They say, You’re never too old to learn. And I’m worried that I may have to cast aside one of the touchstones by which I live my live.

Not that I’ve got anything against dragons, you understand. Just everything they stand for.

[Boycotting this post due to a love of dragons? Check out the Apoplexy Newsletter instead.]

Let me explain.

That's not fair - dragons can fly!
Dragons annihilate Scotsmen. 34-7.

OK. Well, not just that. Wales voted with England to take Scotland out of the EU, too.

But I’m kidding, obviously. Dragons mean fantasy novels. And fantasy novels mean a disengagement from the real world. Consider J.R.R. Tolkien. The Shire of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings books is imagined as the West Midlands in a more remote past that evokes a Merry England ideology. Tolkien’s views may not have been uniformly troubling, but from a window out of Edinburgh in 2018, an engagement with the world that includes support for Franco doesn’t look good.

Give me the fucking tablets or I'll come through there and pound your fucking head in!
Franco: still a problem in C21st Edinburgh

Once again, I’m put in mind of Val McDermid expanding upon Ian Rankin’s observation that that the current preoccupations of the crime novel lean to the left, while the thriller tends towards the conservative.

thriller : crime :: fantasy : sci-fi

And of course I’m being simplistic, viz. Ursula K. Le Guin.

Or summat
A world of sinistrophobia

The Lord of the Rings had a huge impact on Le Guin, it says here.

But rather than making her want to follow in Tolkien’s footsteps, it simply showed her what was possible with the fantasy genre.

She had previously put fantasy and sci-fi aside in early adolescence, finding that the stories seemed to be all about hardware and soldiers: White men go forth and conquer the universe.

To be fair, women cartographers have form, too.
Er, you’ve spelled “draw maps properly” wrong

Oh. Speaking of, there’s a new BBC weather map.

Returning to genre writing, Le Guin embraced the standard themes of her chosen genres: sorcery and dragons, spaceships and planetary conflict. But from interesting angles. Her novels included the acclaimed The Left Hand of Darkness. As her obituary in the New York Times describes it, the novel

takes place on a planet called Gethen, where people… assume the attributes of either sex during brief periods of reproductive fervor…. Ms. Le Guin later referred to her novel as a “thought experiment” designed to explore the nature of human societies.

“I eliminated gender to find out what was left,” she told The Guardian.

"They said we had Five Years!" HONK!
Three years later to be cutting edge, Zig

Le Guin has been cropping up on the periphery of my awareness for a little while now, and it’s a shame that it’s taken her recent death to make me dig around some more. But the more I dig, the more interested I am in finding out more. Here, for example, in The Paris Review is Ten Things I Learned from Ursula K. Le Guin by her friend Karen Joy Fowler.

A happy contrast with last week’s post, wherein the deeper I looked into the genius of Mark E. Smith, the more uncomfortable I became with being a fan. (There’s an alternative take here.)

Boys Keep Swinging
“The values of patriarchy are buried in the very plots of our stories. New plots are needed.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

Maybe I should learn thing 7 – You can regret a decision you made in an earlier book [or life] and correct it in a later work – and embrace fantasy.

And maybe even dragons.



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1 thought on “Dragons

  1. I’ve always preferred sci-fi to fantasy. In my teenage years, the sci-fi was Asimov, Bradbury and Clarke. White men exploring the universe via science. Later I migrated to William Gibson (cyberpunk guru with an understanding of brutal coporate behavior) and David Brin (environmental consciousness and anti-colonial awareness). Favorite author of the genre is, of course, Douglas Adams, who could satirize just about anything to great effect. So over time, I gained a somewhat better understanding of the world through the changing themes that sci-fi writers of different eras have brought to the fore.

    Fantasy? I don’t think I’ve ever read a major fantasy book all the way through. Helps to explain why I don’t have much interest in Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. Give me a hard-edge cyberpunk thriller any day (with left-wing sympathies of course).

    Having said that: Left Hand of Darkness was good. But I consider it sci-fi, and not fantasy.

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