mjj (flemmings) wrote,

So, anent the current kerfuffle about Why are there no Jewish fantasy writers? or rather, why are there no Jewish Tolkiens and Lewises--

I was a bit startled that Weingrad thought Narnia was High Fantasy when AFAI'mC Narnia is a children's series. Yes, it's fantasy, but all it has in common with High Fantasy is a general northern European and specifically English cultural background. Otherwise-- well, its focus by me is other than dragons and derring-do. Talking animals, guy, are a staple of British kidslit. Or possibly you haven't read The Wind in the Willows (full disclosure: neither have I) or Winnie-the-Pooh. (Should note that when I was a kid, which was when Narnia was written, most fantasy was to be found in children's books, and not much elsewhere. E Nesbit, Edward Eager, Hilda Lewis, Philippa Pearce, Allison Uttley, and a little later Susan Cooper. It was the late 60s before anything else started coming out, and the first stuff still came from English authors.)

For me Tolkien was succeeded not by any of the Tolkien D&D clones, but by Moorcock, who had the virtue of doing far away and not-earth and occasionally not-human. Moorcock was succeeded in quick order by Fritz Leiber, with his city settings, and Leiber by Avram Davison, et voila. Three degrees of separation merely and we hit a major Jewish fantasist. And one could make an argument for Leiber's mindset being as much Jewish as Christian, because in western terms, once you're into cityscapes you're into Jewish territory.

However the ongoing discussion and the concomittant list of Jewish fantasy writers informed me that Michael Chabron has a fantasy set in Silk Roads territory; and finding myself near BMV yesterday I popped in and bought it. (Also another Akunin-- Jewish mystery writer, did you know?-- and a Nalo Hopkinson. Why do I buy books on days when I'm trudging through 4-6 inches of snow?) Started it last night afer six hours of Little Girls. It scratched an itch I didn't know I had.

It's very Fafhrd and Gray Mouser in feel, crossed with Imaro: the skinny city-bred Frank (= ur-Frenchman; his *name* is Zelikman) with his skinny scalpel-like knife; and the large muscled Abyssinian warrior Amram with his great battle-axe. Wrinkle being that both Zelikman and Amram are Jewish. Not terribly observant (yes, and why is that the first thing I think of?) but Jewish all the same.

I've missed that. Explicitly Jewish fantasy character front and centre. Oh, agreed, you can cite historical reasons why there *would* be Jews in France and Ethiopia, just as you can cite historical reasons for black women in Arthurian England. But seriously? Never mind historicity in a free-wheeling fantasy. It's the front and centre that I wanted, and got, and is what's different from almost anything else. Not slipped in sideways as Davison does, referencing learned Jewish scholars as sources for magic along with Zoroastrian magi. (How you can tell a Golden Age writer was Jewish: he mentions Jewish people. Gentiles don't seem to realize they exist.) Nope, there they are, derring-doing and running con games on the road to, well, wherever Samarkand would be if we were going that far east, which we aren't. It's neat, and to my taste, refreshing.

Now ask me why I care, since I'm not Jewish myself. Far as I can figure, it's because in the traditional English and Christian tradition I grew up in and read, the umm 'thing that's left out'-- the omitted and excised Other, is Jewish. (In much Britlit, the very present, feared, and despised Other is Jewish.) But in urban NAmerica where I live, Jews are everywhere in novels and poetry and music, not to mention daily life and TV. So it's my personal Torontonian equivalent of 'where are the women?' and 'where are the POC?' Something's missing. Where are the Jews in fantasy-- labelled, not coded, as such? And here they are in Chabron. I could do with more of this.
Tags: reading, reading_10

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