Many of us know the famous fantasy/ sci-fi author Ursula Le Guin. Not only has she written several books, both for adults and for children, but her most widely known work, A Wizard of Earthsea, has become a staple on many high school reading lists. Her fantasy and science fiction books are wonderful, but rather than these I would like to discuss one of her non-fiction pieces. She is not as well-known for her non-fiction work, but it is just as good, if not better than her fiction. Language of the Night is a collection of her essays and one in particular, Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?, sums up what every lover of anything fantastical or imaginative has had to deal with in others because of that love.
The essay basically states that people are hesitant to accept fantasy or science fiction or anything that cannot be found in real life because, among other things, they are afraid to confront a reality other than the one they have forced themselves to endure. I won’t spoil it for you because I really think you should read the essay for yourself… and I trust that Le Guin can say it much better than I can. A part of the fun of reading something is discovering it as you go through it, to attempt to have the spark of the idea as organically as the author might have had it. I also find that when I do this I’m more honest about my opinion of the piece afterwards, so I generally don’t like going into too much detail when I’m telling people to read something.
But on the topic of adults scorning fantasy, I work in a book store at the moment and I often have to give recommendations to people who are looking for a new book to read. It is very seldom that when your average Joe, or more often Jane, is looking for a new book or a light read, they will have fantasy in mind. If I bring up the subject they’ll often scrunch their nose and say, no I’d just like a regular book. When I was going through my awkward teenage years, sometimes I would feel embarrassed to be seen in the fantasy section, like I was in the children’s section or the romance/ erotica section (also genres adults get scorned for enjoying and also worth discussion). And sometimes when family members ask to borrow one of my books to read they’ll ask me to give them ‘a real book. None of that weird science fiction stuff’. Living this made me love this essay. And by all means, if you have thoughts or stories on the subject do share them. We fantasy fanatics must every now and again come together in celebration of the genre.
Below is a link to an excerpt of the essay.
This is a cover of the book