Reflections on the Rich Language of Fantasy

29 10 2017

ON THE 13 WORDS THAT MADE ME A WRITER
SOFIA SAMATAR REFLECTS ON THE RICH LANGUAGE OF FANTASY

There was a library and it is ashes. Let its long length assemble.

These words made me a writer.

When I was in middle school, my mother brought home a used paperback copy of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. “I thought this looked like something you might like,” she said.

At the time, I was an avid fantasy fan, but also an increasingly tired and gloomy reader. Driven by an early love for J.R.R. Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin, I had exhausted the fantasy shelves at my school and downtown libraries in just a few years, and my only remaining source of new books, in those pre-Internet days, was Waldenbooks at the local mall. There I wandered every Saturday with my allowance in my pocket. One weekend I was lucky enough to discover Labrador by Kathryn Davis, which was shelved among the commercial fantasies either by mistake or through some audacious genre-busting among the staff. Most of the time, though, I read disappointing books looking for something good. I had been to Mirkwood Forest, so I read books full of watered-down Mirkwoods, wondering why the feeling was not the same. I had heard the terrifying words uttered among the Tombs of Atuan: She is eaten. And so I paged through paint-by-numbers landscapes and twee rhyming prophecies, searching in vain for the feeling I called fantasy.

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