Courtesy of the Guardian, I’ve just been reading about the controversy around Ginia Bellafante’s remarks on fantasy in the New York Times and I’m feeling indignant. It seems she thinks George RR Martin’s fantasy is strictly for boys and writes: “While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to The Hobbit first.”
As far as I am concerned, fantasy writing is as much a world for women as it is for men. Fantasy has a continuous appeal that crosses decades and cultures. Think of the Greek myths some of us loved to read at school or mediaeval French writing with its imaginary topsy turvy worlds where kings were queens and stayed at home, and the queens went out fighting.
It was a woman, Eleanor of Aquitaine, who advocated the courtly code that gave rise to tales of knights in armour. The original Lancelot would fail in his quest to find Guinevere if he got too hung up on being knightly and forgot to keep his love for her in mind. Vice versa too. If he became too dreamy about being in love and forgot to fight evil it ended up disastrously. Girls have adored knights in shining armour ever since. Moving forward, Alice in Wonderland and the Chronicles of Narnia are both in the fantasy tradition and loved by both girls and boys.
For more traditional fantasy, just look at The Gormenghast Trilogy. Does a description of the queen being surrounded by hundreds of white cats, that weave around her as she walks, sound as though it’s aimed at men? And not many women could resist Anne McCaffrey’s endearing dragons. It seems to me that Ms Bellafante has got hung up on the battles that often form a part of the fantasy tale and has forgotten the story, which always lies at its heart.
With stories that hark back to the classic human struggles, with characters and creatures that entwine our hearts and with exciting plots that make us turn the pages late at night, fantasy will appeal to girls as well as boys, and to women as well as men, for a long time to come.