The Ongoing Debate Over Jewish Fantasy Literature

March 29, 2010

Many large 20th century fiction writers flirted with atheism. that goes for such Christians like C. S. Lewis as it did for Isaak Yudovich Ozimov. Asimov understood things in the world, but he didn’t like categories:

People who create metaphor are in need of controlling the context because their arguments meet conflict. Most of the hostility aimed at Judaism is fiction. The only way to combat the fantasy of Palestine is with truth, but I can see the need to create a metaphor to reach people on an issue that they can’t confront because of reprimanding media institutions masquerading as collectivism or the tolerance of pure absolutist equivalence.

Jewish Studies Professor Michael Weingrad’s essay “Why there is No Jewish Narnia,” touched off a massive debate over the validity of his claim that there is no Jewish fantasy literature, including my own humble critique. Abigail Nussbaum has posted a helpful roundup of the debate. Weingrad himself responds to his critics here.

Like Nussbaum, I found the response unpersuasive. Indeed, it further undermines Weingrad’s case by pointing out that Guy Gavriel Kay — one of the most prominent fantasy writers of the last 35 years — is actually Jewish (which I didn’t know before). As Weingrad notes, Kay is not only a Jewish fantasy writer, but one who has actually incorporated the issues of Jews and anti-Semitism into his novels, especially The Lions of Al Rassan. Weingrad tries to distinguish Kay’s later work on the grounds that it is “historic fantasy” and not “high fantasy.” But virtually all of Kay’s “historic fantasy” works include such classic high fantasy elements as the use of magic, heroic quests, and a quasi-medieval setting. “High fantasy” and “historic fantasy” are not mutually exclusive categories. Indeed, J.R.R. Tolkien’s work (which Weingrad points to as the prototypical example of high fantasy) incorporated many historic elements from his research on early medieval languages and society.

Weingrad also admits that he “cannot state with any detailed precision what a Jewish alternative [to standard fantasy] would look like.” Without a clear definition of what he means by Jewish fantasy, it is always possible to manipulate the concept in such a way that none of the many fantasy works written by Jewish writers or addressing Jewish-related themes qualifies. Alternatively, Weingrad could define Jewish fantasy extremely narrowly, so as to exclude all of these works. But barring such gambits, I think it’s pretty obvious that there is a great deal of important fantasy literature by Jewish writers, and a smaller but still significant number of fantasy novels that directly address issues related to the Jewish experience. When one recalls that Jews are only a tiny fraction of the population of Britain and the United States (the two nations that produce most modern fantasy literature), there is no underrepresentation of Jews in this field to be explained.

via volokh.com


Isaac Asimov was a humanist and a rationalist. He did not oppose religious conviction in others, but he frequently railed against superstitious and pseudoscientific beliefs that tried to pass themselves off as genuine science.

For many years, Asimov called himself an atheist; however, he considered the term somewhat inadequate, as it described what he did not believe rather than what he did. Eventually, he described himself as a “humanist” and considered that term more practical. He did, however, continue to identify himself as Jewish in the ethnic sense, as stated in his introduction to Jack Dann’s anthology of Jewish science fiction, Wandering Stars: “I attend no services and follow no ritual and have never undergone that curious puberty rite, the bar mitzvah. It doesn’t matter. I am Jewish.”

In the closing years of his life, Asimov blamed the deterioration of the quality of life that he perceived in New York City on the shrinking tax base caused by the middle class flight to the suburbs.

Asimov considered a leftist liberal, but he seems to realize the source of energy. too bad he didn’t know how to lubricate your sources instead of scaring them off….

That goes for G-d and Tax bases