Being in Fantasy Worlds

Alison Morris has an intriguing post about her weekend at Otherworld, a fantasy role-playing experience I had never heard of before. Sounds like great fun to me! While I’ve never been into role-playing games, I was a serious dress-up fantasy player as a kid and so Otherworld sounds more like that to me than rolling multi-faceted die around and following what the dungeon master tells me to do.

Alision writes:

I personally think almost anyone would enjoy Otherworld, but it’s especially meaningful for readers to attend — to literally feel what it’s like to tumble down the metaphorical rabbit hole, not just imagine it. But the fantasy cloak of Otherworld seems to trip up even folks like me, readers of the occasional fantasy novel.

What is it about this genre that is so off-putting to so many people?

Okay. I’ll bite on this question. BHP* I was an avid fantasy reader and was puzzled as to why American elementary teachers disliked and even feared the genre so much. So when I was invited to write a book for teachers I said I wanted to do it on fantasy literature. Scholastic agreed and I wrote my first book, Fantasy Literature in the Elementary Classroom and later (PHP**) did a second edition called Using Beloved Classics to Deepen Reading Comprehension. (Titles in both cases NOT my idea, believe me:). My hope was to get elementary teachers to consider using this genre in their classrooms — I was frustrated that kids were being pushed to read and write realistically even when there was a solid group that wanted to read and write fantastically. Even today, many of the most important leaders in language arts instruction continue to push realistic books and the writing of realistic pieces over fantasy in classrooms. There are many reasons for this, one of which is that I suspect the fantasy genre is not personally appealing to those leaders.

Anyway, as soon as I saw Harry Potter take off in this country I suspected that we’d see a complete shift in American’s regard for this genre. And so it came to pass with fantasy now clearly the belle of the ball! That is, it is being published in masses, kids read it, and teachers have to consider it (even if they continue to prefer other genres in their own teaching).

In response to Alison’s question, I’d say firstly that there is a lot of really bad and really lame fantasy out there. And so, if you are adverse to the genre to start with and attempt half-heartedly to read a mediocre title your dislike is only going to be reinforced. Secondly, taste is important. If you like realistic fiction you may just not like going into other worlds. And if that is the case no fantasy book is going to work for you. Length is significant too — long books that require you to get to know a completely new world may not be your thing. No problem.

Fantasy is a huge kitchen-sink of a genre. There is the sort of fantasy that Otherworld is about — those books where authors have created completely different worlds, often called high fantasy. There are those that involve portals between our world and another. There are animal fantasies. There are those that involve magic in our world. And so forth and so on. Readers may go for some of these and not others.

So why is fantasy a tough sell to adults? Because there is a lot of dreck out there, it is a taste thing, and (this may not go down well) because many see it as a lesser, unliterary-like form.

*Before Harry Potter

**Post Harry Potter

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2 Comments

Filed under Fantasy Worlds

2 responses to “Being in Fantasy Worlds

  1. Monica,

    Thanks so much for posting a response. I think you’re probably largely right — that the prevalence of bad fantasy has probably cast a shroud over even the good stuff for some folks, and that realistic fiction fans may just fear that shift in realities, might not like going into different worlds. Maybe it’s a safety net/comfort zone issue: “I’m staying where I am because things are familiar and I know how to react to things that happen in this world.” I still haven’t decided whether or not that’s what was holding me back personally when it game to considering Otherworld in the first place, but…? It certainly bears thinking about!

    In any case, you should definitely give Otherworld a try, post-Newbery. In fact, I think the entire committee should! (ha!)

    Best, alison

  2. Goodness, what you describe–teachers favoring realistic writing– is exactly what happened to my boy in first grde. He came home sobbing, and could hardly stand to tell me the horrible thing that had happened–his teacher had taken his story away. It was called something like The Dragon’s Crystal. Instead, he had to start a new story on his recent trip to Plymouth Rock, called “My Trip to Plymouth Rock.” His teacher said that the Dragon’s Crystal would never be finished, and that my son had to learn how to Complete writing tasks. I just hope it hasn’t scared him for life.

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