Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why do the English write the best Fantasy?

I was thinking about this before taking off on my Virginia trip.

There are three series acknowledged the world over as being the peak of Fantasy. Indeed, at this point in time, they are some of the best known literature in the world. In fact, they're so well known, that I think I hardly need to name them.

First, of course, is J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," second is C.S. Lewis's "The Chronicles of Narnia" and third is J.K. Rowlings "Harry Potter."

All right. Even if you don't approve of Harry Potter you still have to admit that it's a publishing phenomenon. And even if you've never read any of them, chances are (unless you've been stranded in the wilderness with no communication with the outside world) you have at some point at least heard of all of them.

So why- why oh why oh why- are all three of them written by British authors? What is it about Britain- which is tiny compared to the U.S. that enabled it to produce these masterpieces?

I mean, Americans can hold their own in other literary genres. But in Fantasy we're pretty lacking. "Eragon" has been popular, but I think most of us can agree that it lacks the literary merit and sophestication of the three Giants, and will not have nearly the popularity in future genrations that they will. The closest thing we've got is "Star Wars," which is perhaps not surprising since Americans have sort of cornered the film market. And "Star Wars" is in the murky area between Sci-Fic and Fantasy. And hey, C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy had a lot more depth than "Star Wars" if not the same entertainment value.

So what is it that Britain has that the U.S. does not?

I'm guessing it goes back to mindset and upbringing. The British have a far longer history and tradition of legand than we Americans do. Though we may appreciate the myths and stories of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, I don't think we can ever quite understand them.

Obviously there is more that should be said on this subject, but I think I'm going to have to do some more thinking before putting anything else out there. Thoughts would be welcome...


Mamselle Clare Duroc said...

I think what you've already said is a huge part of it. America is relatively new. It doesn't have much of a history. And it honestly doesn't have that much of a culture. When we think of 'culture' in America, we think, for instance, of the cultural elements that the Irish immigrants brought.

And I think culture and history are a huge part of fantasy.

Carpe Guitarrem said...

I'd say the mythos is a large part of it, but not all. After all, the rest of Europe has had mythos as well. I think that the dominance of the English language helps, firstly.

I'd attribute a lot of the rest to J.R.R. Tolkien, who IMO single-handedly boosted modern fantasy.

Hans Lundahl said...

C. S. Lewis is not English. He was born in or just outside Belfast!

Conan's unhappy author (yep, the short stories and novels that are basis for Schwarzenegger's filmography) was Irish descent American, whereas m o l German descent American means the second best of Sword and Sorcery

Elenatintil said...

Hans- right, and J.K. Rowlings is Scottish, and technically Tolkien was born in South Africa. Which is why, apart from my title, I was careful to write "British" instead of English.

(One could make the argument though that in mindset Lewis was essentially English, since he recieved most of his education and spent most of his life in England, as Tolkien did.)

Erin said...

Oh, and don't forget Roald Dahl, another brilliant, classic fantasy author.

Hans Lundahl said...

And what about the Ozzy/NZ Ursula LeGuin (Earthsea) and the Philly Lloyd Alexander (Prydain)?

Sorry for not linking, I haven't opened the Wiki Window yet!

Elenatintil said...

No, the reason why I listed the three I did is because they have universal appeal...both to children and adults...the world over. I'm not aware of any other fantasy series that has the sheer number of readers and name recognition that these three do- or that have been translated as many times.

Hans Lundahl said...

Ah, well: before Rowling, when I was 13,

Children's fantasy was:

C S L, Hobbit (Smith of Wootton Major, Farmer Giles of Ham), Lloyd Alexander

and adult fantasy was

C S L, LotR (Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales), Ursula LeGuin (Earthsea)

Angel_Horses said...

Hey, the best mystery books are written by english authers, too... it's not just fantasy. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and a lot of others....