And what better way is there to find motivation for blogging than indulging my annoyance against a student in my class with a passive aggressive letter?
A Letter to a Fellow Student
I will not deny that you are a much better rhetorician than me, and I also won’t deny that I rather enjoy your clever humor and twists in your contemporary stories. But I do take great issue with your use of such cleverness regarding fantasy.
This afternoon in class, I shared about the remarkable nature of the Peryton—a fantastical creature with the shape of a deer, wings of an eagle, and the shadow of a human. A shadow of a human unless the creature kills a human thereby regaining its own shadow. Ready to approach this story with all sincerity and ready to pursue truth, I asked why a Peryton would have such a shadow. But you asked where I found such a creature. I was confused but answered honestly: on the internet while searching for something completely different. This seemed much more interesting to you, and you latched onto that thought and constructed a rather absurd but amusing story about finding Perytons on the forums of 4chan.
I have no problem with your fine preferences for humor and satire, but would you please keep your absurdist satire out of my genre? Fantasy creates a new world, and to only appreciate the world in tearing it down is to destroy any opportunity for finding truth and meaning in that world. It seems strange to say that absurdity is the only thing which a fantastical world cannot tolerate, but it is true. As soon as you put any doubt into the mind of the reader that the Peryton really exists and has a reason for existence is the moment that the Peryton dies. The one thing fantasy cannot afford to be is clever. To be true, fantasy cannot be clever, and to be clever, fantasy must be a lie.
Now perhaps there is a place for absurdist and satirical fantasy. For the former, I am considering primarily Alice in Wonderland, and for the later, I am considering Gulliver’s Travels. Personally, I am a fan of neither story, but both are successful and even useful for many readers. Though the great J. R. R. Tolkien excluded these stories by name from the genre of Fairy Story, I think he would have been foolish to deny them some claim to fantasy—if that genre even existed as a distinct thought before his Lord of the Rings epic. Whether it is the Cheshire cat or the Houyhnhnms, some element of fantasy belongs to both stories, and the great Peryton could easily have appeared in either story. So I concede, what you write is indeed fantasy, and for that, it is all the more dangerous to the world of fantasy.
I believe you agree with me that the purpose of stories is both to teach and to delight and that the primary way in which stories teach is through delight. The literary critics of old (or at least the ones worth listening to) discovered the rather clever maxim that stories teach us to love and delight in what we ought. The world of fantasy has a rather unique opportunity to teach proper love for many, very real things. Notably, fantasy teaches the love of Magic– not the crude scientific devices of the magician as Tolkien noted—but the Deeper Magic from before the dawn of time as the giant Lewis described. The Magic that is found in perfect, unjust sacrifices. The Magic found in the story: Kill the dragon, get the girl. The Magic that is the song of Creation, still echoing in the waters of the deep and driving the Grendelkin mad. That Magic that is the wonder of a human wandering in and creating the Faerie world. The Magic that is the love of the Creator and Creation.
Here I shall draw back on Tolkien’s genius because neither my vulgar simplification or pompous verbosity can aid his words: “If there is any satire present in the tale, one thing must not be made fun of, the magic itself. That must in that story be taken seriously, neither laughed at nor explained away.” You, my dear sir, are in the good company of Jonathan Swift and Lewis Carol and have dared to laugh at the Magic of fantasy. You have succeeded in being clever, but what have you taught your readers to delight in? They will delight in cleverness. They will delight in seeing through the fantasy world like seeing through a dream. Perhaps, you will argue that your readers will delight in seeing through fantasy to see reality, but I fear that your readers will delight in the act of seeing through and learn to see through everything, even the first principles of reality. You may very well know where the analytical and clever understanding must stop, but I wonder if your readers will know. If your readers laugh at the Peryton, what is to keep them from laughing at the flowers of the field or even at the Cross? Perhaps, there is no basis for my fears, but I think my questions still stand. What do your stories take delight in? Do they teach a love greater than the Magic of Creation?
You, my dear sir, are a basilisk when you write your clever fantasy. As I know you would be appalled at the accusation that you are merely seeing through and killing with your sight, I kindly suggest that you keep your grubby hands and sharp pens out of my genre. Or at least, cease to laugh at the Peryton and agree to meet the noble creature in his own world and on his own terms.