SFF Chat put together a series of essays by Jewish writers for this Hanukkah series. I’m honored to have been included, with an essay about the process of editing People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy (available on Amazon).
Some sample quotes:
When I was eleven, I remember a boy my age asking, “So which is it? Are you an atheist or a Jew?”
His tone was one of skeptical indignation. He was clearly intimating that he’d caught me in a lie because I’d described myself as both. The weird thing was that my perspective immediately flipped to his. Even as I explained that the situation was more complicated than either/or, that I was both Jewish and an atheist, I saw him as right. I saw myself as a liar.
I suppose that was a tiny fragment of what W. E. B. DuBois describes as double consciousness—a “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.”…
I mention all of this to work my way toward the context of how I understand the question with which Michael Weingrad, writing in the Jewish Review of Books, perturbed the internet (or at least my corner of it) several months ago—”Why Is There No Jewish Narnia?”
Weingrad wonders why “amidst all the initiatives to solve the crisis in Jewish continuity, no one has yet proposed commissioning a Jewish fantasy series that might plumb the theological depths like Lewis or at least thrill Jewish preteens with tales of Potterish derring-do.”…
Others have challenged Weingrad’s assertions in detail, but at this late point in the discussion, I have to admit that my central response to Weingrad is to wonder whether the entire problem is definitional. Weingrad appears to be defining the fantasy genre in such a way that it excludes most Jewish fantasy. Most secondary world fantasy by Jewish authors doesn’t count because it’s not theologically based in the way Lewis’s Narnia is based in Christianity. And apparently for Weingrad, Jewish primary world fantasy doesn’t evoke the same sense of wonder as Rowling’s Harry Potter.
It seems to me that Weingrad defines fantasy by the terms of Christian writers, and then wonders why Jewish doesn’t look exactly like Christian fantasy does.
Well, why should it?
Why is primacy and centrality given to Narnia but not Kafka?
Why is Christian fantasy taken on its own terms, but Jewish fantasy compared to a Christian default?
Read the rest at SFF Chat.
There’s also a book giveaway going on over there. Leave your name and email in comments and SFF Chat will enter you to win a free copy of People of the Book.
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