A while ago, as I mentioned at the time, I read (some of) the Oxford book of fantasy. Because I’m nerdy like that, I read the weighty introduction as well and it amazed me, first because there are apparently academics out there who study sword and sorcery, and second because even while arguing that fantasy as a genre is worth studying, they still seem to dismiss it. With friends like that, etc.
Plenty of fantasy stories are what I would class as mawkish trash (even some that I’ve enjoyed as a guilty pleasure), but then I have similar views on Dickens and thankfully for the heterogeneity of the literary world many people think differently. I’ve never been entirely convinced that studying literature at universities is a worthwhile occupation, but if you’re going to do it then I don’t see what’s wrong with studying fantasy – popular entertainment, particularly when it’s revealing what people dream about when they’ve got totally free rein, detached from reality, has got to tell you something interesting about the collective psyche. The problem of defining fantasy came up as it always does, but the phrase ‘known to be impossible’ struck me as breath-takingly arrogant: there are plenty of things ‘known to be impossible’ a while ago which have turned out not to be, from remote communities to scientific advances.
Another one that got me was ‘I suspect that few if any people now believe in dragons, vampires…’ – fair enough, I’ve never met anyone over the age of about 6 who believed in dragons, but I’ve crossed paths with people who believed (or wanted to believe) in vampires, and here’s a quote from Private Eye just before Christmas 2009: “There are at least 1000 people in the vampire community in New York City alone” – Michelle Belanger, author and former head of the International Society of Vampires. The author of the introduction seemed to find belief in demons, God and the Devil far more acceptable, but I honestly can’t see much of a difference between believing in demons and believing in vampires (both equally incomprehensible to my scientifically-trained atheistic mind). Mind you, he also seemed to see sword and sorcery as the continual triumph of brute force over intelligence, and it didn’t horrify him that such a state of affairs should be put forward as the natural order of things; clearly his mind works in a very different way to mine.