Friday, July 17, 2009

Defending Sword & Sorcery

Saw this blogpost, Blaming The Beermaker, over at The Ham-Sized Fist Award for best Heroic Fantasy or Sword-and-Sorcery Short Fiction. An excerpt:

Fantasy, especially heroic fantasy, is humanity's oldest form of fiction, and many of the greatest works of fiction ever written, from The Odyssey to the Epic of Gilgamesh, Beowulf to Outlaws of the Marsh (and yes, The Lord of the Rings) fall squarely into the heroic/epic fantasy pigeon hole, much to the dismay and consternation of "serious" authors everywhere. The focus of these stories is Story, because our roots lie in storytelling round the fire, telling tales of heroes and gods, not deep psychological profiles about a person's inner struggle to overcome a tragic childhood. Conan had a tragic childhood - he overcame it by smashing heads with his ham-sized fist.

These days Story just isn't very popular among MFA graduates at the pretigious writing academies, nor with those authors who aspire to be recognized by them and obtain visiting author positions. But blaming sword and sorcery for not being French neoreductionism is like blaming the beermaker for not making wine. I have nothing against realist literature. I enjoy reading Faulkner - how many MFAs can say they ever read Absalom! Absalom! unless somebody forced them to, for a grade? Neither is there anything wrong with Harry Potter. But Harry Potter isn't Quentin Compson, nor was he ever meant to be Quentin Compson, nor did Ms. Rowling ever pretend that Harry should be taken as Quentin's literary equal. Quentin killed himself. Harry killed Voldemort. C'est la vie.

Heroic fantasy and sword and sorcery are what they are. The only question that can be asked of any story is - does it succeed at what it set out to become? Does it fulfill its own promise? You don't ask beer to be wine, nor judge the quality of beer based on the requirements of wine. Nor do you whine when your Corona doesn't taste like Corsendonk. To do so would be extremely silly. Yet this is done to literature every day by some very silly people.


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