Ursula K. LeGuin Separates Fantasy from Fiction

Alexandra Alter wrote a recent article in the New York Times (2/19/15) regarding a new book launch by Kazuo Ishiguru, author of such well-known general fiction as The Remains of the Day. In it, she writes:

“Mr. Ishiguro still seems slightly anxious about how the book will be received. It could be embraced as brilliant and groundbreaking, or it could be a spectacular flop if readers balk at his full-on excursion into fantasy.

‘“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?”’

Now, the reality is that his novel is set in Arthurian England and features dragons, knights, ogres, and pixies. It might be more rational to worry that the population has become so drug- or reality-TV-addled that they can’t recognize the trappings of the fantasy genre in its most obvious form.

Ursula K. LeGuin

Ursula K, LeGuin

I succumbed to the temptation to write something in response, but decided to keep it to myself. Providentially, as it turns out. On Monday, a more eloquent response than mine was posted on the blog, Book View Cafe, by legendary science fiction and fantasy author, Ursula K, LeGuin.

Says LeGuin:

“It appears that the author takes the word [Fantasy] for an insult.

To me that is so insulting, it reflects such thoughtless prejudice, that I had to write this piece in response.”

“I respect what I think he was trying to do, but for me it didn’t work. It couldn’t work. No writer can successfully use the ‘surface elements’ of a literary genre — far less its profound capacities — for a serious purpose, while despising it to the point of fearing identification with it.”

Citing classic tales like Beowulf and The Odyssey, LeGuin writes, “Fantasy is probably the oldest literary device for talking about reality.”

You can read the rest of Ursula K. LeGuin’s post on Book View Cafe.

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