Women like Fantasy Too

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.

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13 Responses to Women like Fantasy Too

  1. David Logan says:

    I always assumed Fantasy was a girl thing. Girls kiss handsome princes and boys shoot injuns. Girls have fluffy white brains and boys have scabs on their knees. Girls (and here it gets serious) need fantasies to escape from the reality of male domination – and boys need realism to reinforce their superiority. It’s possible to argue almost anything. Is there a romantic lead in Lord of the Rings? Aren’t those male Hobbits a bit chummy? What was the author revealing about himself?

  2. bronzite says:

    Just goes to show women and girls can enjoy a fantasy, even if there isn’t a romantic lead. Who’d have thought?

  3. I think more girls than boys drool over Robert Pattinson in Twilight. 😉

  4. bronzite says:

    Too true. Including the vampires, there’s a whole range of fantasy trends (urban fantasy, steam punk etc) that I didn’t even address, in case they could be considered to gain interest from being ‘cool’ and so would not qualify as part of the more classic ‘high fantasy’ or ‘epic fantasy’ genre.

    I’m told the next hot thing is angels. Do you think my bronzites will qualify because they can fly?

    • David Logan says:

      How did you do that? You posted before I sent! There’s something mystical about you. Mmmm … Bronzite angels? Their your fantastical babies. You can evolve them as you wish. Do you know there’s a theory that every significant human turn of thought creates a universe as real as our own? John said: in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In other words, God created with a thought. In the Bronzite universe, you’re God.

  5. bronzite says:

    Big responsibility, creating new worlds. Hope I can do it as well as you do, David.

  6. Heather says:

    I don’t know about fantasy but when I admitted I liked science fiction I was surprise to find how many of my female friends also came out of the closet; and that is even more a ‘boy’ genre isn’t it?

  7. bronzite says:

    Hi Heather. That’s encouraging to hear. I have to admit not many of my female friends read science fiction. Many have never actually tried to do so, but gain their impressions of it from films. I think part of their reluctance is that it will be too technical ( I’m talking mostly here about an older group of readers).

  8. I’m not a big high fantasy fan (as in elves & dwarves) but George RR Martin’s ‘Song of Ice & Fire’ series is amazing – probably because it’s mostly Machiavellian scheming and politics, which is always fun 🙂

    That said, I love horror and sci fi too – neither of which are traditionally seen to be written for ‘girls’.

  9. Heather says:

    I think sci fi is more about considering different ways of living than technology. Also the sci fi of the past is sometimes the science of today, so it’s like a glimpse into the future.
    I haven’t admitted to my friends that I like fantasy. One of the best bits of being a children’s book writer is reading as much fantasy, sci fi as I want under the guise of reading YA.
    I love George RR Martin’s Songs of Ice and Fire series for the characterisation, they are all so complex. I did conclude that if he builds up a characters interest in something, it’s only so he can twist it, or brutally take it away again. My most recent favourites are the Mortal Engine series by Philip Reeve, and the Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb.

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