The other evening, PBS news featured an interview with Lev Grossman who has published the 3rd book in his fantasy trilogy. The new title is, The Magician’s Land. What’s interesting about the author’s work is that it’s targeted to adults rather than to young readers. Grossman sensed a strong market for adult fantasy, having noticed that many parents who bought books for their youngsters became fans of Harry Potter, Twilight and His Dark Materials. Unlike Haruki Murakami who is what I call a quantum writer (Blog 10/30/14) in that he defies our presumptions about what is real, fantasy writers explore extraordinary realities but they are guided by a strict cannon. Central to the story is a hero or heroine who is admirable, something Murakami doesn’t require. The heroine of Murakami’s epic work 10Q84 is a serial killer. Also, required in fantasy are a set of rules so that the extra ordinary world unfolds with a predictable logic. In Murakami’s scenarios, logic is banished.
As a writer of fantasy, Grossman defends his work though some critics accuse him of dumbing down literature. He counters that a book’s merits aren’t determined by whether or not it is difficult to read but upon whether or not it tells a good story. Unfortunately, the author wasn’t allowed time during the interview to share his thoughts on the elements of a good story, so I’ve decided to fill in the blanks for him.
I agree with Grossman that obscurity is no standard upon which to judge a book’s merit. Obscurity can be the result a writer’s ineptitude or laziness. No matter how complex an idea, it can be expressed simply. Think E-MC2. As to whether or not people are awakening to an appetite for a good story, I doubt that’s new. People have been drawn to a good story since Homer began telling his saga. If I had to guess at a reason for why adult fantasy has a growing an audience, I’d say it reflects a longing for an existence less complex and more innocent than our own. In fantasy, we escape into a world where justice is unswerving and good triumphs over evil. Any book that taps into that general hunger speaks to a collective consciousness where readers feel less alone. That is the magic of a good story.