Finding the colors again
Longing for a better world

On writing fantasy

Meldon Hill

From an interview with Lev Grossman, author of The Magician trilogy:

"I’m not a political writer, particularly, or even at all, but I cannot overstate how much what is happening in this country politically right now has affected what I do as a storyteller. What we all do. The grotesque, violently mendacious way that Trump uses language -- when I write now, I am writing against that. I am watching him trash the tools I use for my art -- words --and I have to take that into account, and work with the damage.

"And this affects fantasy in specific ways. By its nature fantasy focuses on power relationships a lot, whether that power is political or military or magical in nature. You get a lot of monarchies, with the usual abuses. It also deals with outsiders a lot, and the question of who is human and who isn’t, who matters and who doesn’t. These issues have always been important, but right now in this country they are urgent and central."

Meldon Hill and the Kestor Valley

When asked the usual question about writing in a genre often disregarded by literary critics, Lev responds:

"Literature is truly jurassic in the way that it handles issues of genre and high and low. It’s not just visual media. When your medium is getting lapped by ballet and opera and poetry, you know you are not in the vanguard anymore.

"Why should that be? Fantasy cuts against a lot of the literary values we inherited from the modernists (whom I love). Fantasy is traditionally less about psychological interiority and more about externalizing inner conflicts in symbolic forms. Fantasy is plotty, it runs on heavy narrative rails, whereas the modernists were vigorous critics and disassemblers of narrative architecture.

"Fantasy is also, in its way, quite anti-establishment. It announces its priorities up front: the reality with which we are going to be concerning ourselves is not the reality of your job, or your school, or your government. We are going to be talking about something else. It’s in a lot of people’s interests to marginalize or trivialize that reality."

The Kestor Valley

"I think our project, collectively, as fantasy writers, is to question fantasy’s basic assumptions," he reminds us. "We need to find its blind spots and attack everything that’s sacred to it. The coming of age story. The fatherly mentor. The faithful comic sidekick. The easy moral choices. The more we chip away at the foundations the genre rests on, the stronger it will become. There’s no end to where we can take it. Fantasy may have limitations as a genre, but whenever I’ve thought I’ve found them in the past, somebody has always come along and blown right past them."

Meldon Hill and the Kestor Valley 4

Oak leaves

Words: The passages above are from interviews on LitHub (January, 2017) and (November, 2011). The quotes in the picture captions are from "Why Fantasy Isn't Just for Kids" (The Wall Street Journal, July, 2011). Pictures: A contemplative moment in a field near the studio. Tilly is wearing her shaggy winter coat as the days grow colder.


Stirring stuff! I heartily agree.

I love your introductions to new books (I am now in the queue for The Magician at our local library) and thought-provoking early morning reads on the page and behind the scenery. The pictures this morning are delightful, especially the last tangle of leaves. They are fallen. "the magic is the easy stuff" ... ha.


Good article, thank you! I liked "magic is the easy stuff," yes, but "adults are no longer allowed to read fantasy"? I must have missed THAT memo!

I also share deep love for the modernists. I'd never considered them in conflict with the trappings of fantasy before, but I see his point. I'm going to go ahead and propose that all literature is, ultimately, just about coping with our complicated mortal lives. All stories are meant, in some way, to help us survive. Some provide a laugh when we need one, or a scare to wake us up, others reflect our lives with such accuracy that we can no longer feel alone. But my favorite stories, of course, are the ones that open my heart even when I'm tired or hurt and want to shut my feelings and vulnerability and love away. Those stories often have magic in them, and even when they don't, they are, themselves, a kind of magic. Laughter, being awake, being together, and being willing to love each other, to love this difficult and beautiful world, all of these enable our human survival.

The comments to this entry are closed.