23 June 2009

Fantasy with a Capital F

The David Gemmell Legend Prize has just been awarded to Andrzej Sapkowski for his fantasy novel Blood of the Elves. Apparently it's about a mutant assassin which sounds quite promising, but I haven't quite decided if I'll rush out and buy this yet. I tend to try and steer clear of fantasy for one very good reason. I read quite a lot of Tamora Pierce in my younger days. She wrote books about girls who became knights and went around defending their magical kingdom whilst falling in love with loads of guys. They were awesome, but I read them at a time in my teenage years when I was already feeling discontented with the lot I had been allocated. After reading these books I went into a depressed state where I was CERTAIN I was meant to have been born in middle ages. Preferably with magical powers.

And THIS is the problem with fantasy. These novels are so phantasmagorical that you shut the covers of the book feeling that life outside of the pages is quite grey and drab. Why get dressed up for an occasion if a prince in a leather jerkin and blousey shirt isn't going to burst into the room and sweep you up in his arms? Why worry about the terrible crime statistics in Nottingham when, in all likelihood, none of the gangs have ork members? Why go to the gym and train hard when you won't have to strip down to your loincloth and compete in a duel at any point?

I learnt a lot about Tolkien and C.S. Lewis when I did a subject for my English major called "The World of Fantasy". This was probably one of the most stressful classes I took at university. First of all, my wardrobe was ALL WRONG (I wasn't dressed in robes). Secondly, having read Lord of the Rings was NOT ENOUGH to hold your own in the tutorials. If you couldn't recite all of Legolas' songs by heart there was really no point in coming to class. The other students were HARD CORE man.

Again, all this is the fault of a genre which is constructed to put beautiful, heightened and unrealistic worlds JUST within our reach, IF we keep reading fantasy. People who read fantasy tend to stick with what they're comfortable with. You don't get many people coming into the bookshop saying they normally read fantasy, but today they'd quite like a copy of We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Have been thinking about it whilst writing this post and I think I do need to read Sapkowski's novel. I can't, in good faith, pass up a mutant assassin. If you want to read the whole article about the David Gemmell Legend Prize, click here to go to the Guardian article.
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