Anyone besides me noticed an uptick in the vampire quotient in students’ writing? How about quest narratives with swords known in the ancient tongue as “Bal-Rog” or that which cannot be taken? Aliens that move into suburban neighborhoods but look just like us? Poetry that features fantastical creatures flying in and out of dreams, or across horizons in a magical land? In past semesters teaching introductory creative writing, I have encountered the occasional student poem or story that is clearly inspired by fantasy genres, but it seems that in the last year the volume has increased exponentially.
I have never included a statement about what kind of writing students may not share in workshop or include in their final portfolio primarily because I dislike the prohibitive and generally negative tone I believe it establishes. (As a past writing center director, I felt the same way about publishing a laundry list of things a writing center won’t do — no editing, no proofreading, no dropping off your paper, etc., etc.,) Plus, when there’s only been a single example of it during a semester, either the student kind of gets the message about what’s acceptable and what’s not, or, individual conversation with the student about my limits in responding to this kind of work and the general focus of the class is most expedient.
But now, I’m wondering. Students’ almost certain consumption during childhood and adolescence of Harry Potter, the Twilight series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lord of the Rings, Avatar, and never mind all the Christian-inspired stuff about the Rapture, and etc., suggests that in some cases their primary experiences with literature are fantasy-based texts and media. (Another recent, and not surprising, feature is the use of vaguely Middle Easter themes and motifs, or at least proper names that sound Middle Eastern). And so, why wouldn’t a creative writing class be just the place to debut chapters 4-7 of your imagined epic about the quest of Paracondor, son of Regnatur, to recover the dark crystal from the Holderns of Hel-Abaryade? Isn’t a poem about the fatal love of the dark and hooded Lord of Night just about as concrete and specific as it gets?
Or maybe it isn’t. There are a lot of good answers to why an introductory creative writing class is not the place to accommodate fantasy and other formula fiction (YA and children’s lit is another subject altogether, though related.) Though, what’s the best way to deal with it? A single statement of policy in a syllabus? Often these students are the most enthusiastic writers, and not infrequently have generated entire self-published books or at least are several chapters into an imagined novel. Hence, my wishy-washiness about putting the clampdown on their enthusiasm. And if it shows up in the portfolio unexpectedly, does it “fail” or do you find some compromise with the student, some way to award credit?
Seriously. What grade would you give Edward and Bella?