Fantasy Fiction in Red, White, and Blue

At the Huffington Post, Rebecca Serle interviews Newberry Prize winning author Kathi Appelt, specifically on the subject of American Fantasy.   Not fantasy fiction written by Americans, but fantasy fiction that draws on American locales and imagery.

Regular readers know that I have been all over this like a bear on a beehive with my Story Behind the Story series, explaining how I wanted to step away from the elves and swords and write fantasy that drew on American imagery and textual artifacts the way Tolkien drew on northern European imagery and textual artifacts.

Appelt could not echo my sentiments more clearly than when she says:

You know a lot of my students want to write fantasy and they tend to fall back on the traditional terms–castle, fairy, etc. There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that but it does take us out of America. What I’m interested in is the notion of how you create fantasy using an American ethos.

Appelt and I disagree on a few points.  For example, I am not as convinced as she is that the concept of a “Chosen One” is far outside the American narrative.  Not only has America has become Grand Central Station for apocalyptic, messianic cult fevers in which someone is being chosen by God or space aliens, but we remember our great leaders of the past — Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and increasingly Roosevelt and Reagan — with a sort of Chosen One, couldn’t-have-been-anyone-else reverence.

Also, there’s that one very American “Chosen One” that many Americans are (for various reasons) loathe to claim as our own: Joseph Smith.

But in other ways, Appelt and I are not only on the same page, but in the same paragraph.  I will close out with some of my favorite observations from the interview.

American history is founded on black magic–witch trials, the headless horseman. It’s white magic we have trouble with.

Our magic really comes from the land itself. The American outdoors.

I tell my students all the time that what separates us as human beings is our ability to hold stories. Our narrative history. There is so much power in that. Storytelling is our human industry. We have to honor that.

Now, off with you!  That’s enough of a taste.  Go read the rest of the interview!

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