The Atlantic Wire previously covered
Michael Weingrad's question
in the Jewish Review of books: "why don't Jews write more fantasy
literature?" His intriguing question not only caught our eye--it spread quickly on the Web and sparked fierce debate. Some dismissed the question by promptly rattling off lists
of Jewish authors in rebuttal. Others, such as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, accepted the premise and proposed alternative theories in answer to Weingrad.
- I'm Not Sure Weingrad Knows What He's Asking Abigail Nussbaum
at Asking the Wrong Questions isn't sure Weingrad is clear "on what
he's looking for, what his definitions of 'Jewish,' 'fantasy,' and
'Jewish fantasy' are." She points out that Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were
trailblazers, anyway, and that "a Jewish Narnia... will be nothing
like Narnia." Thus, "the real question raised by 'Why There is No
Jewish Narnia' isn't whether such a work will ever exist--it's whether
Michael Weingrad will be able to recognize it." She also questions
Weingrad's assertion that Christians gravitate to fantasy, and Jews to
science fiction, and wonders whether that has something to do with
science fiction's origin in the U.S.
- A Decent Question, But What about Comics? "Weingrad neglects a 'fantasy' genre founded by Jews, and arguably shaped by Jewish preoccupations," argues Samuel Goldman
at First Things. "That's the superhero comic book invented in the 1930s
by the likes of Robert Kahn-Bob Kane to you." Yet he does agree with
Weingrad that there are some differences in traditions: the fantasy
world, he says, "is not so much a Christian world as a world on the
cusp of Christianity: a pagan Götterdämmerung. Jews can, of course,
appropriate this setting for literary purposes. But I don't think it
has the same imaginative gravity that it does for Christians."
- This Is Why I Don't Read Jewish Review of Books "His name is Michael Chabon, you fool," writes an icily irate Spencer Ackerman
(who also throws in a comment about "circumsized middlebrow
conservative philistines"). He also agrees with Samuel Goldman on the
subject of comic books, and adds, "Weingrad is asking the wrong
question if he wants a one-to-one transposal of the Christian Lewis to
Jewish creators, who are less likely to create direct parables because
an impulse to convert doesn't exist in Judaism." On the other hand,
"questions of justice, power and responsibility--stuff that concerns
Jews, I hear--are central to the Marvel Universe."
- So Maybe Jews Can't Do Fantasy, Period The New York Times' Ross Douthat
muses that "once you add up [Weinberg's] insights, they jostle uneasily
with Weingrad's professed desire for a Jewish Tolkien, or a Jewish
Lewis. What he seems to have demonstrated is that modern fantasy
depends on Christianity, or at least a Christian-pagan synthesis of
some kind, for its forms, conventions, and traditions." His suggestion:
perhaps "you could write a novel that embodies a kind of Jewish
critique of fantasy," along the lines of Marion Zimmer Bradley's
feminist Mists of Avalon or Philip Pullman's atheist His Dark
Materials. "But the genre itself will remain irreducably Christian, and
a truly Judaic fantasy would have to belong to, or invent, a different
- A Matter of Demographics, General Trends "When you consider," argues The Volokh Conspiracy's Ilya Somin,
"that most modern fantasy literature is produced in Britain and the
United States and that Jews are less than 2% of the US population and a
smaller proportion in Britain," it's possible Jews are actually overrepresented among fantasy writers. Somin also addresses Weinberg's argument that Jewish fantasy writers don't write specifically Jewish fantasy:
simple explanation here is that most Jewish fantasy writers are secular
in orientation. That's also true of most gentile fantasy writers of the
last several decades .... There are probably more prominent fantasy
writers who have used their work to attack traditional Christianity
(Marion Zimmer Bradley and Phillip Pullman are two of the best-known
examples) than defend it.
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