Write fantasy, if you fancy it

by Beacon Staff • September 23, 2009

"Ooh, Harry Potter! Is this your first time reading it?"

Yeah, right.

Despite being self-conscious, I keep the bulky book on my person until I'm finished.

And it's not just J.,Wherever I go, I shuffle my book so my fingers obscure the title, but often, it's too late.

"Ooh, Harry Potter! Is this your first time reading it?"

Yeah, right.

Despite being self-conscious, I keep the bulky book on my person until I'm finished.

And it's not just J.K. Rowling that causes my bashfulness-it's a favorite Noel Streatfeild, my occasional Stephen King and some Suzanne Fisher Staples. I feel as though everyone is relentlessly scrutinizing my literary aesthetic.

So the next time I go out, I choose some John Irving for the road instead. I feel much better. The guy next to me is also reading Irving. Go figure.

Fact is, English departments look down upon the best-selling books on the market-genre books. As a writing, literature and publishing major, I'm spoon-fed award-winners like One Hundred Years of Solitude and As I Lay Dying and every book Thomas Hardy ever wrote.

But tell a teacher that you gorged yourself on Lord of the Rings over the summer and they'll show a weak smile and secretly wonder if you're serious about writing at all.

Emerson is no exception. The occasional

teacher will be open to all genres in a writing class, but more often than not, there's the first day bombardment of "no fantasy, no romance and, if I see a single alien, you must re-write!" They want our writing to be realistic.

But really, professor, if I read one more story about sex, drugs, spousal abuse or divorce, I might just scream. It's as if we should all aspire to spend our days writing Lifetime teleplays in a darkened room with a bottle of whiskey. We're averaging 20 years old, here.

I seriously doubt half of Emerson knows the first thing about the woes of a 40-year-old woman whose husband left her and has taken a liking to LSD. It requires more supposition than if I wrote about an alien attack I encountered over breakfast.

The battle between pop writers and classicists gets increasingly hostile.

When inquiring into my senior BFA thesis, my idea for a short story collection about the meaning of the world ending, only part of which would include apocalyptic events, led to the response, "so you're one of those people." I'm sorry, professor,

but what sort of person am I, exactly? I was told that anyone wanting to do genre writing in Emerson's literature department needed a whole lot of luck to find a thesis adviser.

I appreciate that Emerson's goal is to give writers a solid foundation for their art form, which includes British and American literature, Shakespeare and all that stuff, but "good luck" is the best advice they can give? Really?

Genre writing does not have to mean bad writing. It gets a reputation of mediocrity

through authors like Stephanie Meyer, who for all her popularity barely knows the difference between an adjective and an adverb. Genre writing has, however, given us gems like The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams, who practically invented sci-fi comedy.

Some of our best classics like The Sword in the Stone and Treasure Island are heavily infused with fantasy. And before Peter Jackson got hold of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy, it was a non-commercialized, weighty piece of literature.

Sure, Anne Rice sells more copies of her books in one year than I could pick up in my lifetime, but it's people like her that make it imperative students learn good pop and genre fiction to counteract all the terrible mass market paperbacks to which we're exposed.

I'm not the only Emersonian who feels this way. In my advanced fiction seminar this semester, after a prompt from the teacher, one student admitted to loving magical realism, another wrote Gothic-influenced stories, and at least three said they tended to write fantasy-and this was out of a class of 12.

My roommate, with her two giant bookcases, has read just about every paranormal romance novel in existence. And aren't we always told to read, read, read what we want to write? For the first day writing class spiel, she admitted remaining silent between the cries of "Faulkner!" "Fitzgerald!" "Hemingway!" as students' favorite authors.

It seems wrong to me to feel out of place in a room where everyone is supposed to be there for the love of writing. While a whole group of WLP majors whisper about these books in secret, the word "genre" seems prohibited or cursed.

Instead, teachers should be showing students how to take the sometimes-trashy reads students love and turn genre into quality literature. Hand me C.S. Lewis and let's discuss how that wardrobe into Narnia is a cleverly constructed literary device. It is, I promise.

In the end, we're an arts and communications school. The restriction in communicating our love for one of publishing's most popular (and best-selling) art forms is hypocritical. All you want is realism and all I want is to express myself.

So, Emerson writing department, if zombies ever do attack, will my stories finally be realistic enough for you?