Thursday, June 18, 2015

Clive Barker on fantastic fiction in the Weaveworld intro

From the 2001 edition of Clive Barker's 1987 novel Weaveworld, the introduction written by him contains a reflection on the fantastic fiction I thought worth reading. I recommend reading the entire introduction, but this is the part that stood out to me:

In the past fourteen years I’ve gone through periods when I was thoroughly out of sorts with the novel, even on occasion irritated that it found such favor with readers when other stories seemed more worthy. And in the troughs of my discomfort, I made what with hindsight seems to be dubious judgements about fantastic fiction as a whole. I have been, I think, altogether too disparaging about the “escapist” elements of the genre, emphasizing its powers to address social, moral, and even philosophical issues at the expense of celebrating its dreamier virtues.
I took this position out of a genuine desire to defend a fictional form I love from accusations of triviality and triteness, but my zeal led me astray. Yes, fantastic fiction can be intricately woven into the texture of our daily lives, addressing important issues in fabulist form. But it also serves to release us for a time from the definitions that confine our daily selves; to unplug us from a world that wounds and disappoints us, allowing us to venture into places of magic and transformation. Though of late my writing has concerned itself more and more with detailing that wounded, disappointing reality, as a reader I have rediscovered the pleasures of unrepentant escapism: the short fiction of Lord Dunsany, early Yeats poems, the paintings of Samuel Palmer and Ernst Fuchs.

The author who wrote Weaveworld has, however, disappeared. I’ve not lost faith with the enchantments of fantasy, but there is a kind of easy sweetness in this book that would not, at least presently, come readily from my pen. We go through season perhaps, and Weaveworld was written in a balmier time. Perhaps there’ll be another. But its tender invention still seems very remote from the man writing these words.

Maybe that’s why, when I sat down to work this morning, I thought of that sill in North Wales, and the orchard and the wall and the meadow. They too are remote, yet – like the copy of Weaveworld that sits beside me on the desk – they are here with me still; part of my past, and yet present.

I do like to hear authors admit their mistakes and come forth with a more nuanced opinion. Often we cut out the good to defend what we believe is the greater good, when it would be better to defend both, to entertain a greater level of inclusion and acceptance. Fantastic fiction seems like such a powerful form of writing that deserves plenty of respect. In this day and age, it does get that, but sometimes there is a trap we can fall into trying to separate what's too escapist and too critical, what's proper and what's not, and become that voice of the critic in dire need of fresh air.

Anyway, I'm excited to finally start reading more Clive Barker. Been meaning to for a while. Nightmare Magazine (via this short story Lost Souls and the author description in lieu of interview) kind of reminded me a little while back, and at last, here I am, with what is apparently one of his 'lighter' works a bit too full of "easy sweetness" for Barker in 2001. And in audio book form with wonderful narration from Simon Vance. So far I'm digging the birds and cuckoos.

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