The Writing of Fantasy
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Sometimes the world gives off a glare “that’s hard to look at directly,” says Susan Cooper, and for her, making sense of things means engaging in fantasy -- “a way of getting to the truth without looking at the real.” Cooper and fellow writer Gregory Maguire admit to working out personally difficult questions, and often cosmic conflicts, in their books of fantasy for children and adults.
Maguire, author of Wicked, says he was bothered by the build-up to the first Gulf War, which fed into his novel for grownups about a children’s character (the Wicked Witch of the West). He calls fantasy “escapism plus something else.” Says Maguire, “When I sense I’m approaching a story that’s going to have to be told in a fantastic way, it is usually because it’s about something so upsetting to me that I wouldn’t trust myself to write about it in a naturalistic way, whether it be corruption of government in any particular decade of my life, or whether it be stress that can exist within children between the need to believe in magic and the injunction to believe in God...”
Says Cooper, “You’re talking to yourself really. So many of us say, ‘I don’t write for children,’ and we don’t; we are published for children, read by children. You deal with your own passions, emotions, problems, by having them flow into a piece of writing that needs that particular emotion.…”
When moderator Roger Sutton wonders about “this human impulse to make things up that are impossible,” Cooper responds about her desire to tell “deep truths,” cloaked in extraordinary features. Fantasy offers the freedom “to think bigger” while offering the protagonist something to identify with. Says Cooper, “There’s a reason why a lot of us start from the real world and go into magic, the way I tend to do…It’s partly that you want your reader to retain a sense of reality, but you’re going through fantasy to truth. It’s that indirect approach that’s going to get you somewhere.”
Maguire believes that the origins of his fantasy literature, while connecting with the tradition of myths and legends, spring from “the wet ground of the subconscious.” As a child he was dreaming and play acting in the dirt alley next to his home. This nourished a more deliberate engagement with fantasy as he got older. “One of the reasons one bothers to write as well as read fantasy is to continue to strengthen the muscle of the imagination, the muscle that in fact can consider that things can be different, things in the hard world in which we live, our hard lives.”
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