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Friday, February 27, 2009
Why Fantasy? Why Erotica?
My novella, Kaydana and the Staff of Ishlun, published in April by Lyrical Press Inc., is fantasy erotica, as is my previous Lyrical book, The Faery Princess. For some reason, these are the two genres which, more than any, evoke the question why: why do I read or write fantasy/erotica, rather than anything else.
The short answer, of course, is “Why not?” No-one seems to ask, “Why write social realism?” or “Why write thrillers?” or “Why write comedy?” I could just leave at “why not” and enjoy what I enjoy, but I’ll try to explain in more detail.
What about fantasy? It’s a niche genre, for adolescent boys who can’t cope with the real world, right? Not even close. Actually, fantasy isn’t really a genre at all, so much as an approach to fiction that sets out to explore its subject by imaginative extension of reality, rather than by reflecting the world around us. It can be used for a vast range of approaches: thriller-like pure adventure (eg Robert E. Howard), large-scale epic comparable to War and Peace (eg Tolkien), religious teaching (eg C.S. Lewis or Philip Pullman, at opposite ends of the debate), Dickensian novel of manners (eg Mervyn Peake), political novel (eg George R. R. Martin) or satirical comedy (eg Terry Pratchett).
Fantasy can explore everything realistic fiction can, whether the focus is on entertainment or intellectual debate, but it does so in different ways. Fantasy looks at things from a new, fresh angle which can stimulate ideas that realistic fiction can’t reach. One of my recurring characters, for instance, is an ordinary person who, through a magical accident, lives for thousands of years, enabling me to explore issues of how we live our lives in an extreme context. Then again, moral issues can be examined without the baggage of our own preconceptions. It’s easier see the rights and wrongs on both sides between elves and dwarves than, say, between Israelis and Palestinians. This clarity can then be applied to the real world.
As for fantasy readers being out of touch with the real world, I’d argue that, in general, the opposite is true. Because our genre doesn’t pretend to be literally true, we can achieve what Tolkien called “secondary belief” (ie total acceptance while reading without forgetting that it’s fiction) far more easily than fiction that pretends to be about real life. No-one (no-one not certifiable, that is) actually believes that Lord of the Rings describes the world as it really is, but plenty of people believe this about James Bond, Bridget Jones or their favourite soap opera, each of which actually describe a “reality” invented by their author. To say nothing of those who believe politicians – but that’s another story.
So much for fantasy: what about erotica? That’s just another name for porn, right? Not at all. Essentially, porn is about sex, whereas erotica is about sexuality. Neither is actually “wrong”, but they have very different artistic values, a little like comparing a Shakespeare comedy with a stand-up telling corny mother-in-law jokes.
Porn does nothing but describe sex, and it’s purpose is very straightforward (I don’t need to draw a diagram, do I?) Erotica may well also describe sex graphically, even shockingly, but that isn’t its purpose. Erotic fiction will be examining the characters’ reactions to the sexual episodes, the questions that might be aroused as to why they’re drawn to certain sexual activities or partners, and why they find certain urges or fetishes irresistible, even when rationally they may be horrified.
Sexuality, of course, is a fundamental part of the personality, and its exploration is, like the exploration of any fictional character, in order to gain a deeper understanding of human nature. Not all character-study is about sexuality, and not every work of fiction needs to involve sex, but it’s as valid an approach as any.
Some people don’t find either fantasy or erotica to their tastes, and that’s fine: there’s plenty else for them to read. But if, like me, these types of fiction are what you enjoy, there are plenty of good answers next time someone asks “Why?”
On the other hand, maybe the best reply is still, “Why not?”
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