Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Courageous Authors of Fantasy
This post is both for the A to Z and for the Insecure Writer's Support Group.
Today I want to talk about Courage. But instead of talking about courage within Fantasy stories, I'm going to focus on the courage it takes to write Fantasy stories.
Fantasy has been a much maligned genre since its emergence in the 1800s. (Note: when I talk about Fantasy as a genre I mean modern fantasy beginning with such writers as George MacDonald and William Morris.) Often considered only good for children or as escapist fare for pathetic losers, everyone who doesn't enjoy it seems to look down on fantasy, even the people who publish it. In addition, "experts" were declaring traditional and epic fantasy dead not long ago. Tell someone you were working on a fantasy novel and you were likely to pitied more than praised.
In the face of all this, the last hundred years has been full of courageous writers defying the odds and proving the naysayers wrong with spectacular works of fantasy literature that expand reader horizons and add much beauty to the world. I'd like to take a moment to recognize some of the authors who I think have been particularly bright stars in the universe of fantasy fiction and salute their courage as artists and creators.
Robert E. Howard is remembered as the father of Sword and Sorcery due to his creation of the iconic Conan the Cimmerian character. Conan was the consummate adventurer and a perfect example of the courageous fantasy spirit.
Lord Dunsany (or Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany) was, I believe, the first great world builder. His stories were filled with exotic and wondrous locales with memorable names and fantastic atmosphere. He was also probably the first modern mythopoet, crafting a world of gods and their mythologies unlike anything before him.
It goes without saying that J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis belong on this list. For without their brilliant creations of Middle-earth and Narnia fantasy might never have gained the widespread popularity it achieved in the middle of the last century. Their works resonated with readers like none other before them gaining lasting status as classic that will surely be remembered for centuries to come.
One of the finest fantasy series I've ever read is the Amber Chronicles by Roger Zelazny. It's the perfect example of fantasy that transcends subgenres, brilliantly utilizing tropes from ever kind of fantasy fiction without ever being subject to them, it never feels cliche.
Lastly, I want to mention an author who is not a favorite of mine (though he is a favorite of my husband) but whose work and artistry I have profound respect for. Gene Wolfe is an author of all kinds of speculative fiction, not one of his stories being like any other. The depth, subtlety and originality of his work is sadly underrated by readers while being widely praised by authors of all kinds. Or, as my husband has said, "All Gene Wolfe and no Gene Wolfe makes Gene Wolfe, Gene Wolfe." (Don't ask me what that means.)
These shining stars of fantasy (and science fiction) paved the way for writers like me (and you!) with their courageous refusal to write anything but the best and their determination to see their work make its way to readers. They made it possible for the genre to grow and thrive, gathering new writers and new readers constantly, by digging deep and producing amazing works of art that no one else could. Looking to their example, we can do the same. We can persevere against all odds in the name of getting our own unique stories to readers and perhaps one day be remembered as they are. Artists and creators who add beauty and wonder to the world.