Every year, I endeavour to read some kind of epic fantasy – usually in correlation with the BBC book challenge. This was something of an unconscious decision, but I decided that my new year’s resolution for the last couple of years was bound to reading. Last year, it was the Lord of the Rings, and this year, it was Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (it’s turned out that they’re both epic fantasy trilogies). I resolved that I wanted to read them before July, so that they could be read in the first half of the year – so I put it off until June in the spirit of procrastination each year. And now, it’s become something of a thing.
Traditionally, I don’t really enjoy reading fantasy. It’s cliché and trite of me, but it’s just my reading habits. This did change somewhat when I took a science fiction and fantasy class in second year university and found it really enjoyable, so my attitude started to change. I found that some of the traditional, founding texts of science fiction were among my favourites, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine; although I also enjoyed The Space Merchants and The Left-Hand Side of Darkness. But, traditional fantasy, with its elements of world-building and certain real-world values which it often strenuously tries to push on the text that I find challenging.
Earlier in the year, I read what is considered to be a science fiction text, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, and really enjoyed it – a beautiful, haunting tale of a post-apocalyptic world, Shakespearean actors and the brutality of humankind. It really moved me and lulled me into a false sense of security with the genre.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the same way about Tolkein or the Pullman. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it was that I didn’t enjoy, but it was very similar. The parts that I enjoyed the most about LOTR and His Dark Materials were the parts with conversations between Samwise and Frodo, as well as Lyra and Will. I less enjoyed the parts with creatures who I couldn’t quite pinpoint their significance – witches, Gollum, bears…I just don’t see what these devices add to the plotline.
I can totally understand why the genre has such avid fans – it really does engulf you 100% in the fiction and you are entirely committed. It really does transport you to a whole new world, something which critics of realist fiction have been all too quick to use as a justification for not reading the genre which I really do tend to enjoy. Although I have determined that it’s just not for me on the whole, I do think I’ll continue with fantasy June month, because it is good to expand my horizons a little bit beyond my normal bounds. Any suggestions for what I should read next June? Please leave a comment below 🙂