Subverting fantasy!?

24 July 2005

Do you know why I really hate labels[1], especially genre labels?
Well it is because everyone has their own definition of what fits a certain label, and they are only aware of what they know. Yet this lack of knowledge doesn’t stop them from commenting on the rest of their genre, or their relation to a particular genre.

It is a common theme of Dave Langford’s, and often comes up in his opinion piece in SFX. In his piece this month[2] he tells us that Stephen Fry believes that Douglas Adams didn’t write any sci-fi and that Battlestar Galactica isn’t sci-fi, at least according to the Boston Globe.

So you’ll be glad to hear then that, although she doesn’t like fantasy, J.K. Rowling thinks she has subverted the genre in the Harry Potter books. But at least she admits she writes fantasy. And according to the article[3] today in the Sunday Times she didn’t even realise that the first book was fantasy until after it was written.

So despite the fact that she hasn’t actually read all that much in the fantasy genre Rowling still thinks that she was trying to subvert the genre. Well, see, you can’t subvert something unless you have a vague idea what it is actually all about. So many people seem to think of fantasy as mindless escapism, with fairies and elves and oh-so-obvious bad guys and good guys that always win. And while books like that certainly exist they aren’t the only examples of fantasy. And sci-fi is not just Star Wars and Star Trek!

Of course there are a lot of sci-fi and fantasy clichés. The fact that something is a cliché means that it exists and is overused. That doesn’t mean they are the only forms of sci-fi and fantasy. Anyone who has read a fair amount of these genres will know that there are authors already out there subverting the cliches, and that HP is as far from subversion as it is possible to be.

This doesn’t mean I don’t like Harry Potter, but I don’t think it is earthshatteringly good either, it is a very readable entertaining children’s book.

[1] – I don’t really hate labels, I just hate them when they are used in a limiting fashion, and when the attitude seems to be, “oh, but that’s only *insert label* and so not worthy of anything” (back)

[2] -See As Others See Us, a previous example of Langford’s SFX columns. (back)

[3] – This article was previously published in Time and can be read online here

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4 Responses

  1. weenie says:

    When I tell some colleagues I like sci-fi, they can only think of Star Trek and Star Wars (and also getting the two mixed up). I tell them I like fantasy and from their expressions, they think I'm talking about sex fantasies…

    I love the cliched sword & sorcery books, zero to hero or space opera stories, but love the stuff that doesn't quite fit in these "labels". Richard Morgan – sci-fi, cyber punk, fantasy? Mixture of all three maybe.

    Potter is pure fantasy – if I was a kid, I would have dreamt of going to Hogwarts.. beats Grange Hill any day! :)

  2. Fence says:

    Yeah, cliche fantasy has its place. No denying that, but that is also where HP fits. I just thought that it was a stupid comment to make, she felt she was subverting something that she admited she knew nothing about.

    Of course it may just have been the way the article was written. Those journos can't be trusted you know.

  3. banzai cat says:

    I know exactly what you mean. Grrr… I must admit that when reading Langford's column, it's that blasted "As They See Us" section that usually makes my blood boil.

    "Subvert"? Rowling? Give me a break! I think it was Diane Duane (or was that Dianne Wynne Jones?) who did the whole wizardry school first! Arrgghhh! That's one statement that ranks up there with Margaret Atwood's "I don't write science-fiction" declaration.

    My only response: Phhhffttbbttt!!! :-P

    All in all, a good call, fence.

    P.S. Sorry if I ranted a bit. ;-)

  4. Fence says:

    Banzai feel free to rant.

    I have no problem with people not liking fantasy and sci-fi, I mean not everyone likes everything, but I hate when people dismiss something without even trying. Or, as seems to be increasing, they'll like a few sci-fi/fantasy shows, but pretend that these shows aren't really genre shows.

    Phhhhfffttbbbbttt sounds about right