George R.R. Martin on Fantasy (“Everything That Is Wrong With Commercial Fantasy In A Single Quote”)

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Brian Murphy, of the Silver Key blog, has posted about something interesting he found on another blog (Everything Is Nice). It’s about this poetic description of Fantasy written and read by George R.R. Martin (that sums up “Everything That Is Wrong With Commercial Fantasy In A Single Quote”):

Myself, when I think of Fantasy I think of The Twilight Zone, of Philip K. Dick’s Beyond The Door, of James Powell’s A Dirge For Clowntown, of Homer’s The Iliad, of Jorge Luis Borges and his Garden Of Forking Paths.

To me fantasy is not an endless adventures in a magical medieval Europe, nor a tattooed vampire with a sword in one hand and a laser blaster in the other.

To me Fantasy is countless tiny worlds – many like our own – many radically different – some entirely impossible, but all of them firmly found within my world.

Fantasy, to me, exist within the books themselves, and in my memory of them, and in my consciousness when I think of them, all as a part of the larger world I live in.

Fantasy is not a place of escape, nor a world separate from mine in which I wish to live.

I don’t view Fantasy literature as a form of escapism.

To me Fantasy is something to enjoy, like a fine meal. Something to inspire an attitude, not a way to understand the world, nor as a consolation or a substitute for a harsh reality I’d rather not think about.

But commercial fantasy, the endless book series that take up larger and larger section of the bookstore shelves, is, to me, a very small and uninteresting part of Fantasy literature. It is the part that gets the most attention. But it shouldn’t.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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4 thoughts to “George R.R. Martin on Fantasy (“Everything That Is Wrong With Commercial Fantasy In A Single Quote”)”

  1. Hey Jesse, your post is well-done and speaks to the tremendous variety within fantasy. Phillip Dick and the Twilight Zone–and I’d throw in Harlan Ellison for good measure–are all wonderful examples of how the genre is so much more than just Shannara or Krynn.

    However, I do view fantasy literature as a form of escapism. I don’t think this is its primary characteristic, but I do think it is one of its functions, among others. I enjoy being able to walk the woods of Lothlorien where there is no stain, or Lankhmar where everything (and everyone) is quite stained, and just get lost for a while.

    I do agree with you that endless book series are a borderline blight, however.

  2. L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt wrote some wonderful fantasy collaborations which are among my early favorites of fantasy written for adults. The Gavagan’s Bar stories seem shamefully neglected as far as being in print and available over the decades. Of course, de Camp also wrote much excellent solo fantasy.

    Edward Eager stands out in my mind as the fantasy writer I first remember being turned onto (in 1961) and his novels hold up for adult reading. A Lakefull Of Magic, Seven Day Magic, A Handfull Of Thyme and about four others.

    There are so many fantasy writers I could praise. Among contemporary fantasy writers I recommend Tim Powers and James Blaylock, though noting some novels and stories appeal to me far more than others. Oh, Nancy Kress wrote a few excellent fantasy novels before switching to science fiction and a fair amount of Pat Cadigan’s writing is fantasy.

  3. You know, for a guy protesting against cliches, he talks a lot about fantasy being like dreams.

    Dreams are disorganized, pointless mental static that is only experienced in a non-written form, and is seldom remembered afterward. How is this a compliment to fantasy? How is it anything like fantasy at all?

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