May 16th, 2016

Bourdichon - Vetch

UPROOTED and the Generation Gap in Fantasy

So this week Naomi Novik's Uprooted won the Nebula Award, and as a result a lot of people are reading it. And the reactions, as they have been pretty much ever since the book came out, are... mixed.

On one hand you have readers (myself among them) who wouldn't go so far as to call the book perfect, but who really loved it and thought it worth recommending to other fantasy lovers. On the other hand, you have people who were so horrified by the book's seemingly dismissive attitude to sexual assault and the hero's lack of respect for the female MC that they either DNF'd the book a few chapters in, or they found the whole experience of reading it to be irrevocably tainted.

Some of those people who disliked (or even hated) Uprooted are my friends, and I am not here to tell them they're wrong to feel that way, or to try and argue them into liking it. But there's a strain in current fictional discourse that's been really bugging me over the past few months, and some of the critiques of Uprooted suffer from it -- the difference between "I didn't love X, and this is why," which is perfectly legitimate and fine (and can even lead to interesting discussions) and "I didn't love X because it's gross and problematic, and if you like X anyway, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU."

I don't mind hearing that not everybody likes the same things I like. I do very much mind being made to feel that I am a lesser person, indeed a morally inferior one in desperate need of enlightenment, for liking them.

I am not here to defend Novik's choice to have her heroine sexually threatened, because I don't think it was necessary to the plot nor do I think that it added anything to the story. I did notice it, it did bother me, and I would have enjoyed the book a great deal more without that aspect. Nevertheless, it wasn't the dealbreaker for me that it was for some of my friends, and I think I know why.

Because I'm over forty, and I grew up reading different fantasy novels than they did.


That may sound flippant, but it goes deeper than you might think...Collapse )

So yes, my friends who didn't warm to the book immediately as I did, and felt that certain male characters' treatment of Agnieska was too offensive to ignore or forgive -- I understand, and I'm not trying to change your opinion. But I think it's important to understand how the generation gap between younger and older fantasy readers, and the books that most influenced us, play into this.

It's not that we don't see the flaws and the problematic elements, or that we don't care about them. It's that we can see virtues and delights in Novik's novel, many of them based on the older fantasies to which Uprooted is paying tribute, that make us love it anyway. Which is why Uprooted won the Nebula this year, because the people doing the voting are fondly remembering those older novels -- many of them also flawed, but nonetheless deeply resonant and influential -- as well.


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* Oh hey, both those "classic" epic fantasies were written by men! What a surprise! No wonder nearly all my favorite 80's fantasy authors were women.
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