The Search for Jewish Narnia

Is it in Marvel Comics?

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The Atlantic Wire previously covered Michael Weingrad's question in the Jewish Review of books: "why don't Jews write more fantasy literature?" His intriguing question not only caught our eye--it spread quickly on the Web and sparked fierce debate. Some dismissed the question by promptly rattling off lists of Jewish authors in rebuttal. Others, such as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, accepted the premise and proposed alternative theories in answer to Weingrad.

  • I'm Not Sure Weingrad Knows What He's Asking  Abigail Nussbaum at Asking the Wrong Questions isn't sure Weingrad is clear "on what he's looking for, what his definitions of 'Jewish,' 'fantasy,' and 'Jewish fantasy' are." She points out that Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were trailblazers, anyway, and that "a Jewish Narnia... will be nothing like Narnia." Thus, "the real question raised by 'Why There is No Jewish Narnia' isn't whether such a work will ever exist--it's whether Michael Weingrad will be able to recognize it." She also questions Weingrad's assertion that Christians gravitate to fantasy, and Jews to science fiction, and wonders whether that has something to do with science fiction's origin in the U.S.
  • A Decent Question, But What about Comics?  "Weingrad neglects a 'fantasy' genre founded by Jews, and arguably shaped by Jewish preoccupations," argues Samuel Goldman at First Things. "That's the superhero comic book invented in the 1930s by the likes of Robert Kahn-Bob Kane to you." Yet he does agree with Weingrad that there are some differences in traditions: the fantasy world, he says, "is not so much a Christian world as a world on the cusp of Christianity: a pagan Götterdämmerung. Jews can, of course, appropriate this setting for literary purposes. But I don't think it has the same imaginative gravity that it does for Christians."
  • This Is Why I Don't Read Jewish Review of Books  "His name is Michael Chabon, you fool," writes an icily irate Spencer Ackerman (who also throws in a comment about "circumsized middlebrow conservative philistines"). He also agrees with Samuel Goldman on the subject of comic books, and adds, "Weingrad is asking the wrong question if he wants a one-to-one transposal of the Christian Lewis to Jewish creators, who are less likely to create direct parables because an impulse to convert doesn't exist in Judaism." On the other hand, "questions of justice, power and responsibility--stuff that concerns Jews, I hear--are central to the Marvel Universe."
  • So Maybe Jews Can't Do Fantasy, Period  The New York Times' Ross Douthat muses that "once you add up [Weinberg's] insights, they jostle uneasily with Weingrad's professed desire for a Jewish Tolkien, or a Jewish Lewis. What he seems to have demonstrated is that modern fantasy depends on Christianity, or at least a Christian-pagan synthesis of some kind, for its forms, conventions, and traditions." His suggestion: perhaps "you could write a novel that embodies a kind of Jewish critique of fantasy," along the lines of Marion Zimmer Bradley's feminist Mists of Avalon or Philip Pullman's atheist His Dark Materials. "But the genre itself will remain irreducably Christian, and a truly Judaic fantasy would have to belong to, or invent, a different genre altogether."
  • A Matter of Demographics, General Trends  "When you consider," argues The Volokh Conspiracy's Ilya Somin, "that most modern fantasy literature is produced in Britain and the United States and that Jews are less than 2% of the US population and a smaller proportion in Britain," it's possible Jews are actually overrepresented among fantasy writers. Somin also addresses Weinberg's argument that Jewish fantasy writers don't write specifically Jewish fantasy:
The simple explanation here is that most Jewish fantasy writers are secular in orientation. That's also true of most gentile fantasy writers of the last several decades .... There are probably more prominent fantasy writers who have used their work to attack traditional Christianity (Marion Zimmer Bradley and Phillip Pullman are two of the best-known examples) than defend it.
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