The Ageing Reader (and Writer)

When I was younger, I almost exclusively read fantasy novels. This was back in the day when it was uncomfortable to say you read fantasy - or worse, wrote it - because many people, at least in my country, had more lurid ideas of what fantasy meant than dragons, chivalrous knights, wizard-kings. You had to say science fantasy if you didn't want to get weird looks.




I discovered the genre when, one rainy afternoon in my local library, feeling a little sad, I came across Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsinger and fell in love at first sight with the cover. From then on, I became not only an avid fantasy reader, but my own juvenile writing went from sardonic comedies to fantasy tales involving lost princesses, evil elves, and beautiful winged horses in lieu of dragons. I also read an almost equal amount of science fiction, because after all that was the 1980s and there was so much excellent classic science fiction to read, as well as some amazing sci fi posters (sold at record stores) to inspire writing.

Thirty years later, I still tend to write fantasy. This is probably because my imagination was almost entirely constructed from its tropes. But increasingly I find myself moving away from it, especially as a reader. I haven't picked up any new fantasy book for months, perhaps years, although I have bought some science fiction novels. I still read my old favourite fantasies. But generally my reading tastes have changed with age and circumstance. When I was younger, I wished the world was more enchanting than reality showed itself to be, and so I became absorbed in the magic of fantasy, the marvels of science fiction. Later, as a homeschooling mother, I had a great excuse to lavish my mind with information from a vast array of non-fiction books. Now that I'm middle-aged, I'm interested only in relationship stories - women's fiction I guess, regardless of genre, now that I feel secure in my own womanhood. 

This week I read a brief description of a new fantasy novel that will soon be on sale. Part of my mind sang out at the beauty of it, the wonderful magical imagery of it. But I didn't actually find myself wanting to buy the book. And when I contemplated writing something with similarly enchanted imagery, I felt discontent. I still believe in magic, but the sort of magic that reality has in its bones - and that I can see, and feel, now I've gone through decades of experience.

Maybe it is because fantasy belonged so much to my youth that I find it unsuited to me now I'm middle aged. Or maybe my brain has changed. These days I want magic not as escapism, or even enchantment, but as an exploration of the wonder and peril and wild beauty that really does exist. True magic.


5 comments:

  1. very interesting. it makes me think about my own reading preferences these days... i was always a voracious reader, and of pretty much any genre. and i've always had a stack of re-read books piled in with my new reading material. lately i find that i almost have to force myself to read new books, rather than re-reading my old favourites yet again, and i wonder why this is the case. i think it's because there is so much bad news and ecological worry, and much of what i have read that is new to me has been sad, that i want the comfort and certainty of known material. there's enough harshness and concern and uncertainty in real life; i almost can't bear to add to it with what i watch or read recreationally. hmmm...

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    1. I too have found that so many new books I've tried are harsh, violent, often gruesome, and it makes me sad to think of what is happening in the collective consciousness of the world. That harshness has always been there of course but for a while we seemed to have higher principles. They appear to be sliding away. I don't mind shadows and difficulties in a book, trials, even the tormenting of the characters to a certain degree, but revelling in violence is hard to abide. I have lost my trust in books, and so stick with familiar authors and old favourites.

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  2. Our hearts long for it, true magic.

    Someone else is longing for it too and...you are a writer... just saying. :)

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    1. Lol! Hugs to you, my dear. I am in the middle of a very difficult time, and haven't had the chance to do any writing, and I worry that what I want to write isn't what my audience would expect from me so I'm doing a lot of note-taking and plot-wrangling and haven't had a chance for much else. Not even much blogpost writing! But I will get there :-) Have a beautiful day.

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    2. "...and I worry that what I want to write isn't what my audience would expect from me"

      Gasp! Do you know what this means??

      You have an additional audience.

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