Take a journey to your local bookstore and it's likely you will find a section labeled, without other qualification, Literature. With spines large and too small to exist elsewhere, the Literature section promises something different. The books on these shelves will not hesitate to defy genre conventions. Some won't really have a plot, will exist as vignettes or flowing descriptions. Others will turn a single moment into hundreds of pages of introspection and speculation.
And yet, I would argue, most are fantasies. Ready to slot in alongside Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.
Take, for example, Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon. Following the family of one Macon 'Milkman' Dead, the novel delivers at once a social history of a Michigan community in the fifties and a dreamer's distorted reality. There might not be witches performing rituals on these streets, but, and I do not mean this as a negative, we get pretty darn close.
One man throws himself from the top of a building, paper wings attached, hoping to fly. Another group forms an assassin's collective, dedicated to vengeance for racially-motivated killings. A woman stalks her lover with deadly plans, never quite able to fulfill them. People remember dead men rising, ghosts pointing the way, and places otherwise lost to time.
Song of Solomon is a treasure of a novel, one deserving to be read, and one that doesn't deserve to be slotted away on the Literature shelf, scaring away those looking for adventure, for magic, for sheer story. Morrison's language might not quite match the genre conventions–it's richer, a thick blend drawing you forward with a master's hand–but the bones are all there: a quest, a villain, a hero's journey.
There's still room aplenty for swashbuckling among the stars, for wizards screwing up their spells and sending the world into chaos. Dragons, dreadnoughts, and demons. At least I hope so, because that's what I'm writing. Every so often, though, it's fun to look beyond the usual, to take a walk to that Literature shelf and pull off a different kind of tome, only to realize it's not all that different at all.