Monday, September 18, 2006

Edenstar Day 2

In years past, when the general market fantasy industry was taking off -- with The Sword of Shannara (LOTR Lite) leading the way -- there was a sense of embarrassment in admitting that you liked fantasy. It was okay for kids, but not for adults. If you did like it, there was something wrong with you: you needed to grow up. I don't suppose the SF conventions helped. Nor the covers on the books

Ursula LeGuin wondered why, years ago, in her essay "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" She suggested the aversion to fantasy was because as a culture we saw ourselves as being beyond that sort of thing. Reason had triumphed, we didn't believe in supernatural forces anymore, we knew what made things tick (I think that's mostly an illusion, myself, but that would take another post entirely) and so had no room for fairy tales about other worlds and supernatural powers and so forth.

I'm not so sure that's the case, since as time has gone on and we've developed even more technology and acquired more knowledge about what makes things tick, fantasy's appeal in the general market has only increased. In fact, I read recently that engineers and other technogeek types make up a large portion of readers of this kind of fiction.

So overall, I think this stigma has been erased where general market readers are concerned. Unfortunately it seems that some aspect of it still holds with the Christian market. The question of why has been debated at length among Christian SF/F fans. Maybe it's because when today's Christian adults were growing up there really wasn't much Christian fantasy to choose from, and so they never acquired a taste for it when they were young. Maybe it's because fantasy is a bit more difficult to read than your ordinary woman's fiction, romance, mystery, or suspense. Maybe it's because fantasy (and SF) is harder to write than the others and we writers don't always do it as well as it could be done.

Maybe it's because they don't really see how it can be relevant to their adult lives or their relationships with God. What do nonfantasy readers really think fantasies are about, anyway? What do they expect to find, that they dismiss out of hand as irrelevant, childish, boring or silly? Kings? Battles? Exploding things? Do they expect the protagonists all to be children or talking animals because Narnia is what they're most familiar with? (The lion is a Christ figure. Ho hum. What does that have to do with my life? Where are the relationship issues that really matter?) Do they expect great battles as in LOTR because they've seen the movies and the battle for Helm's Deep lasted nearly an hour, the one for Minis Tirith... even longer? Are they embarrassed to be seen reading it?

Maybe it's like broccoli for some people -- it looks weird and I know I won't like it and there's no point in my ever trying it. Or then, again, maybe it's that we're all just different, and fantasy (especially Christian fantasy) is for an odd few out there on the fringe.

I have no idea. As I write this I have the nagging suspicion it doesn't matter. Those of us who like fantasy, like it. Those who don't, don't. We can try to share with them what we love about it -- heros, for me; the element of the battle of good against evil, the obvious parallels to the unseen angelic conflict, the surprising, intriguing places or things; often the characters themselves -- but in the end they'll either be enticed and intrigued or they won't. What resonates with some, falls flat with others. And sometimes you just can't explain resonance. It's not something that can be shared or conveyed, just something that is.

God has made each of us different. We have widely differing ideas of what is good and fun and appealing, widely differing backgrounds and frames of reference. And we have to respect that about each other. I guess the bottom line of this rambling post is that I am extremely grateful there are actually enough others out there who like to read what I like to read (and write) that there can actually be a market. It might not be as vigorous a market as we'd like, but it is there. There are books out there, as the Edenstar website shows us. And that is cause for rejoicing.

And maybe there really are a lot more readers out there than have shown up yet, simply because they don't know that Christian fantasy (and SF) exists.