I blame Shakespeare for my speculative fiction.
Shakespeare and I have been pals since elementary school. My favorite book as a child was Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare, by E. Nesbit, with gorgeous Art Nouveau illustrations spilling out of the corners, and all the characters were represented by seven-year-olds. I could give a detailed recounting of Cymbelline by third grade (it had an runaway princess living in a cave with two lost princes raised as wild men, how could I not love this?) and the fabulism of the Tempest crept into my writing from the very start.
My formal education was similarly enthusiastic about Shakespeare. Every single English teacher was very clear on the importance of the Bard. When they started assigning me the full plays (in the only area where I was an overachiever; reading), I set about reading the entire canon.
So it seemed natural to me that my first novella featured Midsummer-inspired fairies, and I learned from Shakespeare how to tell a ghost story. It was right around that time that teachers started getting disappointed looks on their faces about my exciting plans to write speculative fiction.
Sure, Shakespeare was great, but a rising star such as I should be writing literary fiction and taking lessons from Upton Sinclair and James Conrad. At the time, I wasn’t sure if this was because only the greatest authors (like Shakespeare) were allowed to write about witches and fairies, or because Shakespeare had only written speculative fiction because he hadn’t realized that he was wasting his talent and ought to be writing hard-hitting literary fiction. Speculative fiction, they were sure, doesn’t enter the literary canon.
Except, you know, when it does.
The vast majority of my assigned reading for English class was speculative fiction, and all the while teacher after teacher winced when I said I was writing fantasy stories.
I liked my English teachers, but I’d only known them for a year or two. Shakespeare had been my friend for most of my life. When they disagreed, I trusted Shakespeare.
In the end, I became a History scholar, rather than the English scholar everyone had expected, because I’d really just been interested in History for its literature all along. And let me tell you, as a college-edjamacated historian: Literature and Speculative Fiction are best buds forever. The whole of human creative history is a medley of gods and ghosts, fairies and witches. As a species, we are devotees of the what-if.
I’m a speculative fiction snob. Personally, I think this bias against science fiction and fantasy on the part of English teachers everywhere is a phase. (Granted, I’m a historian, so a “phase” can be hundreds of years.) Beowulf and Oedipus Rex are both works of speculative fiction. Faust, Frankenstein, the Odyssey.
And, of course, Shakespeare.
Let me tell you right here: if Shakespeare can write literature about fairies scheming and ghostly revenge, so can you. And if anyone gives you disapproving looks for wasting your talent, just tell them, like I do:
It’s all Shakespeare’s fault.
Editor's note: Genevieve's story, Troubles with Shakespeare or an Idler's Account of his Grand Destiny appears in the February, 2012 Shakespeare themed issue of Penumbra. More of her work can be found at http://genevieverosetaylor.wordpress.com .