Monday, 23 November 2009

Commodified Fantasy

I've been trying to work out what it is I like about the fiction of Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), C.S. Lewis (Narnia), Ursula Le Guin (Earthsea), Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) and others that I just don't find in a lot of the work that is imitative of their kind of fantasy genre. The other books, which usually come in - at the very least - thick paperback trilogies - just do not have that magic, they don't transport me, while I read, to the "other world". They may have plot and fantasy, but there is something about them that just lacks the magic.

In "Tales of Earthsea", Ursula le Guin, in a postscript, puts into words perfectly what I was trying to grasp, and couldn't find the words to express. Here is her comment on our times, and I think it is extremely perceptive, and accurate:

All times are changing times, but ours is one of massive, rapid moral and mental transformation.... It's unsettling. For all our delight in the impermanent, the entrancing flicker of electronics, we also long for the unalterable.... So people turn to the realms of fantasy for stability, ancient truths, immutable simplicities.
And the mills of capitalism provide them. Supply meets demand. Fantasy becomes a commodity, an industry.
Commodified fantasy takes no risks; it invents nothing, but imitates and trivializes. It proceeds by depriving the old stories of their intellectual and ethical complexity, turning their action to violence, their actors to dolls, and their truth-telling to sentimental platitude. Heroes brandish their swords, lasers, wands, as mechanically as combine harvesters, reaping profits. Profoundly disturbing moral choices are sanitized, made cute, made safe. The passionately conceived ideas of the great story-tellers are copied...advertised, sold, broken, junked, replaceable, interchangeable.

1 comment:

el jacobo said...

yeah, except I think Harry Potter is just what she's talking about.