“I don't take much notice of critics, except when they praise me extravagantly.”
Philip Pullman

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

magic realism and me
Wed 2014-01-15 23:03:36 (in context)
  • 3,258 words (if poetry, lines) long
  • 700 words (if poetry, lines) long

One of the random quotes that cycles at the top of this blog is from Jo Walton. It's about the dragons in her genius novel Tooth and Claw. I've been thinking about it today.

The snippet of the quote here is far too pared down to do justice to the original, though. Let me give you the full context.

It's a bit of conversation that went on in the comments following Patrick Nielsen Hayden's post from August of 2005, "Story for beginners." In it, he muses over a review of Kelly Link's fiction, in which the reviewer, who seems benignly confused about it, wonders whether the zombies are "supposed to be a metaphor", and a blazing-hot response to that review in which the blogger protests that they damn well aren't, at least not exclusively; no, they are real damn zombies and they will eat you.

That's not perhaps the best summary, but it'll tide you over if, say, you lose internet connection and need to restart your router while waiting for the above link to load. (You did click it, right? No? WELL DO SO FORTHWITH.)

As is generally the case over at Making Light, conversation ensured. Says one commenter,

I got into a rather heated argument a few months back with someone who was insisting that Tooth and Claw was good because "it isn't really about dragons." I said that it was too really about dragons, and that it would have been a much worse novel if it had not been really about dragons. "But I mean, really about dragons," said the other person. And I said yes, really about dragons. It didn't matter how many kinds of typographical emphasis she attempted to vocalize: Tooth and Claw is about dragons.

It also does other things, but if every little thing in it was a metaphor for man's inhumanity to radishes or some damn thing, it would suck.

Which is wisdom. Them what has ears, let them hear dat.

As is also often the case at Making Light, the author of Tooth and Claw was there to testify,

If they weren't solidly real dragons with parsons who have the right to eat the eyes of the dead it wouldn't have been worth doing.

This is coming to mind now because two very similar exchanges happened to me today.

  1. In a conversation online in a private forum (thus I will paraphrase, not link-and-quote) concerning the gap, difference, and overlap between science fiction and fantasy, one person mentioned preferring science fiction to fantasy because of an instinctive, involuntary need for rational explanations, or at least attempts thereto. But they fare better with magic realism than with straight-up fantasy, because their lit-crit background tells them they don't have to believe in the magic stuff; it's all just a metaphor.
  2. In compiling the critiques of "It's For You," I was reminded how many readers of the most recent two drafts reported not being 100% sure whether the narrator wasn't dreaming the whole fantastical thing, maybe the next-door neighbor who disappears into the painting like Mary Poppins into Burt's sidewalk art was never real to begin with... but that's OK, because they're enjoying the story as either magic realism or surrealism, where this sort of ambiguity is acceptable.

I should just like to take a moment and say a few words on behalf of fantasy everywhere, and also my inner child, and also my inner witch. And as I do so, please bear in mind that I mean no ill-will nor begrudgement to anyone referenced above; nevertheless, I'm a-gonna get shouty.

*deep breath*

THE VERY OLD MAN REALLY HAD REAL GREEN WINGS, OK, AND THE DOOR IN THE HOME DEPOT ACTUALLY GOES TO ANOTHER WORLD, RIGHT, AND ARISTA REALLY ACTUALLY TRULY DISAPPEARS INTO A PAINTING.

pant pant pant wheeze stomp stomp

*ahem*

Also, ten-year-old me wants you to know that there really, truly, actually is a heart beating under the floorboards. BECAUSE POE SAID SO.

And the dragons are solidly real dragons. And the zombies are really going to eat you.

This is how I relate to fantastic fiction of all stripes. I love both science fiction and fantasy, and I am as willing to take the author's word when they say "The narrator turned into a salamander" as when they say "This starship goes faster than the speed of light thanks to wormholes and genetically-designed pilots." It is not in me, no more now than it was when I first read "The Tell-Tale Heart," to doubt the veracity of the narrator's report.

I mean, if that's what the author wants me to think, I may get there eventually, if the author drops enough hints. But I don't go there first. The place I go first is, "I'm trusting you to take me for a ride. The wilder, the better."

This is also how I relate to my own fiction. I can't dictate your experience of it, now. If you prefer to think that Beth in "It's For You" never actually wakes up throughout the course of the story, or that the narrator of "Right Door, Wrong Time" is lying to the little kid about whether he can open a portal to another world, that is your innate right and I can't take that away from you. You may well read fantasy and think to yourself, "Well, that can't happen, so it must be that the narrator is mad, hallucinating, dreaming, or lying. Or maybe the whole thing's a metaphor."

But that is not my logic. My logic is WHEEEEE FANTASY WEIRD SHIT LET'S DO THIS!

Mainly I'm not very much interested in writing stories about sadly delusional people who think they can fly and are destined for a tragically hard landing. I live in that world already. (Or so I'm told. I'm not convinced, but it's politic to play along.) If I write about a person jumping out the window because she thinks she can fly, she's damn well going to soar.

I write fantastic fiction because I want this wide weird world we live in to be even weirder. On the page, I have the power to make it so.

So, my readers, my friends, my family, my loves, I promise you this and I tell you true:

When I write the weird shit, I want you to believe in it.

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