, and using the word literature several more times than any single sentence can reasonably withstand.
Again, yesterday I read another writer's blog where they were reassuring themselves that at least their writing was about real life and not just another fantasy clone. I know these words were probably referring to the myriad of cheap and nasty fantasy books that flood the market every year, but still stings. Not all fantasy is clone, well, no more than any other writing genre or tradition, anyway - including biographical writing. As I once heard another writer say, "You can't be original, there really are only so many stories, but you will always be unique, because only YOU can write your story your way".
There is a stigma against fantasy fiction and it is hard to comprehend when fantasy is just another form of fiction, like every form of fiction - a story, a fiction. A lot of it is very well written with wonderful explorations into the complexities of relationships (which, let's face it, is what all good writing is about). Fantasy writers use craftsmanship in sculpting words to form intriguing, wondrous, and complex images. Fantasy fiction is amongst the most widely read genre in the world.
This week I'm grateful:
- to my mum for introducing me to fantasy through J.R.R Tolkien and Hans Christian Anderson.
- to my mum (again) for introducing me to Icelandic folklore, and appreciation for the ambiguity of fantasy, it's ability to suspend disbelief while reflecting the world and all it's experiences and relationships.
- to my husband who is able to talk me back from the edge when I feel as if no one in the entire world respects what I want to write (yes, perhaps I should write drama, I do have a flair for the dramatic).
- for this blog entry at Bothersome Words Editing and Writing Services that suggests perhaps views are finally beginning to change in regard to fantasy fiction.
- and most especially to the Tuesday Book Club on the ABC for running an episode a few weeks ago dedicated to fantasy where Jennifer Byrne spoke with Jennifer Rowe, Fiona McIntosh, Lev Grossman and Matthew Reilly about fantasy and the unfounded stigma it receives. This episode (which you can read the transcript of here) reminded me that well written fantasy is an art, and has a very important role to play in the education and entertainment of readers!