Jewish epic fantasy

I recently found this book review which argues that “there is no Jewish Narnia”.

The author seems to mean two things:

  1. There is no major Jewish writer in the ‘epic fantasy’ tradition of Tolkien.
  2. There is no fantasy world which is Jewish in the same way that Narnia is Christian.

There are major Jewish writers of fantasy in the broader sense (for example Neil Gaiman), several important people in comics (Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), and of course lots of science fiction writers (Isaac Asimov).

The essay is interesting, but I think it might be needlessly complex, and possibly inaccurate, to argue that Judaism is inherently oriented towards the real world and modernity while Christianity is inherently oriented towards imaginary worlds and the past. How does Kabbalah fit into that theory?

It seems to me that the most likely reason for point 1 above is that (as the author points out), Jewish people are going to have problems overlooking the problems with medieval chivalry. You’re probably going to have problems writing ‘orcs’- near-humans that are there to be killed by the heroes- when your ancestors were forced into that historical role.

I can’t, however, think of a similarly simple explanation for point 2.

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4 thoughts on “Jewish epic fantasy

  1. Michael Chabon touched on this in the Afterword to Gentlemen of the Road. The working and quasi-joking title had been “Jews with Swords,” because of the incongruity (in his view, as a Jewish author) of a bookish, nebbishy people taking up swords. He also notes that there ARE martial heroes in Jewish lore, even if they are rare, and that seems to be part of what impelled him to write. Would recommend!

    • There seem to be a relatively large number in the Old Testament: Samson and so on.

      Did the stereotype of Jews as bookish only begin after they ceased to have a homeland, perhaps because this meant they didn’t take part in wars as a group, and probably weren’t even allowed in armies?

      There were also Jewish gangsters in the US in the same way as happened with other immigrant groups such as Italians and Irish (I wonder if this is the model for elves etc. having unlimited levels in thief).

      Presumably there are also figures from Israel’s various wars, but if so they don’t seem to be famous anywhere else.

  2. if you want a shared setting I suggest protoindoeuropean. The Jewish asmodeus comes from proto indoeuropean root words: to burn-gather -with passion meaning angry mob with arson on their mind: An all too human demon.

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