Friday, May 7th, 2010

Fantasy, Modernism, Leonard Woolf, Ceylon, Harry Potter: Now It Can Be Told

I don’t link to everything I write. In fact volumetrically speaking I link to hardly anything I write. But I’m going to link to this piece I wrote for The Believer, because I’m really proud of it.

It started with something that happened almost 20 years ago. My mom, who’s an English professor, was working on a review of a new edition of Leonard Woolf’s diaries. This is the kind of thing my parents do. Leonard Woolf being the husband of Virginia Woolf, but also a pretty interesting guy in his own right. Because he was Jewish, and poor, he didn’t have a lot of options when he graduated from college, so he enlisted in the British Civil Service (he almost flunked the exam), which sent him to Ceylon to help out with oppressing the indigenous population.

This is my favorite picture of anybody ever

Anyway, my mom was reading his diaries, sitting in a massive faux-leather La-Z-Boy in our old living room, and she told me an anecdote: apparently Leonard Woolf had a colleague in Ceylon who was writing something. Woolf was a literary snob even before he got married to one of the greatest novelists ever, and he looked at the guy’s work, and he remarked with horror — dripping with scorn voice here — that it contained “fairies.”

Flash forward to last year, order generic zithromax when my first fantasy novel came out. I was thinking about fantasy, and why I write it, and what it means, and that anecdote came floating to the surface of the brackish pond that is my memory. And I wondered, who was that poor forgotten guy, on whose manuscript Leonard Woolf dripped scorn?

So I found out.

That’s only partly what the piece is about. It’s also about making connections between fantasy and modernism, which it seems to me people should do more often. The two literary movements that I’ve basically organized my life around started pretty much at the same moment in history. That can’t have been a coincidence.

(I mean, fantasy has been around for millennia, but fantasy in the modern sense, the Lewis-and-Tolkien sense. You know what I mean.)

Anyway, I’m happy with how the piece came out. I’m pretty tired of writing these truncated little 650-word nuglets for Time. It felt good to type knowing that I didn’t have to stop when I came to the end of the little box. When I announced to my mom that she told me the anecdote that started the whole piece off, she looked at me and said: “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

It’s true what the Fresh Prince said. Parents just don’t understand.

9 comments on “Fantasy, Modernism, Leonard Woolf, Ceylon, Harry Potter: Now It Can Be Told

  1. Ben says:

    That’s a stunning piece, Lev. You manage to pack a lot in there – colonialism, genre history, genre/lit tension, etc. You have good reason to be proud of it.

  2. Monique says:

    Speaking on behalf of the world, we will be happy to have another blog.

    I’m at a blogging conference today, 500 people with lots of worthwhile things to say.


    I’m listening to David Ng talk about the science of a type of bacteria that hides a squid from predators. You’d be interested in his project:


  3. part 1 of 2: -because i haven’t clicked the link yet. must first respond to understanding how word limits are so /i don’t know… 20th century

    and aren’t blogs the most authentic writing/reading experience ever -exactly because you can share your story, your insights, etc. in however many, or few, words it takes to tell it.

    -k- will be back after i read your piece.

  4. Magical thinking is something we never quite shed. It’s not infantile at all, it turns out. It’s human. -my favorite line.

    part 2 of 2: great read! interesting to read about these two through your lens; dutton through woolf’s lens, and see the fantasty/moderinism connection (or should i say reflection?)

    i don’t think any genre needs defending -but it is fascinating to learn about their genesis

    and i trust internet/blogs are the most fertile ground (let’s make that space) for new genre’s to emerge

    and for established genre’s to thrive anew

    and on the topic of critics

    i hold: all criticism reveals more truth about the critic than the art or artist they are criticizing.

    and the truth about woolf is not favorable.

  5. Lialla Igneb says:

    Thank you for a very clear and helpful post. I am definitely a violator of many of these rules. I often find myself conflicted when writing a blog post because I see myself writing more than people want to read, but I feel that I have to do the subject matter justice by thoroughly covering it. I feel that by following some of these rules I end up cutting out important aspects to the discussion. I guess you have to find a balance.

  6. unbelieveble news dude

  7. Hello Dude , i love with u write. LOL Please come to my blog

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