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Jewish fantasy

I'm reading a couple-days old kerfuffle about Jewish fantasy, which seems to have started with an article postulating that there is no Jewish equivalent of Narnia, which was subsequently commented on by Farah Mendlesohn and Abigail Nussbaum.

I'm sitting here wondering if I should write some epic Jewish secondary world fantasy (in short story form, because really, I'm still me), which people seem to think is lacking. (I can't think of counter-examples, but epic fantasy is not my balliwick, and I can see why Lions of Al-Rassan doesn't count.) But you know--really? I'm not sure I can.

Not because I want to know why Dumbledore didn't stop the Holocaust, or because I don't resonate religiously to the idea of opposed good and evil (although I do and I don't). Not because I have a mistrust of the feudal ideals and idealization of the middle ages which so much epic fantasy seems to uphold -- although I do mistrust those things, so do authors like N. K. Jemisin who have nevertheless managed to turn the form to their advantage.

No, I'm wary of writing Jewish epic fantasy because my understanding of my Jewishness identity is so very historically situated. It's not something I can disconnect from embodiedness or cultural factors... at least, not on first thought.

Maybe that's because I'm not reform or conservative or orthodox, I'm American disaffected. Maybe I'm not a real Jew at all, at least not for this conversation. I have no interest in saturating a text with proselytizing as Lewis does with Narnia. I am more interested in the sociological nature of Judaism than its religious truths, which I don't believe in.

I'll have to ponder.

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
douglascohen
Mar. 3rd, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC)
Preach it, sister.
douglascohen
Mar. 3rd, 2010 07:05 pm (UTC)
ETA: Although I confess that when done properly, I absolutely love high/epic fantasy. But your line about the sociological nature of Judaism vs. its religious truths resonated with me. I suppose I too am "American disaffected" when it comes to the Jewish faith. It's not a term I can recall hearing before, but I found myself nodding the moment I read it.
abigail_n
Mar. 3rd, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
I'm sitting here wondering if I should write some epic Jewish secondary world fantasy

YES

More seriously: you should write whatever you want to. But I think that that sociological nature of Judaism is just as interesting and just as valid a topic for fiction, in any genre, as proselytizing, and as I say in my post, it's also better suited to the nature of Judaism than the Narnia approach. I think a good example is Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, which, though technically more a historical pulp adventure than a fantasy, certainly uses a lot of the standard tools of fantasy, and is mainly about the Jewish social experience (or the experience of being in a Jewish social setting).
jess_ka
Mar. 3rd, 2010 07:43 pm (UTC)
Since I was raised culturally Jewish more than religiously (never went to Hebrew school), when I wrote "Nights at the Crimea" I had to do a lot of research into Jewish folktale and the Kabbalah because it was stuff I didn't know.
thelimbknitter
Mar. 3rd, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
Instead of a fantasy, why not write an alternate history?

I say that for two reasons.

One, I enjoy reading alternate history and frankly, I don't think Chabon was on the right track. His seems more alternate fantasy than true fictional counterfactual.

Two, I really do not care much for fantasy.

Respects,
S. F. Murphy
On the Outer Marches
benburgis
Mar. 3rd, 2010 09:59 pm (UTC)
I would want to write or read exact-Jewish-equivalent of Narnia stuff, for some of the secondary reasons you mentioned (although Gord did call my second story at Clarion a "Judeo-realist piss take on Narnia," whatever exactly that means), but I think that secondary-world stuff that (in some appropriately re-mixed way) explores Jewish identity/experience can be good. I remember enjoying Jessica Rydill's "Children of the Shaman" and the sequel several years back, and on some level that seems to be what's going on in those books.
girliejones
Mar. 3rd, 2010 11:53 pm (UTC)
I have no interest in saturating a text with proselytizing as Lewis does with Narnia.

But isn't that part of the point? I mean, if Jews want to do that end of the religious push, don't you just go to the ultimate text? My experience is that most Jews aren't interesting in proselytizing the religion (cause its not part of the religion). So yeah, in fantasy I like to read Jewish characters, I like to read alternate histories, I like to see Kabbalah, I like to see some of the mysticism, but I don't need the push to convince me to be ... what? more Jewish? I dunno.
therinth
Mar. 5th, 2010 10:53 am (UTC)
You know, it's funny...Paul and I were just talking about this after i saw you. He'd seen an article on io9.com ... and someone over there commented that Jewish Narnia = Marvel comics ;).
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )