LTUE Part One – Fantasy’s Shakespeare

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20.  In fact, I’d say it’s more like 20/10.  We get great benefit, at times, by starting at the end and looking back towards the beginning.  Because of this, during my upcoming posts concerning the panels and experiences that I had at the LTUE Convention , I am going to start at the end and work my way to the beginning.  Why?  Because the last thing I heard at the convention, Brandon Sanderson’s Toastmaster speech, was perhaps the most enlightening and ennobling thing I heard during the entire convention.

Let me begin by saying that Sanderson’s speech was in direct response to an article that appeared in a (semi) recent edition of The New York Times.    The author asked, “Where are the Mormon Shakespeares?  Why do authors waste their time paddling in the “kiddy pool” of literature (fantasy/science fiction) when they could be writing something of true literary merit?”

In response, Sanderson penned a response that focused on the following anecdote from his past (forgive my paraphrasing since I’m going off of memory and the notes I took afterward).  The story unfolded as follows:

“When I was 14 years old people would always throw books at me with phrases like “You will like this book,” “You should like this book.”  But they were always boring.  I had an English Teacher called Mrs. Reader and she handed me my first fantasy novel…it was Dragonsbane.  Its about a middle-aged woman who is supposed to be the greatest witch who ever lived.  But she has to choose between her magic and her family.  Its essentially a mid-life crisis story of a middle-aged woman. This is not the story you would normally hand a 14 year old boy.  And yet, when my teacher put this book in my hand, my life changed.  I went from being a B student to an A student over the course of the summer because of fantasy novels.  But it also gave me something more… a sense of wonder…the language that we speak as fantasy authors is the language of wonder.

My mother graduated first in her class from BYU in the accounting program in a time when she was the only woman in the program.  She then got major scholarships, but she turned those down because she was pregnant with me and she chose to stay home with me.  As a teenager my thought was always “Well of course she stayed home to be my mother – I’m awesome!”  But what really happened is that my mother did this thing that I really had no way of understanding as a self-centered teenager and then I read this book about someone going through the same thing.

Now if this book had been pitched to me as a book about a middle aged woman going through a mid-life crisis, I would never had read it.  But to read this book, this fantasy, and come out feeling like I understood my mother better?  Because of fantasy?  THAT is the wonder of fantasy.  What we are capable of doing in genre fiction is taking these sorts of serious issues and adding that spice and that wonder that is unique to us and creating emotion and connection.”  (LTUE Banquet – Sanderson – 2014)

It gives you shivers – you feel the power, the majesty, the wonder of fantasy and science fiction.  What are we fantasy authors?  We are skillful teachers, wise and adaptive healers.  We are those who supply the medicine to the wounded and broken souls around us and the “spoonful of sugar” to help it go down.  That is the joy and wonder of fantasy.  That is the majesty of the calling that we heed as writers.  Raise high the standard of fantasy and science fiction – stand proud.  For we are the Shakespeares of our time.

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