It’s no secret that I enjoy reading fantasy novels. Whenever there’s a discussion about books, someone always pipes in with “Oh JB likes fantasy, dragons and such.” Sometimes that sentence is followed with an eye-roll, most often a wink. Perhaps an admonition that someone my age really should not be reading fantasy. I’ve been labeled an only-fantasy reader.
I don’t mind that classification on most days. I won’t say I’ve read all the noteworthy writers in the genre, hell I ‘discovered’ George RR Martin only last year and Terry Pratchett in 2009. For a supposed fantasy-reader that means I’ve been living under a rock all these years. And if it hadn’t been for author Samit Basu, I still wouldn’t have known about them.
I read somewhere – perhaps while reading Basu’s GameWorld Trilogy – that he was inspired by Pratchett. I started GameWorld in 2007 and didn’t do much about Pratchett then. I found out about GRRM from a FB update/comment by Basu. “Hello Drogon” he wrote and I wondered who-the-heck-is-Drogon. Now I know. So Mr Basu, thankyou. Oh yes, I also tried reading China Miéville after Basu interviewed him – picked up Kraken – but I couldn’t. Waaaaaaay over my head.
I “found” Pratchett in a second-hand bookshop in Luang Prabang, Laos (2009). My first book was Mort, quickly followed by Making Money and Monstrous Regiment. The rule at the second hand bookstores was that you either bought the books or you exchanged them for a nominal cost. I exchanged Mort for Making Money and it hurt. I’ve never been able to give away books. All through that trip, Laos-Vietnam-Cambodia-Thailand, I kept collecting various Discworld books. I didn’t shop for anything else because I didn’t have space in my backpack. When we came back to Melbourne, I had lugged around 21 Discworld novels bought in Luang Prabang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok and New Delhi. Partner was pulling out his hair and hasn’t stopped since.
I also have all books in the Axis series by Australian fantasy author (late) Sara Douglass, Isobelle Carmody’s entire Obernewtyn series, all books by Jasper Fforde, the entire Thomas Covenant series by Stephen Donaldson, all five of the ongoing Game of Thrones series by GRRM, all books in the Sword of Shannara series by Terry Brooks, (the horrendous) Twilight series, of course Harry Potter, five different editions of Lord of the Rings (between Partner’s and my copies) and all 10 books in Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse (HBO’s True Blood) series. I am not mentioning the independent one-off fantasy books I’ve picked up but not followed the authors (including Fiona McIntosh, Miéville and Patrick Rothfuss).
Like I said, I don’t mind the she-only-reads-fantasy label on most days. But on some days I find it quite peculiar. Mostly because sometimes I feel – could be wrong – that people who do the labeling perhaps have this sense of superiority that they don’t read fantasy. Rather that they only read “serious” stuff. I find their attitude peculiar because most of the oh-she-reads-fantasy people have read Shakespeare, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ben Okri, Isabelle Allende or Books That Win Awards.
What is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, if not fantasy? The Tempest, anyone? It had spirits and a witch… Macbeth had three. Marquez, Okri and Allende are quickly slotted into the ‘magical reality’ genre with people trying really hard to deny the ‘magical’ and focusing only on the ‘reality’ bits. As far as I am concerned, any fiction is fantasy – it is NOT real. I happen to read (some) stuff that has elves and dragons because my imagination can stretch that much farther or maybe because I’m a 33-year-old imbecile who thinks that Pratchett’s Monstrous Regiment and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series are making the same fucking point.
PS: While random one-link-lead-to-another research, comment on YouTube video for original Immigrant Song (Led Zep) said, "My cat heard this. Now he's a lion." bwahahahahahha. Below is the cover version used in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.