There's an article making the rounds online: "Top Novelists Look to E-Books to Challenge the Rules of Fiction," by Vanessa Thorpe, an arts and media correspondent for the UK Guardian. Ms. Thorpe's article is about author and innovator Iain Pears' development of a new and enhanced eBook format that he expects will take the platform to a whole new level. She also spoke to authors Blake Morrison and Will Self to get their opinion about its potential to transform the typically staid genre of literary fiction.
On the surface, this article is a pretty bland piece about a group of authors discussing one possible way to capitalize on the rise of the eReader but its subtext is horribly snobbish. Ms. Thorpe clearly broadcasts that as a genre, fantasy shouldn't be taken seriously and its authors are inferior to those who specialize in other forms of fiction but in such a way that she isn't actually taking ownership of it.
"Online fiction is a remote world, peopled by elves, dragons and whey-faced vampires. At least that is the view shared by millions of devoted readers of the printed novel. But now serious British literary talent is aiming to colonize territory occupied until now by fantasy authors and amateur fan-fiction writers."
Despite her weak attempt to deflect any criticism by attributing this view to "millions of devoted readers of the printed novel," the article's messaging makes it clear that Thorpe shares or wants to appear to share that negative opinion about fantasy. She characterizes Pears, Morrison and Self as "acclaimed authors" and "serious...literary talents" while dismissing fantasy as a garbage genre analogous to amateur fan fiction or fanfic - a subgenre many see as being populated by poorly written works created by would-be writers incapable of dredging up an original idea. Let me be clear: I am not one of those people who thinks fanfic is bad. I think there are any number of fanfic writers out there who are amazingly talented and it's a way for people to work on their craft while paying tribute to authors and characters who have inspired them. Yes, I get that their work creates copyright concerns but let's just leave that to another blog, shall we? Of course, on the other side of the coin are the fanfic writers out there who are...hmm how shall I say it...ah yes, they're 50 Shades of Barftastic. Clearly, I don't want to be compared to them, but the rest of fanficdom? Sure! The more the merrier.
On to my major objection to this article: the reporter's unjustifiably biased messaging against fantasy. It is perfectly fine for Vanessa Thorpe to prefer or want to appear to prefer other genres but that doesn't justify the snobbishly prejudicial tone of her article's reference to fantasy and fantasy authors. Whether she knows it or not, fantasy can be just as serious and seriously well-written as books from any other genre, even "serious literary fiction" and I've got the bookcases full of quality work to prove it. Just off the top of my head, I can list five of my favourite authors' works that fit the bill (in no particular order):
1. J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy;
2. Michelle West's The Sun Sword series;
3. Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series;
4. George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series; and
5. Guy Gavriel Kay's The Fionavar Tapestry series.
What's frustrating is that there are too many others I would love to mention but it isn't practical to list them all in one little blog entry.
I know readers won't care if Ms. Thorpe's "serious literary talents" (i.e. not fantasy authors) are online and interactive. They will choose what to read based on who and what they like and bells and whistles added to an eBook aren't going to change that. If readers like historic fiction, then Iain Pears may end up on their eReader. If they like satire, then maybe they'll read Will Self. And if biographies, thrillers and other fiction are their cup of tea then they might spring for a Blake Morrison offering. Fine. I have no problem at all with that and I have to admit, these three are pretty impressive so I might give them a whirl too. However, that doesn't change the fact that if readers enjoy well-written fantasy they aren't going to pick up a Pears, Self, or Morrison; they're going to look to authors like the ones I've listed above or maybe - when I finish my book - to me. Here's hoping.
I guess what it all boils down to is that I think Vanessa Thorpe should examine why she feels the way she does about fantasy or why she thinks she should feel that way because it isn't based on an informed and unbiased assessment of the genre's offerings. She and anyone else who thinks fantasy is garbage should read one (or better yet, all) of the authors I mentioned above before dismissing it because there is plenty of quality fantasy out there, both serious and lighter fare, that is well worth the read.