Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Dedicated to Tin Mandigma with her nice little comment. =)

Fantasy: An Epic Quest

I envy a lot of fiction readers. They don't have to put up with the grueling pain and patience we fantasy (and science fiction) readers have to go through. Perhaps if I were living in the U.S., I'd be on equal footing. But this is the Philippines, a country where the education system fails the masses, and the concept of a book is a thin romance novel being sold for less than P20. The fantasy lover is one of the most deprived readers, and I'm one of them.

Perhaps the first and foremost problem of the fantasy genre here is the fact that it's not mainstream. I mean most bookstores allot a shelf or two for the genre but their selection is quite limited and not as varied. More often than not, the bookstores here acquire the same authors over and over again. Finding popular names like J.R.R. Tolkien or Terry Brooks can be quite easy but whatever happened to the OTHER writers out there? The likes of Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, and Katherine Kerr seldom gets seen in local bookstores, if ever. Simply put, there's a lot of fantasy authors out there and the Philippines sees the same authors over and over again throughout the years. Moreover, great fantasy writers like Ursula le Guin and C.S. Lewis are often shelved at the children's section of the bookstore. The fact that the two largest bookstores, namely National Bookstore and Goodwill, have the same selection in all their branches, doesn't help matters.

The second problem we face is that a good story is rarely contained in one book. I mean the greatest stories ever told usually spans a multitude of books. Tokien's Lord of the Rings encompasses three paperback novels. C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia is divided into seven books. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter is a planned seven-book series. That's not to say that there aren't good standalone fantasy novels. The likes of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, George Orwell's Animal Farm, and Lois Lowry's The Giver, comes to mind. Fantasy, more often than not, is something told over a span of several books. Unlike fiction fans who only have to be lucky and persevering in a book rummage once, we fantasy fans have to be as fortunate several times over. I mean I might find a copy of Raymond E. Feist's Silverthorn at Book Sale, but in doing so, I'll have to scrounge for the book preceding it, Magician, and the book after it, A Darkness at Sethanon, to complete the trilogy. The worst scenario here is that I end up with a story I have no idea how it began nor how it ends. If it were any other novel, I'd find the book at Book Sale, read it, and be done with it. For the fantasy fan, the problems have only just begun.

The third dilemma we face is obtaining the books we want. I mean National Bookstore and Goodwill only has a limited selection, not to mention that they only stock the latest books. Since fantasy books span several books, a lot of those novels won't be recently published. Unless you had excellent timing and started collecting when the book just came out, acquiring those not-so-recent books can be quite difficult. The real issue isn't about obtaining the new titles; it's about finding old ones. In today's mentality where the newer is the better (or in publication's case, the more recently printed or reprinted, the better), fantasy lovers lose out a lot. To find these books, we resort to non-mainstream shops. A Different Bookstore and Page One can become a boon as they offer an alternative selection, one which stocks both old and new books. However, since these bookstores aren't as mainstream or popular as Goodwill and National Bookstore, their prices can be quite expensive or not as easily accessible. I mean there are several dozen National Bookstores in Metro Manila, but only one A Different Bookstore, which is located in Glorietta. Page One's prices, on the other hand, are nearly double that of Goodwill. The last alternative for us is to buy from second-hand bookstores. Book Sale offers a delicacy of fantasy but you have to either scrounge among a pile of books or have to wait a long time (years) before the title you're looking for becomes available. Let's not get into the perils of ordering online from Amazon.com where shipping costs you more than the book itself.

A fantasy fan is often stereotyped as the person who is "escapist". Nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of fantasy novels contain realistic truth in their stories. Perhaps magic or some other technology is employed in the setting but people's reactions, their feelings and attitudes, are similar, if not more realistic, to the situations people face in life. This illusion probably stems from the conventional fantasy most people are familiar with: that of fairy tales. In the fantasy genre though, everything isn't solved by the wave of a wand or the wish of a witch. If that were the case, the books needn't span hundreds of pages if everything could be solved so easily. I personally read fantasy because it's intriguing. Other genres share a part in it. One just needs to look at the recent Academy Award Winner Lord of the Rings: It has action, suspense, romance, even comedy. Yet at the heart of it all lies a good story. Which is why despite all these problems, I'm a fantasy fan.

Acquiring fantasy novels can sometimes be as difficult as finding the Holy Grail. Yet once this is accomplished, you realize that it's all worth it. There's the interesting read that'll last you a few days at least, the stories you tell of how you obtained the treasure, and lastly, the satisfaction in discovering such a unique find.

No comments: