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Fantasy, Lit. Fic. and the Human Condition

11 June, 2010

[Note: this post was originally written at about midnight after getting home from work, so if it’s a bit confused, I’ll apologise in advance. Still, I think it more-or-less captures what I wanted to say, so I’m going to leave it mostly unedited.]

Every time I think about the genre of literary fiction (if it can be said to be a genre of its own – for the purposes of this post, I’m assuming just that), I struggle to put into words why I read so little of it. Finally however, something has crystallised in my head and suddenly it makes a lot more sense.

It boils down to one simple thing: literary fiction, we are told, exists to elucidate the human condition. Admirable, certainly, but that’s also where my problem lies. For me, it’s not enough. (I have other problems with much of lit. fic, but I’m not going to go into those right now.)

Now, it would be easy enough to argue that shedding light on the human condition is the greatest feat literature can accomplish and I don’t think I’d argue with that. However, if I really want to understand what it means to be human, I need to go out and fall in love, lose someone, feel angry and joyful and scared; in short, to live a full life, no matter how happy or sad. I need to experience what it is to be human to really learn anything about myself. Then, when I read a book, it might help me to understand what it is I’ve learnt from experience, but it’s less likely to teach me anything new.

This is where fantasy, my genre of choice, comes in. The very best fantasy, just like the best lit. fic., will also help me to understand the human condition, but it will do so accompanied by battles and airships and monsters. It will let me experience again those aspects of humanity that I’ve felt before, alongside the aspects I will never get to feel (because, let’s face it, I’m never going to get to pilot a steam-powered airship). It will entertain as well as enlighten – and I’ve got to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve been entertained by a prize-winning literary novel, no matter how enlightening it is.

So, the next time someone tells me about this really great lit. fic. book, one that will help me understand the human condition, I might just find myself replying, “Is that all?”

  1. 14 July, 2010 7:04 am

    found you tag-surfing… nice to meet another fantasy writer and love this post! That’s what fantasy is for indeed, enough of boring literary novels! 😀
    Happy writing

    • Amy permalink*
      14 July, 2010 10:34 am

      Thank you! If only literary novels were a bit more exciting at times, maybe I’d read a few more of them, but that’s probably never going to happen! For now I think I’ll just stick to fantasy. *grins*

      • 14 July, 2010 3:06 pm

        it makes two of us! 😉

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