I think the central distinction—this is something I’ve written about—that what you’re really talking about is not fantasies and realistic books. I think really what you’re talking about is romances and books that aren’t romances—“romances” in the definition of Northrop Frye: those entertainments that go back to ancient times. The Odyssey is a romance. Books about quests, and mysteries to be solved, and journeys undertaken to solve mysteries, lovers who are divided and reunited in the end, treasures that are found and lost again—all that kind of material as well as talking animals and ghosts and ancient evils and trips to the underworld to learn wisdom and come back again—all that romance material, it persists in literature to a greater and lesser extent. I mean, it can be found in realistic novels too—disguised and displaced in various ways. But novels and fiction whose traction is somehow based on those kinds of subjects and themes and materials are really what we’re talking about when you’re talking about fantasy.
In a certain sense, my books are not exactly those kinds of books either, even though they frequently depend on those impulses. I think of my books, especially Little, Big and the Ægypt books, as being about that impulse, the romance impulse, more than they are actually romances themselves. So, what is that, “meta-romance”? Can I get away with that? So Dan Brown’s book—what’s the difference between that and Foucault’s Pendulum? Dan Brown’s book depends upon people wanting to indulge the sense of perceiving a mystery or chasing after a mysterious secret that can change the world, something that will remake the whole past if you can only find it, and then being chased by bad guys on the way to finding it. Foucault’s Pendulum is about people like that, people who want to feel those feelings, and get obsessed with those things. In fact it’s a condemnation of people like that, a condemnation of that impulse. So it itself can’t be a romance. It’s a book about the romance impulse. I think mine’s like that too, although it’s not as caustic or critical as Foucault’s Pendulum.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The Romantic Impulse
John Crowley in the Believer: