Category: fantasy literature
Martin: I wanted to talk to you especially about writing Earthsea. My first question is what drew you back to that world, years after writing Tehanu, which you called at the time the “last” book of Earthsea?
Le Guin: Well, when I finished Tehanu, I really thought I’d probably come to the end of the story. And I had in many ways. I got them together and so on. But, I did leave a big unanswered question at the end of the book: who is the child Tehanu, who or what is she? The dragon [Kalessin] has called her “daughter.” What does that mean? So there were a lot of questions hanging. At the time I thought, well, that’s alright, you don’t have to answer all the questions at the end of a book.
But as time went on through the ’90s, I kept thinking about Earthsea, and I found myself going back in its history to find out some questions that puzzled me about the way things are in that place.
And I began getting answers. In other words, I began getting stories.
[Click on the photo above to read the rest of the 2001 interview with Ursula K. Le Guin.]
Fantasy is a way to introduce a type of creative questioning, a way to shake up, or sneak by, conventional perception. C.S. Lewis noted that “the Fairy Tale seemed the ideal Form for the stuff I had to say.” By writing fantasy stories, he suspected that he “could steal past certain inhibitions . . .”
How useful are genre labels? Book categories? Age-range banding of books for children or adults? “Affixing ‘labels’ to writers, living or dead, is an inept procedure . . . a childish amusement of small minds.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
With sweets, it’s best to avoid the addictive, fat-producing, highly processed substance in your diet. The same is true for literary works. Why get sucked into the intellectual tooth-decay of adapted movies when you can read the stuff that’s really good? – the original work.
Where did The Hobbit come from? “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” According the now well-known story: “. . . grading papers . . . he came across a page which had been left blank. . . . an inveterate doodler . . . on that blank page, Tolkien wrote the sentence, ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’” But significantly, Tolkien was also very familiar with a 1927 book titled The Marvelous Land of the Snergs, about a race of small human-like beings, “only slightly taller than the average table.”
A recent study on children’s reading habits noted the dominance of fantasy: “capturing 56 percent of the market share.” Other categories didn’t come close, scoring under 10% each. But what I found unfortunate (if predictable) was social-media commentary that there was a “strong correlation to children’s reading preferences for fantasy and magic . . . as a means of escape from the news headlines of today.” But there’s far more to fantasy if you look deeper. To quote Lloyd Alexander: “Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It is a way to understand it.”
In Lev Grossman’s delightful, if slightly disturbing, 2009 book, The Magicians, the author draws high fantasy’s sword from the stone one more time, but sharpens and hardens the edge to slice and dice a re-imagining of a fantasy world that is tougher, more mature, and more realistic than the high-school world of Harry Potter or that of Narnia’s more innocent children.
Here’s a link to a good review of A Guide to Fantasy Literature: Thoughts on Stories of Wonder and Enchantment that appeared in the online journal, January Magazine.
I have great respect for much of what J.K. Rowling has done: succeeding as a first-time published author; weaving a complex plot; selling gazillions of books; getting kids…
“There and Back Again” . . . In fantasy literature, the story often involves a journey from place familiar to place unknown. Leaving your small cottage, you enter…
My favorite description of what makes a classic comes from magical realist Italo Calvino: “A classic is a work which has not yet finished telling its story.” My…
The Inklings, of course, is the name for the now-famous group of writers and thinkers hosted by C.S. Lewis in his rooms at Magdalen College at Oxford –…
Harry Potter is coming back to the silver screen, on July 15, 2009, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the sixth of seven movies, based on the series by J.K. Rowling. In general, I’m a fan of Rowling’s books. But I do have some some doubts how well the Harry Potter series will fare as the years go by.
Here’s an insightful comment from author James Morrow, from a 2000 interview by Nick Gevers posted on The SF Site, talking about the literary qualities of speculative fiction….
Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten. — G. K. Chesterton…