The Center for Fiction is currently doing a month-long celebration of Ursula K. Le Guin’s work (and sf in general). I found out about this event from, of all places, an interview with Margaret Atwood on CBC radio—though I didn’t look it up for a while because I was still recovering from a head explosion after hearing Margaret Atwood talk about Conan the Cimmerian (!). The line up for Big Read events is quite impressive, but the one featured panel that really caught my eye was titled Why Fantasy Matters. Laura Miller, Kelly Link, Felix Gilman, Lev Grossman and Naomi Novik don’t so much attempt a defense of fantasy against academia (as you might expect from this sort o’ thing), but instead take on the much more interesting topic of the different ways fantasy can help shed light on real world matters in a way realistic fiction cannot.
Videos below the cut.
“Why does realism matter?” might be one of the more provocative statements of the hour. I myself don’t see much difference in value between fantasy and realism, an author can equally botch both. Shortly before the release of the Game of Thrones television series, I recall an overwhelming reaction by the sf community against the questioning of fantasy as a worthwhile literary form by certain journalists that too often devolved into literati-bashing. Wisely, the Why Fantasy Matters panel took fantasy’s importance as a given not in need of any defence. Instead, fantasy offers us ways of looking at the world not available in the form of the realist novel, and it’s up to the author to take advantage of fantasy’s strengths.
Which is a roundabout way of saying: of course fantasy matters, because literature matters.