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It's not fantasy

I just found out my old paperback copy of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Italian edition published by Rusconi, which I bought in 1983 or 1984, goes for up to 150 bucks, second-hand, online.
I could give it a thought, really.

Apparently all the old editions of Tolkien’s doorstop novel are being called back and destroyed, or so it seems, as part of a complicated copyright infringement lawsuit that also branches out in a legal battle about slander and what not.
The crux of the problem: the current Italian publisher of Tolkien commissioned a new translation, and all hell broke loose. The old translation’s been accused of being inaccurate, the new translation’s been mocked for some choices and some have talked of twisting Tolkien’s word for the sake of political correctness. Then the current translator said the old translation featured “five hundred mistakes per page”, which was at least quite rude, and the old translator passed the thing to her lawyers.
It’s a mess, and the fans are going berserk.
In the meantime, the old versions are being pulped, or so it seems. Only the new translation will exist from now on.

But what really struck me in the whole thing was something that emerged from the debate: some fans said the novel should have been translated by a Tolkien fan, and by someone with a familiarity with fantasy.
But other have pointed out that The Lord of the Rings

is not fantasy

And my first reaction was, what the heck, with all those elves and orcs, wizards and a fricking magical ring and all the rest, you could have fooled me.

But apparently, part of the debate is on whether or not Tolkien’s world is “serious literature” – and “obviously” serious literature has nothing to do with fantasy, and fantasy cannot be serious literature.
Which is poppycock, of course, but is also the standard position of literary critics and academia hereabouts – and mind you, it was not always so: I remember a time when literature was literature, serious or otherwise, and fantasy was treated as any other form of narrative.

Now, anyone with at least a superficial acquaintance with the genre knows that serious issues can be tackled in fantasy as in realistic contemporary mainstream fiction – indeed, fantasy is often better at tackling some specific themes (and the same goes for science fiction, horror, mystery or what-have-you, of course).
And this leads to a very hairy question – what makes “fantasy”, fantasy, and “serious literature”, serious literature? And are these secret ingredients mutually exclusive?

Also, who decides what a novel is, or is not?

I remember an interview with Gene Wolfe, that when asked what genre did he write, responded he wrote the genre that the guy who stocked the books in the wireframe display in the store decided.

If the place my books by Asimov’s, I write science fiction.

And anyway, it looks like in my country we are once again being pulled apart by two opposite forces – on one side, there are those that would like fantasy to be as childish, vulgar and lowest-common-denominator as possible, and on the other those that “yes, it looks like fantasy but actually…”

And in the middle of all of this, here I stand: anyone interested in a second-hand copy of The Lord of The rings?

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