Sir Terry Pratchett was a brilliant writer of fantasy and even better humorist, his satirical takes on fantasy in the form of the Discworld and Good Omens novels are some of the most self-aware and celebratory in the genre. It’s not a surprise then many authors were influenced by him to some degree — his name is associated with fantasy much in the same way Isaac Asimov is discussed in the science fiction community. Patrick Rothfuss, author of the Kingkiller Chronicle series, is one such author who revered Sir Terry. Not long after the latter’s death, Rothfuss wrote a blog post where he lamented and acknowledged how much Sir Terry influenced him as a person and author, picking out some quotes from a 1995 Onion interview with Sir Terry on the perception of fantasy as a genre and how reading that inspired him (Rothfuss).
The interviewer in this article talks about how Sir Terry’s writing skills are so impeccable he could’ve chosen anything and been successful: yet he chose fantasy, why? Sir Terry proceeds to acknowledge a little annoyed that while yes, fantasy is looked down on to some degree, its influence and status cannot be denied historically and critically. “Fantasy is without a shadow of a doubt the ur-literature, the spring from which all other literature has flown. “, he says, citing how works like Beowulf, Gilgamesh and even the Indian Bhagadvad Gita are all arguably fantasy works by modern day views.
“Fantasy is kind of a plasma in which other things can be carried. I don’t think this is a ghetto. This is, fantasy is, almost a sea in which other genres swim. Now it may be that there has developed in the last couple of hundred years a subset of fantasy which merely uses a different icongraphy, and that is, if you like, the serious literature, the Booker Prize contender. Fantasy can be serious literature. Fantasy has often been serious literature.” (The Onion).
Even American classics like Moby Dick and Gulliver’s Travels are fantasy works according to Sir Terry. Given that they are seen as serious literature, why pretend other works of fantasy shouldn’t be viewed as such?
Rothfuss admits this interview changed his life. In 1995, pre-Harry Potter, Game of Thrones and more cultural works that occupy the fantasy landscape and popular imagination, Rothfuss felt a little shame enjoying the genre because it was looked down upon, even though he was writing a fantasy novel! I feel the same way too to some degree, even today doing my thesis research I feel a little dumb looking at fantasy stories and ‘lowbrow’ mediums like video games where my classmates are looking at more ‘serious literature’. But both Rothfuss and I remembered why Sir Terry is important to us through this interview, and how fantasy shouldn’t be dismissed because it really does occupy a lot of cultural space: from The Avengers today to older works that wouldn’t be necessarily tagged as fantasy. There’s no shame in it and it should be enjoyed, it should be viewed critically for analysis. I definitely also really enjoyed the highly controversial take that fantasy tropes are prevalent in a lot of work not necessarily “fantasy”, because it lends credence to that genre’s influence and how audiences can enjoy it as a form of ‘high’ art. Rothfuss’ tribute was also written in 2015, and since then I think we’ve seen a lot more acceptance of fantasy as a genre too, even outside of literature. Given all of this, it’s hard to really dismiss it when it’s the critical elephant in the room right now waiting to be examined further.
Rothfuss, Patrick. “Thoughts on Pratchett – [Part 1].” Thoughts on Pratchett – [Part 1], 24 Aug. 2015, https://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/2015/08/thoughts-on-pratchett/.