I’ve been a great admirer of the fantasy genre ever since my mother first read Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” to me back when I was still a wee bairn (as they say in this beautiful country).
Growing up, I had a lot of friends who shared my enthusiasm; not all of them identifying as “geeks” or “nerds”, who are often stereotypically associated with fantasy literature. While not everyone enjoyed those strange tales about magical objects, far away countries and foreign creatures, it was never something I felt the need to keep a secret. It was merely regarded as a matter of literary preference or personal taste.
So when I walked into class on my very first day at uni (probably wearing a Lord of the Rings jumper or something of the kind)… …I was quite surprised to discover that being a recipient of fantasy literature was a seemingly shameful thing to be as a “serious” member of the publishing industry. Words like “escapism” and “low-quality entertainment” were uttered by both my Undergraduate Book Studies peers as well as my tutors, and I quickly realised that most of them had never even read a fantasy novel.
Rather than continuing what seemed like a fruitless debate, I decided to choose an academic approach (this was uni after all, not a high school playground) and dedicated numerous term papers and essays to my cause.
Tolkien himself had addressed the issue in a number of academic papers such as his essay “On Fairy Stories”, which proved to be most insightful.
At the same time I began to wonder whether that view was specific to my course, or the German publishing industry in general. Science Fiction and Fantasy literature makes up roughly 5,9% of the German book market (2014), which may not be a very impressive number, but is still the equivalent of several thousand new titles per annum – titles that have to be published by people who do not share the opinion of my Book Studies peers.
The question was: Where were they and where did they come from?
I decided to continue my research and found Frankfurt Book Fair to be one of the most peculiar events imaginable.
Unlike London Book Fair, it is open to the public and has become an annual gathering of CosPlay enthusiasts who use it to honour their favourite writers by dressing up as their beloved fictional characters – something I had always enjoyed doing myself.
But all of a sudden I found myself caught between two worlds: The grateful fan who came to honour the artist’s work vs. the Book Studies student who was on a mission to secure a job and gather relevant information.
The irony was – in a lot of ways it was a typical fantasy novel situation.
Choose to keep or to destroy the ring. There was no middle way. All of a sudden I had to live in fear of Elric of Melniboné (one of my preferred costume choices) having an encounter with the editor of Rowohlt (one of the most renowned publishing companies out there). Or worse: a tutor.
When I moved to Edinburgh to study publishing, I was a lot more wary of people’s reactions and opinions, but to my great surprise they were a lot more open-minded. Whether this is due to the great success of Scottish works such as Harry Potter I do not know, but it filled me with hope.
I was also very much surprised to discover that quite a few talks at London Book Fair were dedicated to fantasy-related topics, and while the opening statement of the person giving the talk on “RPGs – The Quest for the Real Fantasy” (“I don’t really know anything about RPGs”) may not have been terribly encouraging, I am beginning to think that I may have finally found a place where I can be both – a publisher and a fantasy reader.