Fantasy Fiction Snobs Raising Eebrows

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fictionKazuo Ishiguro, who won the Booker prize in 1989 for his novel The Remains of the Day, is one of the literary world’s most respected novelists. It raised eyebrows in 2005 when he published Never Let Me Go, a dystopian science fiction novel about children who discover that they are clones destined to be harvested for their organs, though the book is now regarded as one of his best works. But when the literary world learned that his new book, The Buried Giant, is an Arthurian fantasy about the quest to kill a dragon, it didn’t just raise eyebrows—it made heads explode. Ishiguro was puzzled by the response.

“People are perfectly entitled to read my book and say they don’t like it,” he says in Episode 145 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “But if they’re saying, ‘I’m not going to read your book, despite having liked your previous books, because I hear there are ogres in it,’ well, that just seems to me classic prejudice.”

Ishiguro, who was born in Japan, was raised on samurai stories full of demons and shape-shifters, and avidly reads each new translation of The Iliad and The Odyssey, ancient tales of warriors, gods, and monsters. His longtime friend and mentor Angela Carter also wrote fiction full of myth and fantasy, and he thinks these various influences helped inspire him to write fiction that defies easy categorization.

“These are tools that have been used ever since people sat around the campfire as cavemen,” he says. “The Ancient Greeks used it, the Romans used it, Scandanavian folk tales, Japanese folk tales, European folk tales. We’ve used them all along. Why have we suddenly got rather snobbish and sneer-y about it in just the last few years?”

He admits that publishing books like Never Let Me Go and The Buried Giant has gotten easier in recent years, as younger authors—like David Mitchell, whose 2004 novel Cloud Atlas was filmed by the Wachowskis—have helped expand the range of subject matter that’s accepted in the literary world.

“It’s enabled older writers like myself, who perhaps grew up in a crustier, more prejudiced kind of atmosphere about what we could and couldn’t do if we considered ourselves to be literary authors, people like me have been liberated by a lot of the work that’s being done by writers who are a generation, or perhaps two generations, younger than me,” he says.

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