Sunday, July 31, 2005

storms and teacups

Lots and lots of letters this morning along the lines of,

Hi Neil,

Just wondering whether you'd seen the BBC's piece today titled ' Pratchett anger at Rowling's rise':

Seemingly Terry was rather peeved by a panegyric to Rawling in 'Time' magazine (,10987,1083935,00.html), and wrote to today's 'Sunday Times' saying:

'WHY IS it felt that the continued elevation of J K Rowling can only be achieved at the expense of other writers (Mistress of magic, News Review, last week)? Now we learn that prior to Harry Potter the world of fantasy was plagued with "knights and ladies morris-dancing to Greensleeves."

In fact the best of it has always been edgy and inventive, with "the dark heart of the real world" being exactly what, underneath the top dressing, it is all about. Ever since The Lord of the Rings revitalised the genre, writers have played with it, reinvented it, subverted it and bent it to the times. It has also contained some of the very best, most accessible writing for children, by writers who seldom get the acknowledgement they deserve.

Rowling says that she didn't realise that the first Potter book was fantasy until after it was published. I'm not the world's greatest expert, but I would have thought that the wizards, witches, trolls, unicorns, hidden worlds, jumping chocolate frogs, owl mail, magic food, ghosts, broomsticks and spells would have given her a clue?'

Is this a complete storm in a teacup? Or is he venting a frustration felt by many a contemporary fantasist?

Hope all's well,

Greg Daly.

P.S. - on a wholly unrelated note, having once linked to William Shatner's remarkable rendering of 'Common People' on your site, have you ever seen his interpretation of Elton John's 'Rocket Man' at the 1978 Science Fiction Film Awards? You can watch it here:

Er, dunno. I read the Time article and thought it was astonishingly badly written and worse researched. The bit that puzzled me the most was that I remembered interviews with Ms. Rowling where she loved the Narnia books (it was a few seconds of Googling to find a 1998 Telegraph interview where she says, "Even now, if I was in a room with one of the Narnia books I would pick it up like a shot and re-read it.") as opposed to the Time version of 'Rowling has never finished The Lord of the Rings. She hasn't even read all of C.S. Lewis' Narnia novels, which her books get compared to a lot. There's something about Lewis' sentimentality about children that gets on her nerves.'

The version of the history of "fantasy" that the article's writer paints is utter bollocks, and I assume Terry decided that needed to be said. I didn't see it as a swipe at Ms Rowling, though, but as a swipe against lazy journalists -- but "Pratchett Anger At Shoddy Journalism" is a much less exciting headline than the one the BBC came up with.

(I remember when Terry said some very sensible and good-natured things about the power of fantasy at the Carnegie Medals (in this speech, read it first), the headlines were all along the lines of "Pratchett takes swipe at Rowling, Tolkien" [here's an example].)

Mostly what it makes me think of is the poem in Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest's NEW MAPS OF HELL, which went, from memory,

"SF's no good!" they bellow till we're deaf.
"But this is good." "Well, then it's not SF."

And it's an odd double-standard that applies to all genre work as much as to SF. It's always been easier for journalists to go for the black and white simplicities of beginning with the assumption that the entire body of SF (or Fantasy, or Comics, or Horror, or whatever the area is under discussion) is and always has been fundamentally without merit -- which means that if you like someone's work, whether it's J.G. Ballard or Bill Gibson or Peter Straub or Alan Moore or Susanna Clarke or J.K. Rowling -- or Terry Pratchett -- it's easier simply to depict them as not being part of that subset. I'm not sure that writing letters to the Times will ever fix that, though.

(And yes, I've seen the "Rocket Man"clip, and it was one of those things that sort of made me feel faintly embarrassed to be part of the race that produced it*. Not really funny, more sort of argh please scrub my mind out with wire wool. Especially when the third William Shatner comes out with his tie undone.)

*the human one, I mean.