literary pariah

Why is it that fantasy writers are the pariah of the literary world?

I’ve heard statements like this: My friend X writes fan[mumble mumble]sy, but she’s a good writer.

It’s said in the same tone of voice as: My friend X has syphilis, but she’s not a slut.

Every genre can boast great writers as well as writers who never should have seen publication, much less a New York Times Bestseller list, but for some reason fantasy writers draw the most ire. Robert Heinlein gave a modicum of respectability to science fiction and fantasy by dubbing the genre “speculative fiction,” but even so, there are so many sub-genres listed beneath that heading, it’s easy to get lost in the mash.

While there were always the Robert E. Howard type adventures, a lot of early fantasy writers were women who used the genre to give voice to religious and social issues affecting women. Fantasies empowered women with renditions of tales with strong female characters. Fantasy writers created a new type of folklore that celebrated the feminine in story and myth.

Of course, today you can’t swing a dead cat in a book store without hitting at least forty novels with strong female characters. Fantasy writers such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Patricia A. McKillip, and Ursula K. Le Guin led the way with their well written novels. There is no shame in that.

So don’t bother to append the statement. Just say: My friend X writes fantasy.

Copyright 2009 Teresa Frohock


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2 Responses to literary pariah

  1. jenniferneri says:

    I really agree with this! I do not write fantasy (but many of my stories have fantastical elements to them), yet for many many years that was all I read – I noticed that people who didn’t read fantasy, always referred to me as ONE who did! How can literature be literature without fantasy??

    • Teresa says:

      I think that part of the problem is that when people think of fantasy, they think of elves and dwarves, etc. They don’t think about fantasy or science fiction (Cormac McCarthy’s The Road was science fiction). The “Strange Case of Benjamin Button” was a movie, but it was fantasy.

      There are so many wonderful, talented fantasy writers out there, but it is always the glut of badly drawn paperback covers that generally jumps to the forefront of everyone’s mind when they hear “fantasy writer”. That’s simply too bad.

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