Romance! (No, really. Wait.)

I was discussing Leverage with someone–one of my favourite TV shows–and they described it as a bad but fun. And I asked why it was bad, and they described several qualities of it, and one of them was “it makes no attempt to be realistic.”

And something clicked for me. I’m going to turn to an English-as-a-subject ramble here for a moment.

Do you know how you can make a strong argument that Frankenstein isn’t a novel? That The Hobbit and The Mists of Avalon and The Phantom Tollbooth aren’t novels?

Because a novel is also a genre definition and that definition is “a book-length work of realistic prose fiction”.[1] The books I have mentioned are not novels; they are romances, where the definition of a romance is “a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious”.

(This is why the H.G. Wells Historical Society talks about his scientific romances, which is a term which was also applied to A Princess of Mars. We’re talking romance as a thing that gives us giant submarines and time machines and alien princesses, here.)

Getting back to Leverage: no, it is not remote in time or place. (It is in a TV-land where people are surprisingly pretty and such things as ledger deposit slots exist, plus there’s what Hardison does anytime he’s near a computer, plus Elliot… Alright. It is not blatantly remote in time or place, although it’s pretty clearly not next door.)

But it is certainly heroic and adventurous. It is a pulpy show, in the best sense–Lester Dent’s essay on pulp fiction writing is absolutely not posted on the wall of the writer’s room. 😉

No-one has to like fiction that isn’t realistic, and you can definitely make an argument for defining fiction that isn’t realistic as being silly. (I personally would be inclined to disagree, but I can see the pattern and structure of the argument.) But I think that to define a work of art as a bad example of the art, it’s important to engage with it in terms of what it’s trying to be.

Possibly more thoughts later.
=====
[1] Specific definition plucked from Dr. Doyle’s SF Genre Rant.[2]
[2] Now that you’ve read that essay, please note that I’m not arguing that genre fiction cannot be realistic in both senses described in it, but I think the realistic vs. romantic distinction is useful for the point I am trying to make about the TV show I was discussing, which I will now get back to.

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