Three Links

First, the brainy and still making my head spin around with the ideas: Why there is no Jewish Narnia from the brand new Jewish Review of Books. The author, Michael Weingrad, examines why there is no Jewish fantasy author on par with Tolkein and Lewis, particularly given the depth and history of Jewish mysticism.

His answers and ideas are so thoughtful and interesting I am still pondering, and I had to share. If you’re a fantasy or science fiction fan, this article looks at the genres from allegorical perspectives, and draws some conclusions as to why Jewish writers number very few among the fantasy genre:

Some readers may have already expressed surprise at my assertion that Jews do not write fantasy literature. Haven’t modern Jewish writers, from Kafka and Bruno Schulz to Isaac Bashevis Singer and Cynthia Ozick, written about ghosts, demons, magic, and metamorphoses? But the supernatural does not itself define fantasy literature, which is a more specific genre. It emerged in Victorian England, and its origins are best understood as one of a number of cultural salvage projects that occurred in an era when modern materialism and Darwinism seemed to drive religious faith from the field. Religion’s capacity for wonder found a haven in fantasy literature….

To put it crudely, if Christianity is a fantasy religion, then Judaism is a science fiction religion. If the former is individualistic, magical, and salvationist, the latter is collective, technical, and this-worldly. Judaism’s divine drama is connected with a specific people in a specific place within a specific history. Its halakhic core is not, I think, convincingly represented in fantasy allegory. In its rabbinic elaboration, even the messianic idea is shorn of its mythic and apocalyptic potential. Whereas fantasy grows naturally out of Christian soil, Judaism’s more adamant separation from myth and magic render classic elements of the fantasy genre undeveloped or suspect in the Jewish imaginative tradition. Let us take two central examples: the magical world and the idea of evil.

Christianity has a much more vivid memory and even appreciation of the pagan worlds which preceded it than does Judaism.

If you like a little analysis, comparative religion and discussion of world building and fantastic allegory with your coffee, enjoy that. I’m still pondering and would love to hear what you think.

From the brainful to the bodaciously awesome, we have one link containing a whollle lot of awesome: bid early, bid often in the 2010 Brenda Novak Diabetes Auction. Bid Early, Bid Often. I have one item up for bid, an author interview that may or may not create a lifetime of minty-fresh breath.

And finally: brainful, bodaciously awesome, and… Bwuhr?  Everything I need to know about the internet, I learned from Fandom Wank. Today’s lesson, fanfic!

Fanfic is a hot topic, and no, not the kind where you shop for really tiny t shirts and shorts that require a bikini wax. Some authors hate it, some loathe it, and Diana Gabaldon wants to set it on fire. I much prefer Jim Butcher’s approach, which uses Creative Commons licenses to delineate what belongs to whom and wherefore and why and whatnot.

LauraBryannan wisely states in the thread that, “If something is popular, there will be a fandom created for it.” Is this the wrong time to confess I totally wrote Archie/Betty fanfic based on Archie comics? Probably. I can’t believe he ended up with Veronica. I think I might have to go find that middle school notebook of mine.

Either that, or I need some hot Jewish fantasy fanfic, like, Right Now. Who’s in?

 

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  1. 1
    Hazel says:

    I was thinking of commenting to say that I write Jewish fantasy

    fanfic

    , but in reality, my writing is mostly agnostic. I make a point of being very vague on the topic of gods, while remaining pretty specific about how spirituality and religion make a part of the characters’ lives. Of course, I’m not published (and may never be), so that might be moot.

  2. 2

    Thanks for these links; very interesting!

  3. 3
    Alpha Lyra says:

    Diana Gabaldon is complaining that fanfic has sex in it? Hee.

  4. 4
    John J. says:

    Okay, this really set a fire in me.  And not in the way Ms. Galbadon likes to think of personal fires, either. 

    I’ve never read her, but she is on my list, and for good reasons, but as someone who started out writing fanfiction, it hits hard.  I did it when I was in eighth grade, and despite what Ms. Galbadon doesn’t seem to understand, it provided me excellent practice.  MY writing and MY characters and MY dialogue got better.  I did it off of video games, came up with my own plots and versions of flexible characters.  But I needed a crutch.  A fanfiction is like riding with training wheels – you get a basic idea of what writing a story is like, and you get the idea of how you make characters react to each other.  My romances got better, my language improved, EVERYTHING did.

    Not only this, but it’s fun.  I mean, it makes me angry to think that this author doesn’t understand the concept of writing for fun.  Even when you write for yourself, the idea of sharing it is always enjoyable, because giving others joy is a big part of the process, too.  I don’t get why she feels so badly about it – people know it isn’t her writing these stories, or supporting them, and clearly they read her books if they look for more. 

    To be devil’s advocate, now that I’ve begun finding my voice, I don’t think I can go back to writing fan fiction.  I like my own thoughts too much.  But it remains a good starting point, especially for people that are iffy about writing.  I know I didn’t even think of writing for fun and for originality until after I saw how fun it was through fan fiction.  And plus, fan fiction introduced me to gay characters in romance…and that is a huge thing for me.  :P

    Wow, long post.  ^^  Hope it helps some people understand fan fiction isn’t some horribly disgusting thing.  Frankly, I am more wary of Galbadon as a writer, now that I know she feels like people like me aren’t good because we started somewhere.  It makes me wonder if she REALLY understands what fan fiction is for.

  5. 5
    ktg says:

    I have no problem with Gabaldon not liking and therefore not allowing fanfic about her books to be written. I do have a HUGE problem with her generalizations and comparing fanfic writers with burglars, rapists, and pedophiles. Sometimes it’s better to say less.

    I’m really dissappointed in her and I’ve been a huge fan of her books for years.

    I think I’m done buying and recommending her books. I can’t stand when an author has such disdain for their own fans.

  6. 6
    Ken Houghton says:

    that first link made no sense, so i sent it around to a few interested practicioners and also immediately got this thread reference response:

    http://fjm.livejournal.com/907353.html

    which begins by destroying the concept:

    Robert Silverberg; Esther Freisner; Peter Davison; Michael Burstein; Neil Gaiman; Marge Piercy (great grand-daughter of a Rabbi); Peter Beagle; Charlie Stross and Michael Chabon (by pure coincidence I have been reading Gentleman of the Road, set in the ninth century kingdom of the Kazars and, as he says in a post-script “Jews with Swords”, all day today).

    and then it gets interesting, for instance

    If we want to play scrupulously fair with the author, and acknowledge the lack of fantasies by Jewish writers that are 1) multi-volume works, 2) set in secondary worlds, and 3) explicitly concern themselves with the religion of the writer, then it seems to me that the gentile side isn’t that well packed either, being basically a Catholic, a Protestant, and an atheist, two of whom were friends and all of whom were academics at Oxford in the twentieth century.

  7. 7
    JamiSings says:

    Okay, so there’s no Jewish Narnia. I just want to know why finding romance novels with Jewish main characters is so razzen-frazzen hard! If I type in the words “Jewish” and “Romance” into my library’s search engine I get three items – THREE. They are “The Saturday Wife”, “The Romance Reader,” and “The Way We Were.”

    That’s IT!

    I want to know why a religion that finds sex so important that Rabbis have sat down and figured out according to occupation how many times a year a husband must sexually pleasure his wife, where sex on the Sabbath is encouraged, is so under represented in romance novels.

    Fantasy smantasy, I want my Jewish romance novel heroes and heroines!

  8. 8
    Bella Street says:

    I would LOVE to read such books. Studying Greek/Roman mythology, Christianity, Norse mythology, Eastern mysticism, and the like, I’ve found there are often more similar motifs and symbolism than differences that would enrich any story. Bring it on!

  9. 9
    Coco says:

    I am in total agreement with Weingrad when he says that Judaism, with regard to

    “Its halakhic core is not, I think, convincingly represented in fantasy allegory.”

    I think very few religions and cultures have their rich depths explored or utilised to make the valid points about human identity that fantasy literature often makes using christian beliefs. Perhaps this exploration is not what fantasy literature is about. But perhaps again there is simply no one interested in both writing of this sort and wants to, or can adequately, explore religious ideology in this manner.

    I think both Judaism (from what I know of it) and many other religions, contrary to Michael Weingrad’s opinion, have a heavy core of myth and mysticism that could be utilised for allegory or depth within world building. Actually, perhaps couching the detailed daily rituals and philosophical concepts that have such specific names and histories as mysticism is what stops their use in fantasy. Perhaps because they are in such widespread use they cannot be regarded as myth and fantasy whereas Christianity, with the exception of maybe orthodox-catholic, sees its biblical stories as only allegory- a tool to teach. I don’t mean to generalise but it seems other religions regard stories or concepts as both reality and allegory at the same time.  For us, perhaps putting something that is actually practised both as a conceptual thought and a daily ritual into fantasy you have to first make it a myth to allow it to work as a reality in another world. However, another part of me thinks- what’s wrong with that?!

    I am a Muslim living in the West and when I write Fantasy/Sci-fi most of my mythology stems from Christian/Roman-Greek mysticism and belief. There is such a dirth in most religions including Judaism, Hinduism and Islam that would be prime allegorical material for reference within this kind of literature but as much as I TRY and use specific religious imagery/ ideas within it, I can’t ever quite convey those elements within my writing satisfactorily. Perhaps it is because I am not a good enough writer or that I think other religions are to tied to the language/s I associate with them and thus I can not convey them adequately outside of them. Or that the practitioners of these faiths in the West are more shorn of these mystical elements living in a sort of atheistic, scientific society. If I was in Israel (perhaps not Tel Aviv!) or in Syria or in India I could find elements of the more mythological that would allow me to write convincingly.

    Sometimes I do think I can takes elements such as the idea of the unseen or unknowable world, the ‘ghaib’ in Islam, and use it but I think I do worry about where I cross the line from exploration to blasphemy. (In case anyone is thinking it: my lack of or ability to use it has nothing to do with my fear of fatwa-dom. Although I’m sure if this novel ever got created and then published and then it was offensive to someones sensibilities, then that wouldn’t hurt the sales any :P)

    Sorry for the ramble and apologies if it’s not decipherable but I just had to get my thoughts down!

  10. 10
    robinjn says:

    I’m sort of scratching my head over Diana Gabaldon. Do I, or do I not, remember her position on the Cassie Edwards scandal as being in the “plagiarism isn’t any kind of a big deal” camp?? Maybe it’s “unless it’s of my stuff?”

    The Outlander series was one of my favorites ever. I’ve read the first three books countless times. But I remember being deeply disappointed in Gabaldon over the Edwards thing and her post on fanfic sort of deepens it in a “gee lady, you’re kind of a hypocrit aren’t you?” kind of way.

  11. 11
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Do you think a basic difference might also arise out the concept of conversion? Christians are evangelistic and believe in actively recruiting people to their religion. Judaism is pretty much the opposite. Some schools allow for conversation, but not all (or even most) sects. I could be totally off here, but something about this basic difference in outlook and purpose is striking.

    And yeah, there are lots of Jewish writers in the Science Fiction and Fantasy sections. Silverburg’s Majipoor books were pretty seminal for me. Far more so than the Narnia ones, which I was never able to get in to.

  12. 12
    Mal says:

    YAY!  Finally a fan-fic policy that makes sense!  (And doesn’t insult the readership.)  Thank you, Jim Butcher.  As for Diana Gabaldon, I agree with robinjn.  I’m pretty disappointed, because she didn’t even TRY to think harder about finding a solution to the eBay Cancer Lady Issue, and because she didn’t even TRY to remember that the people writing good/bad/ugly fan-fic about her characters are the same people BUYING HER BOOKS.

  13. 13
    Tiferet says:

    @ktg I find it humorous that anyone thinks they’re allowing/not allowing people to write fic. You can get the big fic sites to disallow tagged and labelled fic of your stuff because they don’t like dealing with your lawyers, but stopping people from writing it is impossible, and if you’re worried about someone making money from it, driving them into the world of zines is not the way to prevent that either.

  14. 14
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I’m sort of scratching my head over Diana Gabaldon. Do I, or do I not, remember her position on the Cassie Edwards scandal as being in the “plagiarism isn’t any kind of a big deal” camp?? Maybe it’s “unless it’s of my stuff?”

    Considering how dismissive she is of romance in general (and how eager she is to assert that she does NOT write romance), it’s unsurprising to me that she’d take the position that Edwards’ plagiarism was not worth making a fuss over. It’s all junk to her, why would she care?

  15. 15
    Rose Lerner says:

    Another really interesting post responding to that “Why there is no Jewish Narnia piece” here.  An excerpt:

    Mostly, though, I found myself thinking about the fact that the author strikes me as looking for “Jewish fantasy” in the wrong place: in the trappings of the worldbuilding. I’ve only written two clearly Jewish stories (one dealing with Hanukkah and issues around violence/nonviolence; the other dealing with Passover and vampires). But of course all my stories are Jewish. It informs my worldview. I don’t construct narratives quite the same way a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Tohono O’Odham writer.

  16. 16
    ktg says:

    @Tifferet

    Lots of authors say they do not want fanfiction written about their books. What usually happens is the bigger sites won’t allow those stories to get posted. I do not think it stops people from writing it. It’s just harder to find.

    But if that makes authors happy? Great.

    What makes me angry is how she is comparing fanfiction to stealing, breaking and entering, husband stealing, etc.

    Way to alienate your fanbase.

  17. 17

    Jim Butcher is a very talented writer and a mensch to boot.

    What is it with hysterical diva authors? Do they honestly fear that people will mistake fanfic for cannonical works? Do they think fanfic somehow despoils or dilutes their brand and if so, WTF? As long as fanfic authors don’t attempt to make money off their stories, who’s harmed and is it really an infringement of copyright (IANAL)?

    Gabaldon’s tirade reminds me of the poor author whose id exploded all over an Amazon reviewer (don’t remember the author – it was the stellar feller galactic competition book). Or Alice Hoffman’s tweeting of the Boston Globe reviewer’s personal contact info, or the historian who went beserk on a reviewer’s website.

    I wonder how many authors, if they took Sasha Baron Cohen’s questionnaire, would land firmly inside the autism spectrum? I guess it would make sense. Many writers are introverts and writing is a solitary, often lonely, occupation. So perhaps a lot of them never developed adequate social skills.

    The hair trigger outrage, inability to distinguish criticism from personal attack (or literary homage from child rape) or to disagree with other adults in a socially acceptable manner, the poor impulse control…it’s either autism, or these speshul flowers* with their fragile little psyches shouldn’t have any contact with the reading public or anyone else outside the voices in their own heads.

    *I first saw the term in a comments thread here and I use it a lot now….

  18. 18
    Quizzabella says:

    @John J.
    I totally agree with you.
    Fanfiction isn’t done for profit, it isn’t done to insult the original author and it’s a really good way for (especially teenagers) to start getting into writing and see if they have a flair for it when, let’s face it a lot of them wouldn’t bother otherwise.  Those who do have talent tend to go on to write original work, those that don’t carry on being fans of the source material.  No harm no foul.
    The line about people using her characters in fanfic (is there a lot of Outlander fanfic out there?) being akin to seducing her husband is pretty damn funny though.  There’s getting close to your characters and getting close to your characters.

  19. 19
    Kalen Hughes says:

    There’s getting close to your characters and getting close to your characters.

    Well, LKH admits to Christmas shopping for her characters . . . and Anne Rice isn’t a whole lot more connected to reality when it comes to Lestat.

  20. 20
    Michael says:

    Sarah, for the record Archie did NOT end up with Veronica.  It was all a three issue imaginary story which was followed by a three issue imaginary story where he married Betty.  The two stories were pretty cute though.

  21. 21
    Diana says:

    I’d like to throw out an additional reason out there why Judaism and fantasy have not meshed the way Christian (and its subsumed pagan) traditions have. Christianity has a template for a hero, drawing on other mythic traditions, and while their hero’s ultimate triumph hasn’t yet happened, the important stuff has. The world has already been saved, or at least, salvation has been offered. Good has triumphed, and if Evil has not yet been eradicated, it totally will be, really soon. (Any day now….)

    The main tropes in Judaism, on the other hand, are not of triumph but of endurance. So many holidays—and historical occurrences—can be summed up with, “They tried to kill us, but we lived (yay for God who helped us not all die).” Fighting back without being slaughtered wholesale is something that we’ve only been able to do for the past sixty-some years.

    As worthy as endurance is (and as glad I am that we have endured) it would be very difficult to build up a comparable fantasy tradition around simply not dying. Even the heroes in the Tanakh are either flawed or of the quiet sort—and I think that too goes back to something that was said above. Along with the lack of proselytizing is the lack of a burning need to save the world through grand, sweeping gestures—tikkun olam is just how you live, which is incompatible with bashing people with swords or toasting them with fireballs.

    So I don’t think that a Jewish Lord of the Rings is possible, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. What we need is a Jewish something-else-awesome-in-a-different way—and, just as important, the market to support it.

  22. 22
    LG says:

    Those who do have talent tend to go on to write original work, those that don’t carry on being fans of the source material.  No harm no foul.

    Also, if it takes the author of the original works a while to get the next book, fanfic can help keep the fanbase alive. It’s been ages since I read fanfic, and longer since I wrote any (I sucked, but it was so much fun to do), but everything I read and wrote was intended to tide me over until the next book or to fill in gaps left by the original story. I don’t see that as a bad thing.

  23. 23

    All I know is if anyone liked my world and my characters enough to take the time to write their own stories and share them with other readers, I’d be rapturously thrilled.

    Seriously, it’s like my sister complaining that she hasn’t lost enough weight and her husband won’t let her buy new furniture. I’d gladly trade bodies and budgets with you, baby, now STFU…..

  24. 24
    John J. says:

    @Quizabella

    Exactly!  The idea that fan fiction is bad is so lame-ass and annoying.  It made me into a pretty good writer, especially for a teenager, and while most of my fan fics will never be updated or read again by me, they represent important stages in my development.  Plus, without them, I would never have discovered my flair for writing.  I was interested in reading and writing them, and eventually just matured out of them.  And for profit?  I find that funny.  Akin to Nora Roberts’ dislike of them, too.  For her I think it’s a matter of being sued in case she accidentally uses a plot, considering all of her books that are published…Which is understandable, but rarely do I think an author and fan fiction writer have qualms with legal decisions.  The writers do it for fun, the authors for fun and profit. 

    And her reaction was so messed up.  Talk about overdramatic.  I agree with the possible introvert theory.  I mean, if you really get that worked up about it, you may spend too much time with everything.  And comparing it to cheating on her husband?  Wow.  Just wow.
    @LG

    Exactly!  I stayed with Harry Potter long after the books ended because I became obsessed with Draco/Harry haha.  While it was childish, it helped me get some gay romance in, and it kept the obsession alive a little longer.  It’s kinda gone now, but I remember reading the fan fiction with fond memories.  I think the problem with some fandoms is that they are so popular that everyone wants to write a hit fic.  The smaller ones generally have better ones, because its a smaller fanbase who are more focused.

  25. 25
    Sheila says:

    On the fan-fiction front.  I started reading it to tide me over between Harry Potter books.  I got hooked on one author who was awesome.

    Then I found out she writes her own books and still has fun doing the fan fiction.  I now have nearly every book she’s written and still go back to read her fan-fiction.

    For the record Jean Johnson rocks.

  26. 26

    Michael Weingard needs to read more.

    Josepha Sherman, Joan Vinge, Janni Lee Simner, Neil Gaiman, Michael Chabon, Harlan Ellison, David Brin, Ellen Kushner,Sherri Tepper,  Phyllis Eisenstein, Esther Freisner, Jane Yolen . . .

    Seriously, this schmuck does not know what he’s talking about. Part of the problem is that he doesn’t know, or read, genre fic—he’s in the throes of a crush on lit fic.

    If he reads Yiddish or Hebrew, there’s an even longer list, that includes not only folklore but Biblically inspired mythic fantasy—and graphic novels.

    And for the really curious, I’m perfectly willing to make a case for most of the the Medieval Irish texts contained in Lebor Gabala, the Book of the Takings of Ireland as Jewish fan fic (Ireland was in part settled by descendants of Noah, and Jonah holidayed there).

  27. 27
    Ruby Duvall says:

    Regarding Diana Gabdalon’s books and fanfiction of it, I only have three words: Internet Rule #34.

    “If it exists, there is porn of it.”

  28. 28
    Ron Hogan says:

    “Michael Weingard needs to read more.”

    Yep. Two words: Avram Davidson.

  29. 29
    Diana says:

    I understood his argument to be “There is no epic Jewish fantasy on par in influence and scope with Tolkien and Lewis,” not “There are no Jewish fantasy writers.”

    Just because a writer is Jewish doesn’t mean that they write Jewish fantasy. I wouldn’t, for example, classify Gaiman as a writer of Jewish fantasy; he’s far too broadly mythic in focus.

  30. 30

    He’s also my boyfriend, though neither he nor Amanda Palmer know it.

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