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Wherever I lay my cat, that's my home. - Jewish Fantasy writers.
February 24th, 2010
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Jewish Fantasy writers.
World Sf alerts me to the article Why there is No Jewish Narnia. I have posted at World Sf but can't post at the original article. Apparently Jews don't write fantasy.

Don'cha just love utter rubbish? Simply off the top of my head:
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).

I am sure others will add more.

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From:del_c
Date:February 24th, 2010 10:21 pm (UTC)
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From:oursin
Date:February 24th, 2010 10:28 pm (UTC)
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The original creators of Superman.
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From:yendi
Date:February 24th, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
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I think the writer was distinguishing between sci-fi and fantasy, but Siegel also co-created The Spectre.
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From:yendi
Date:February 24th, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)
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He even acknowledges Silverberg as a sci-fi writer, but somehow fails to note that half the man's books are fantasies?

As for others, Peter David, Harry Turtledove, Jane Yolen, and Lisa Goldstein come to mind.
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From:del_c
Date:February 24th, 2010 10:33 pm (UTC)
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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.

(okay, maybe Mormon Card counts too)
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From:maradydd
Date:February 25th, 2010 03:26 am (UTC)
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Madeleine L'Engle went to Oxford?

(Okay, I suppose Camazotz and Ixchel are the only secondary worlds in A Wrinkle in Time, though I'd argue that the antediluvian Middle East of Many Waters is different enough from the world as we know it to be considered a secondary world.)
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From:dorianegray
Date:February 24th, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC)
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But I don't think his point was, quite, that Jews don't write fantasy. I thought it was that Jews don't have the same (wealth of? access to? feeling for?) mythological background that Christians have and that informs their fantasy worlds and said worlds' moralities.

That is, that what fantasies Jews write are mostly based on/informed by a Christian-centric way of thought.
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From:fjm
Date:February 24th, 2010 10:47 pm (UTC)
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Which is equally utter nonsense. See the authors listed above. Peter Beagle is currently writing about angels and dybbuks.

Which reminds me that I missed out Ellen Galford.

You could equally argue that quest fantasies are so damn dull because they rely on the template set down by Pilgrim's Progress.

Edited at 2010-02-24 10:48 pm (UTC)
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From:sovay
Date:February 25th, 2010 12:39 am (UTC)
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Jane Yolen, Phyllis Gotlieb, Greer Gilman, Naomi Kritzer, Tamar Yellin, Lavie Tidhar, Steve Stern, Jeannelle Ferreira, Stephanie Burgis . . . (me.) Avram Davidson! No doubt others I can't recall!
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From:negothick
Date:February 25th, 2010 01:24 am (UTC)
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I'd say the Golem legend is one area where Jewish fantasy has "crossed over" into the mainstream of Western culture. Of course in PRague, it's just plain history.
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From:xiphias
Date:February 25th, 2010 02:02 am (UTC)
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In someone else's LJ, I was thinking of who I'd want to tap for a con panel on "Why There Isn't Jewish Fantasy."

I came up with Esther Friesner, Neil Gaiman, Lev Grossman, Josepha Sherman, and Jane Yolen.

There are, of course, many, many other Jewish fantasy writers, but I picked them because they show up at cons, and I've liked them on panels.
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From:ellen_datlow
Date:February 25th, 2010 02:16 am (UTC)
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Robert Sheckley, Jack Dann, Harlan Ellison, off the top of my head.
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From:rosefox
Date:February 25th, 2010 02:46 am (UTC)
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Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman.
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From:nineweaving
Date:February 25th, 2010 04:22 am (UTC)
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Has Delia Sherman converted? She wasn't raised in a Jewish family.

Nine
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From:cmcmck
Date:February 25th, 2010 08:13 am (UTC)
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And looking at it from the other direction for a moment, a non Jewish fantasy writer like Pratchett has been deeply inspired by the Jewish concept of Golems, especially in; 'Feet of Clay' although Dorfl, the Golem, has become one of his regular characters. The golem idea appears as a major theme again in: 'Going Postal'
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From:mevennen
Date:February 25th, 2010 08:57 am (UTC)
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Susan Shwartz, Jay Caselberg, Laura Anne Gilman.

Pretty much every writer I know is Jewish!
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From:friend_of_tofu
Date:February 25th, 2010 09:28 am (UTC)
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What!? I was just Reading 'Body Of Glass' yesterday! (Huge Piercy fan here.)

I don't even...
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From:watervole
Date:February 25th, 2010 09:33 am (UTC)
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My assumption would be that the writer of the article had failed to check the religion of many well-known writers.

I tend to have a blind spot in that area myself. Religion is unimportant to me, so I tend not to assume anyone of a given surname is Jewish (or Christian either for that matter). I'm more likely to assume they're American simply because so many migrants from different European countries settled there. (I'm not implying that the terms Jewish and American don't have a big overlap, nor that 'American' is a religion, simply that 'American' is what comes first to my mind.)

Thus, looking at many of the writers named both by you and in comments, I think: "Oh, I hadn't realised that any of those were Jewish."
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From:autopope
Date:February 25th, 2010 12:24 pm (UTC)

Anecdote ...

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(This is not a defense of Weingrad's thesis, but hopefully illustrative of the invisibility of Jews ... unlike PoC we don't stand out in a mostly-white crowd.)

I was on a panel at the 2007 worldcon with three other authors. Can't remember what we were discussing, but three-quarters of the way through Robert Silverberg (for it was he) launched into an impassioned five-minute tirade about how the public perception that SF is disproportionately written by Jews is an illusion (probably caused by youthful exposure to Isaac Asimov) and that in fact he was the only Jew on the panel.

At which point Cory Doctorow and I raised our hands, Silverbob looked betrayed, then everyone's eyes turned to the (single) non-Jewish panelist.

Edited at 2010-02-25 12:27 pm (UTC)
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From:cmcmck
Date:February 25th, 2010 02:05 pm (UTC)

Re: Anecdote ...

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Smile :o)

Oh to have been a fly on the wall at that conference :o)
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From:papersky
Date:February 25th, 2010 12:31 pm (UTC)
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I think there is a thing if you can say "Oh, is X Jewish?" when you see their name in this thread. I think it strongly indicates that they aren't using their Jewish cultural background in their fantasy. I totally knew that Piercy was Jewish, and Goldstein, and Yolen, and Chabon, and I'd say they have written Jewish fantasy (in Piercy's case, inside SF, but anyway) but when you get to Kushner and Gaiman I don't think you could know. Thomas the Rhymer and the Swordspoint books don't feel to me like "Jewish fantasy" in any sensible way -- which isn't to say every Jewish person writing fantasy needs to be writing Jewish fantasy! Just that they're not a very good argument that there is some. And the same goes for Gaiman only double, because he has done so much with mythology, and so much of it Christian and Pagan.

I think it's more useful to ask what Jewish fantasy stories there are than what Jewish fantasy writers.
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From:negothick
Date:February 25th, 2010 02:36 pm (UTC)
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Agreed: however, to go back to "Why There is No Jewish Narnia?" the answer may have nothing to do with the religious beliefs or origins of the writers, and everything to do with the lack of a strong proselytizing tradition in Judaism. There's no reason to create a secular novel tricked out with Pagan and Christian myth to explain the central mystery of Judaism. It isn't actually a mystery religion.
What about Kabbalah, you say? well, John Crowley has done just as good a job with incorporating Kabbalah non-allegorically as anyone raised in the faith. Most writers (including lots of non-Jewish thriller writers)use Kabbalah as a convenient magical system, no more or less potent than any other. But that's not Narnia. . .
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From:apostle_of_eris
Date:February 25th, 2010 02:50 pm (UTC)
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#1 - Judaism doesn't proselytize. (In retrospect, having forceably converted Herod's family is generally agreed to have been Not a Good Idea.)

Why hasn't anyone mentioned midrash? Just to begin, what about (the various versions of) Lilith?

Marc Chagall, anyone?
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From:ms_cataclysm
Date:February 25th, 2010 06:51 pm (UTC)
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I though that he made some very valid points such as :

"Ever since the Crusades, Jews have had good reasons to cast doubt upon the romance of knighthood, and this is an obstacle in a genre that takes medieval chivalry as its imaginative ideal."

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From:gillpolack
Date:February 26th, 2010 03:57 am (UTC)
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It didn't stop Jewish versions of Arthurian stories being written in the Middle Ages. Widuwilt, in particular, is about knightly exploits. Given how little Medieval Jewish literature has survived from Western Europe, this is significant.
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From:sartorias
Date:February 25th, 2010 11:22 pm (UTC)
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What a sneakily sleazy way to edit Jewish writers out of the field. Ick.
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From:shmuel
Date:February 26th, 2010 03:46 am (UTC)
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In fairness, that really doesn't seem to have been his intention. (This is the Jewish director of a Jewish Studies program who's interested in Jewish literature and writing this piece in the Jewish Review of Books. I don't agree with his assessment, but I hardly think "editing Jewish writers out of the field" describes what he was trying to do. I think he was aboveboard and sincere in what he thinks and why. He's just mistaken, is all.)
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From:ellen_kushner
Date:February 26th, 2010 03:50 am (UTC)
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Guy Gavriel Kay.
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From:agrumer
Date:February 26th, 2010 08:30 pm (UTC)
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Kay is Jewish? I had no idea.

This makes me look at Tigana a bit differently.
From:cinnamonblood
Date:February 26th, 2010 03:56 am (UTC)
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Anyone mention William Goldman?
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From:del_c
Date:February 26th, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
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You mean S. Morgenstern, don't you? :-)

Of course Goldman gets his temper up about people thinking Jews and fantasy don't mix:

Hiram, my editor, felt the Miracle Max section was too Jewish in sound, too contemporary. I really let him have it on that one, it's a really sore point with me, because [anecdote about Butch&Sundance]. And so the point here is, if Max and Valerie sound Jewish, why shouldn't they? You think a guy named Simon Morgenstern was Irish Catholic?
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From:maccy
Date:February 26th, 2010 04:23 am (UTC)
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Russell Hoban. Michael Moorcock, by ancestry I think.

To quote the article:

"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."

I think, from that, he's essentially asking, "Why are there no Jewish authors of Christian-themed fantasy romances?" I'm not especially interested in the ethnicity of authors of a version of fantasy writing so narrow that it excludes Kafka.
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From:kleenexwoman
Date:February 26th, 2010 04:24 am (UTC)
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Ari Berk!

(also, "Jews don't cotton to fantasy because we wonder why Dumbledore didn't try to stop the Holocaust" is probably one of the oddest arguments I've ever seen. I've read several fantasy books that do deal with the Holocaust...)
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From:ellen_kushner
Date:February 26th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
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Lisa Goldstein's THE RED MAGICIAN, in fact, which won the American Book Award for 1982 - in which a rather Ged-like young magician tries to save people from the Holocaust. I was an editor on that book, and loved it precisely for marrying my two worlds.
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From:avt_tor
Date:February 26th, 2010 05:01 am (UTC)
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Just listing Canadians, there's Phyllis Gotlieb and Isaac Szpindel.
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From:ethelmay
Date:February 27th, 2010 04:15 am (UTC)
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For some reason I was thinking Ursula Le Guin was Jewish, but she's not; her father's first wife was, but not his second, who was Ursula's mother.
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From:benrosenbaum
Date:February 27th, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
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Huh, I thought the article's point was rather well taken, if you accept its definition of fantasy. It's really talking about epic fantasy -- and asking why there is little fantasy which is Jewish in the sense Narnia or even Middle-Earth is Christian. Of the names on your list, of what I've read of them, I can't think of a counterexample. Gaiman does write a good deal of fantasy in a Tolkeinian-Lewisian mode, but it's rarely Jewish. Gentlemen of the Road is quite explicitly non-fantastic (it is playfully pseudohistorical, but it's essentially historical, not set in a magical otherworld). Chabon's closest approach to "Jewish fantasy" is the golem parts of Kavalier & Clay, but that's precisely a kind of urban, magical-realism-tinged liminal fantasy which is almost the opposite of epic fantasy. Stross's fantasy series is distinctive specifically in its science-fiction-in-fantasy-clothes subversion of fantasy. Marge Piercy is explicitly Jewish-themed in her science fiction

Hey, I'm a guy who's written a story in which King David fights a vampire. But I still found that Weingrad struck a chord -- in a way I thought he explained a lot of my own discomfort with writing epic fantasy. "Judaism is a science fiction religion, Christianity is a fantasy religion" made a hell of a lot of sense to me.


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From:benrosenbaum
Date:February 27th, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC)
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...was meant to be "Marge Piercy is explicitly Jewish-themed in her science fiction, but not, as far as I've read, in her fantasy"

To be fair, the terms of Weingrad's that I'm willing to accept border on tautology: "why do Jews rarely write faux-chivalric pagan-magical quest fantasy, and, when they do, why does it seem so goyish?" But it seems like an interesting quasi-tautology to me, illuminating a feeling of queasiness I've had when trying to pick up precisely those tools. YMMV.
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From:eve_prime
Date:February 28th, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
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For that matter, Isaac Bashevis Singer.

I would love, though, to read some Jewish epic fantasy.
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From:fjm
Date:February 28th, 2010 09:45 pm (UTC)
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Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar Tapestry. Also (sort of) Robert Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle.
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