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Greetings and permutations

January 11, 2012

While being tossed about on the blogosphere yesterday, I encountered a post that seemed to be making a literary argument (to whit, that current fantasy bestsellers are degrading the genre) while in fact making the argument that  modern bestselling authors were polluting the politically/culturally “pure” roots of our culture while polishing the author’s own cultural/political bona fides. Unlike an actual artifact (such as a frieze), literature is not dirtied or destroyed by new building or new writing. Then again, it’s not about the literature if it’s about your own elevated status.

After spluttering at a hackneyed post from a writer whom I’ve enjoyed in the past, I looked at the places where I agreed and disagreed. There are many stories published today that I don’t read because I don’t find it enjoyable. I have also (like the possible apocryphal example of the teen girls and The Iron Dragon’s Daughter) been cozened into buying romance disguised as fantasy–a distinction that annoys me as much as nihilism seems to annoy the other author.  I would like a simpler way to find books that I enjoy without wading through stuff that I don’t. However, I would hesitate to blame my challenges on the specific political leanings or educational backgrounds of the writers who are fortunate enough to find place on the shrinking shelves of the F/SF section.

 Literature (meaning in this case, written works of fiction of various genres) can give us an interesting look at the way in which ethical decisions are made in societies, the formulation of hierarchies and whether they are functional, and many other cultural embodiments that can play against or within an accepted cultural model. In some cases, it may be mainly through literature that ideas or assumptions are made visible from another time period or point of view.  It may also provide, in addition to or apart from these, entertainment. Fantasy and the authorial perspectives that underlie it  (such as those of George MacDonald, E.R. Eddison, J.R.R. Tolkien, Neil Gaiman, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula Le Guin, etc.) will change over time along with the expected methods of plotting and characterization and world building.

Whether these permutations are cracks in the artistic or the cultural firmament and whether they let in the light or the darkness seems to me to be outside of the realm of political discourse.

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