I spend a good portion of my days thinking about issues of “genre.” Yes, anyone who reads this blog probably already knows I’m a nerd, so I don’t need to apologize for that statement. By “genre,” I mean issues of genre within literature. It’s something that comes up a lot, more than one would like, in academia. I’m in an MFA program and I know that many creative writing programs discourage “genre-writing” in their workshops. Less focus on plots and more focus on language, on character. I think that’s a fine and good thing. Sure. I mean character and language are as important a thing to bring to writing as plot is. But, importantly, I don’t think they are more important than plot. I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to tell stories. Plain and simple. When I think of the literature that has mattered to me in life, it usually begins with the fairy tales, ghost stories, and folklore of my youth. The telling of tales is something that I consider to be a deep part of me.
This thinking process inevitably leads me to think of people who routinely disparage the prose of JK Rowling. They are, let’s be honest, jerks and wrong jerks at that. But, more importantly, they seem to be missing the point. Harry Potter is a defining piece of literature that enticed countless people—who might not otherwise—to pick up books and read. And to disregard Harry Potter, seems to be advocating for the dismissal then of any work along the same lines. The Oz books would have to be disregarded (despite the rather fascinating look at a Utopia run astray. Flying Monkeys. That’s all I’m saying, people. The Flying Monkeys did not get their due in the movie). Alice in Wonderland? Peter Pan? Do I need to keep naming off works that are considered classics of literature? BECAUSE I CAN. And don’t make me bring Shakespeare into this argument, because I am willing to (King Lear was based off of the premise of a fairy tale, Hamlet had a ghost, The Tempest is dripping with magic).
Plus this attitude of dismissing literature that contains magical or supernatural elements then pushes aside the fact that most of the truly exciting literature happening today is that which explores the world through the lens of what might seem to be fantastical premises. Colson Whitehead’s Zone One has zombies, but it’s also a harrowing exploration of what we do in the face of horror. China Mièville routinely writes brilliant books that explore interesting questions. His book Embassytown explored the dynamics of language and how language can act as an agent of oppression or for revolution. Neil Gaiman writes some of the most thrilling books going. He also writes books that dig deeply. Most recently, Ocean at the End of the Lane explores memory and childhood and trauma in a way that a work of complete “realism” could never have even begun to approach.
Before I end up writing an entire book here, ranting about this topic, I’ll cut off. The New York Times just had a great opinion essay related to this topic, which can be found here. What I can say, finally, is that I have experimented and tried writing without any elements of the supernatural. Mostly to see if I could. And I did manage it, but I felt ultimately unhappy. The fantastic allows me as a writer to have a key into the doorways of the subjects I want to tackle. And it makes me love what I do. I write what I want to read and I think that’s something that is important to remember.