****NB spoilers on A Game of Thrones and the Harry Potter series****
As most of my regular readers will know, much of my reading falls into the category of fantasy both epic and contemporary and young adult literature. It is my belief that this is a reaction to being forced to read and dissect to death so much heavy literature while at university. For many years after I graduated I found it difficult to enjoy reading for pleasure, and when I did so, I tended to gravitate towards easy, light reading. Indeed it’s only in the last two years since buying my Kindle eBook reader that I have rediscovered my deep love of reading.
It seems that fantasy literature still has the reputation of being light and frothy, and that it has little to teach us, a reputation I feel is undeserved. I suspect this may be due to the thought that it would be more difficult to connect with a story or characters from an alien world.
This was brought home to me recently. Last Christmas I gifted my old Kindle to my parents, leaving it on my account as they don’t have internet. I copied some of my books to the Kindle that I thought they might enjoy, mainly mysteries and general fiction. I was pleased to note that my dad was reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, which has mild fantasy in it with the time travel. When I spoke to my mother a few weeks ago, she commented that while my father had been browsing through my library, he’d started to read a book and exclaimed “oh dear, I think this one of those fantasy Harry Potter books.” Well, when I spoke to my father the following week he asked me for the titles of the second and third Harry books so he knew which ones to read next. Clearly, it struck a chord with him, and I am delighted he to took a chance on Harry. I imagine my next move will be to steer him in the direction of A Song of Ice and Fire.
While it is too early to tell for certain, I believe books such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire will continue to be read for many, many years to come. It doesn’t take a large leap of imagination to draw a connection between the crowds gathering at the docks to read the next instalment of a Dickens novel and the masses crowding the bookstores for the midnight launch of the next Harry Potter.
Now, some people may claim this is just clever marketing; it’s true that Dickens was the master of the cliffhanger, and J.K. Rowling has a multi-million dollar marketing machine behind her. History has proved that Dickens has stood the test of time, and Rowling has had continued success after the marketing machine kicked in for book four. This would would tend to suggest that there is substance behind the marketing.
At the risk of repeating myself, this, for me, boils down to character. A character conflicted whether to do the easy thing or the right thing is still interesting to me whether it is the sixteenth century court lady the Princess of Cleves or a young boy trying to come to terms with his role in the wizarding world he has come to join. Fans mourned the deaths of Sirius, Dobby and Eddard Stark just as much as that of Little Nell. I believe it was Diana Gabaldon’s and J.K. Rowling’s well developed characters that enabled my father to take the leap to reading fantasy.
In summary then, I’d say that fantasy does not deserve it’s light and frothy reputation and that just because an author chooses to set his characters in a world that is different from our own does not mean that it is more difficult to connect with them.