Do you mind if I rant?
You see, I don’t always call other people cretins, but when I do, it is usually because they pretend to know what they are talking about when they in fact they do not know.
Yesterday I was told that adventure stories – and genre fiction in general – is a second-rate form of cheap entertainment, aimed at housewives and blue-collar working-class brutes that can’t appreciate a good, solid, proper “real novel”.
And the word cretin erupted through my lips before I could think about something more scathing and cruel.
Then I launched in a long-winded rant the gist of which I will now inflict on Karavansara readers.
Because like a guy once said, I suffered for my art, now it’s your turn.
It was Hugo Pratt, the artist and author of the Corto Maltese comics, and a qualified commenter on the subject, that once said
adventure fiction is to geography what historical fiction is to history
Adventure fiction gives us stories set in far and strange lands, and features characters that have good, urgent reasons to go from point A to point B.
Granted, we can discuss at length on the “urgent” bit – Ulysses spent ten years going from A (troy) to B (Ithaca), and isn’t the Odyssey a good solid template for an adventure story?
Adventure stories are popular when the horizon is being pushed farther – in the Golden Age of Exploration, in the Colonial Age. Going from A to B, our hero discovers the world, and through this newfound knowledge he acquires a deeper understanding of his own place in the world, of his strengths and weaknesses, and he expands his boundaries in more ways than in the strictly geographical sense.
This mechanism, of discovery and self-discovery through adventure, is the basic template used by Robert Louis Stevenson, by Rudyard Kipling and by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
It’s the basic model of both Henry Rider-Haggard and Talbot Mundy – whose Theosophical leanings fit nicely with the theme of discovery through borderline experiences.
This same model was masterfully adapted to historical fiction by Harold Lamb, and it was beaten into a new shape and fit to the requirements of supernatural fantasy by Robert E. Howard.
In the years between the wars, adventure fiction provided tools, a template and a language to authors as different and as influential as Ernest Hemingway and Ray Chandler – and only a myopic fool would shrug off their role in the development of modern literature.
At length, adventure fiction acquired a sour taste for some readers – the same sour taste it often had with critics.
It became another sort of “travel fiction” – it became the book you read on a long train journey, or while sitting on the beach.
Stuff you read to have fun -. as if there were books one reads to suffer!
And then came political correctness – the strange conviction that people in the past should think and act like us to be acceptable. Tarzan and Mowgli were removed from school libraries.
And yet, adventure books keep popping up in the bestseller list.
James Clavell, Wilbur Smith, Clive Cussler …
Stories about faraway lands, strange people, ancient mysteries, action, danger.
The basic idea that a good person will find the motivation to do what’s right no matter the odds.
Some people are ashamed of enjoying this sort of stories. They are cretins.