Ursula K. Le Guin Took Umbrage over Kazuo Ishiguro's Fantasy Belittlement
I'm always late to the party, but this time the fault lies with Mike Chivers, for only the other day did he mention this year-old 'disagreeablement' over the fantasy genre . . . Anyway, about a year ago, on the Book View Café, Ursula K. Le Guin took umbrage at Kazuo Ishiguro's remark to interviewer Alexandra Alter (NYT, February 20, 2015) about his novel The Buried Giant:
Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?Le Guin disliked what she took to be Ishiguro's denigration of the genre fantasy:
Well, yes, they probably will [say this is fantasy]. Why not? It appears that the author takes the word for an insult. To me that is so insulting, it reflects such thoughtless prejudice, that I had to write this piece in response. Fantasy is probably the oldest literary device for talking about reality. ‘Surface elements,’ by which I take it he means ogres, dragons, Arthurian knights, mysterious boatmen, etc., which occur in certain works of great literary merit such as Beowulf, the Morte d'Arthur, and The Lord of the Rings, are also much imitated in contemporary commercial hackwork. Their presence or absence is not what constitutes a fantasy. Literary fantasy is the result of a vivid, powerful, coherent imagination drawing plausible impossibilities together into a vivid, powerful and coherent story, such as those mentioned, or The Odyssey, or Alice in Wonderland.Le Guin is sensitive to this issue, for she has written masterly works within the fantasy genre, but she's overreacting, in my view, to what she thinks Ishiguro meant, namely, that to be identified as a fantasy writer is an insult. Let's keep in mind though, that Ishiguro did consciously write a fantasy novel, so he himself can't be prejudiced against the genre itself. I think he was instead concerned that some readers would dismiss the work 'just' a fantasy - and would consciously intend this description as an insult, as if fantasy were limited to the sort of "contemporary commercial hackwork" that merely imitates the genre.
On the issue of "surface elements," however, I agree with Le Guin's criticism of Ishiguro's view.