With the recent release of the first installment of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, and the impending airing of the third season of HBO’s acclaimed Game of Thrones, I feel as if there’s been a renewed interest in the fantasy genre among my social circles as of late. This makes me happy, as I think fantasy sometimes gets a bad wrap among literary minded people.
While studying literature and writing at university, it was a constant source of frustration for me, and some of my peers, that fantasy was only ever begrudgingly touched on, and normally only in very specific discussions about genre or popular fiction. Whether or not any kinds of fantasy stories deserve a place in the ranks of ‘high’ literature is a debate I don’t want to start, nor do I feel I’m qualified to. What I will argue is that fantasy is definitely important.
Fantasy stems from mythology, legend and folklore, all of which gave birth to the the idea of creative storytelling as a whole. The concept of ‘story’ has evolved a lot since its beginnings, but I can’t shake the loyalty I feel to mythology and folklore. Even when I don’t intend to, I find elements of fantasy creeping into my writing. Mythology, particularly that of fantastical creatures, was the first kind of story I fell in love with as a fairy-fascinated child. And what you love as a child often sticks.
I’m in charge of book buying at my work and I’ve recently made sure to have multiple copies of this book, Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy, in stock. It’s a collection of what its editor, Douglas A. Anderson, calls kunstmärchen, a German word meaning ‘literary fairy tales’. These are fairy tales “composed by a single author rather than stories merely recorded from oral traditions.” From The Elves by Ludwig Tiek to The Woman of the Wood by A. Merrit, Tales Before Tolkien collects the stories that sparked the imagination of Tolkien and countless other fantasy writers after him. It’s a great anthology and seems to give more weight to fairy tales and fantasies than the oft-produced collections marketed mainly for children (not that these are less valuable! It’s just nice to see fairy tales being presented from all angles).
It’s been difficult for me, since graduating, to reconcile the seemingly clashing love I have for reading and writing both ‘literary’ and ‘fantasy’ fiction. I’ve been trying for a while to fuse the two together, and have only just managed in the last few months to stick to a novel idea that’s actually gained momentum and may see completion in the near future. Funnily enough, living away from Australia for the last two years has made me appreciate the myth and majesty of my homeland, and I’ve decided to set the story in its native bushland. So we’ll see what comes of it.
I’ve had numerous personal influences in my quest to find, and create, this fusion of fantasy and literature, with one of my favourites being Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series. It’s both wickedly intelligent and a bundle of fun. I had the pleasure of hearing Grossman talk on a panel in 2011, and his love for fantasy, and eagerness to play around with it as much as possible, is evident in person and on paper. I very fervently recommend it.
I’ll continue to chase my unicorn, and will definitely be updating if I have any success. For now, I’ll eagerly anticipate March 31st’s GoTs premiere, and leave you with two interesting observations on the topic of fantasy fiction and mythology from two great men who should know what they’re talking about.
“From the wildness of my heart I cannot exclude the question whether railway-engineers, if they had been brought up on more fantasy, might not have done better with all their abundant means than they commonly do.”
– On Fairy-Stories, J. R. R Tolkien himself. (To me, this quote speaks to the idea of fantasy as a stimulus for creativity in general, be it artistic or technical. Keep in mind it was said during the 1930s).
“[Fantasy and sci-fi readers are] the best audience in the world to write for. They’re open-minded and intelligent. They want to think as well as feel, understand as well as dream. Above all, they want to be led into places that no one has ever visited before. It’s a privilege to tell stories to these readers, and an honor when they applaud the tales you tell.”
– How To Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, Orson Scott Card (another great book I always try to have in stock at work).