Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jewish Fantasy, The Conversation

Michael Weingrad's "Why There Is No Jewish Narnia" has been the gift that keeps on giving for the genre/Jewish blogosphere for the last month.  Counting just those posts that have linked back to my response to the essay, there have been dozens of discussions sparked by it, reaching as far as blogs at The New York Times, The Atlantic, and The National Review.  Here are a couple of later additions which, I think, have really broadened the conversation.
  • coffeeandink's "Religion != Christiany" is more a discussion of the discussion of Weingrad's article, and touches on subjects that she's talked on with some passion before (some of which were also brought up in the 2009 iteration of RaceFail).  Specifically, the tendency to forget the privilege of being Christian in historically Christian countries, and the different levels of privilege that other, non-Christian religions enjoy (as Micole points out, Judaism currently enjoys a significantly more privileged status than Islam).  She also touches on gradations of privilege within Judaism--between white and non-white Jews, assimilated and non-assimilated ones.

    My response to this article is very much an outsider's.  I've grown up utterly disconnected from this experience of Judaism as a minority culture.  As an Israeli, I have Jewish privilege (we will leave aside for the moment the enormously complicated question of inter-Jewish strife, and the way that politics and culture in Israel tends to favor certain streams of Judaism over others), and articles like Micole's invariably cause me to feel incredible gratitude for that fact, for everything from not being bombarded by Christmas carols in November (or December, for that matter) to the fact that this Monday and Tuesday--Passover night and day--are national holidays here.  On the other hand, they also remind me that that privilege (or, more accurately, the ethnic and racial privilege attached to it) continues to make life difficult for non-Jews in my country.

  • Janni Lee Simner writes about the expression of Judaism within literature, and specifically fantasy literature, and raises an interesting point.

    Mostly, though, I found myself thinking about the fact that the author strikes me as looking for "Jewish fantasy" in the wrong place: in the trappings of the worldbuilding. I've only written two clearly Jewish stories ... But of course all my stories are Jewish. It informs my worldview. ... in the draft I just turned in, which is now sitting on my editor's desk, I went around with issues of forgiveness--I have characters who played a direct role in the War that destroyed their world, and who are still living with what they've done almost 20 years later, and those characters also are speaking up a little bit more in this book than in the first book I wrote set in that world.
    So. I'm aware that, in Jewish theology, prayer is a way of repenting for wrongs done against God, but that harm done to another person can only be made right by directly making amends to the person who was hurt--only the individual who was harmed can grant forgiveness for that harm. ...  I became more and more aware, as I wrote this book, how much that influenced how my characters who played a role in the War dealt with the fact, as well as which responses both they and I had sympathy for.
    Which to my mind makes this book about faeries, with little religion on stage, a Jewish book.
  • Finally, a response from Weingrad himself (whose last name, it transpires, I consistently misspelled in my response to his original article.  Gah), again in Jewish Review of Books.  I don't come away from this second article with any clearer a notion of what Weingrad is looking for when he asks for Jewish fantasy, but it does provide a more detailed discussion of some of the more famous Jewish writers of fantasy who had been left out of the original article, including Neil Gaiman and Guy Gavriel Kay.

2 comments:

andrew said...

He seems to be specifically looking for high fantasy. Possibly for complete worldbuilding which draws upon a Jewish approach on things, where he sees Narnia as Christian worldbuilding.

Glauke said...

I'm a bit late to comment, and having read many of the pieces you linked to (thanks!) I get it's not what Weingrad means, but I wanted to let you know I bought a second hand copy of a 1976 anthology of Jewish Fantasy.

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