Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Waiting for my man

In a very fine LRB review of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and the first two series of the related television show Game of Thrones, John Lanchester refers to -- and then questions -- the resistance that many people have to reading fantasy literature:

When you ask people why they don’t read fantasy, they usually say something along the lines of, ‘because elves don’t exist’. This makes no sense as an objection. Huge swathes of imaginative literature concern things that don’t exist, and as it happens, things that don’t exist feature particularly prominently in the English literary tradition. We’re very good at things that don’t exist. The fantastic is central not just to the English canon – Spenser, Shakespeare, even Dickens – but also to our amazing parallel tradition of para-literary works, from Carroll to Conan Doyle to Stoker to Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling, Pullman. There’s no other body of literature quite like it: just consider the comparative absence of fantasy from the French and Russian traditions. And yet it’s perfectly normal for widely literate general readers to admit that they read no fantasy at all. I know, because I often ask. It’s as if there is some mysterious fantasy-reading switch that in many people is set to ‘off’. And it’s this that leads to the mayor of Des Moines syndrome, because part of the point of Stephenson’s remark isn’t just that people who don’t live there don’t know who the mayor is, they couldn’t care less. The information is of no use to them.

He also describes his own activities as a 'drug pusher' with regard to Martin's fabulous series of books (which I've read through twice, now):

This sense of unsafety and instability is at the heart of the books. I’ve been acting as a kind of low level pusher or drug dealer for the series, shoving recommendations and occasionally box sets in the direction of friends. I tell them to forge past their elves-don’t-exist resistance at least until the end of the first episode. And that, generally, is all it takes. After that initial act of drug-pushing, I follow up on my new clients to ask how they have got on with the series. Everyone is addicted, and everyone reports the same moment as being the one that got them hooked.  

I have to admit that I've played this role myself a couple of times.

And like the other addicts, I'm pretty eagerly waiting for The Winds of Winter.

I need a fix, man.


Geoff Coupe said...

I'm relieved to report that I am immune to the drug:

John Carter Wood said...

Well, as John Lennon once wisely sang: whatever gets you through the night.

Everyone has their drug of choice.

And there are advantages to avoiding this particular addiction; as Lanchester notes at the end of his review, there is the chance that this could all end very badly....

At the moment, I'm making my way through a list of classic science fiction books and discovering a few new potential addictions, as it turns out.

I may get to blogging that at some point.

Geoff Coupe said...

Oh true - I am definitely addicted to certain authors. Four words: Clifford Simak - Way Station.

Oh, and then there's Edgar Pangborn's A Mirror for Observers...

The list goes on and on. A whole Pharmacology of mind-altering substances imprinted on paper. Who'd have thought it?

John Carter Wood said...

Too many substances to count. Words are the greatest drug ever.

Simak is actually on that list I'm reading through. I should get around to him in the next few months or so.