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Patrick Rothfuss responds to Creative Writing Teacher’s ‘fantasy doesn’t count’ jibe

You won't like me when I'm angry...Here at Fantasy-Faction we love Patrick Rothfuss and his Kingkiller Chronicles. I feel Pat is an incredibly intelligent, well spoken man who has done a lot of good in terms of promoting the fantasy genre. However, I wouldn’t recommend you make him angry, because you won’t like him when he’s angry…

Here’s the explanation of how this video came about from student, Ariella Jem:

I’m a student in the UW-Madison Creative Writing program and each workshop requires us to attend two readings and write a short paper about them. When I asked if this Pat Rothfuss reading at UW-Milwaukee would count I was told that it would not because he writes fantasy.

And here is Patrick’s version of events:

When I was in Milwaukee, doing my reading and signing, someone told me that their creative writing teacher required them to go to a reading as part of their class, but that my reading didn’t count, because I wrote fantasy.

I had her record a video where I voice my opinion on the matter.

Here’s the video. It isn’t entirely safe for work, as I remember saying the word “Bullshit” about seven or eight times.

Highlights for me include: ‘We should not be judged by our lowest common denominator’, ‘Literary Fiction is a genre’, ‘Fantasy existed before Lit Fic’, ‘there is some truly excellent fantasy out there’, the list of classics that cross into realms of fantasy: ‘Hamlet, Macbeth, The Odyssey‘.



  1. Just another reason to love this wonderful, wonderful man.

  2. Avatar Marielle says:

    Sic’em boy! I am hoping that teacher saw it.

  3. Avatar Anne says:

    Is there a transcript please? I’m deaf and can’t hear the recording and I don’t want to miss out.

    No genre is more or less valid than any other. Good writing is always good writing.

    • Avatar mskel says:

      He basically said exactly what you said. No one genre is lass valid than the other.
      He guessed that the teacher was assuming fantasy is all orcs and goblins and BS and she was right for assuming that, a vast majority is that. He criticized the teacher or any ‘literary fiction snob’ for being close-minded, and said that a vast majority of literary fiction is a guy staring out the window on a cloudy day, sipping tea and thinking about his mother.

      Then he said that fiction, like any genre shouldn’t be judged for its lowest denominator. He listed off some classic works the teacher probably read which are poke into fantasy, like Macbeth, Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Odyssey. ‘Fantasy existed before Lit Fic’ and she was wrong to brush fantasy off like she did.

      • Avatar mskel says:

        Also if you want I can transcribe it for you. Actually I’ll go ahead and do that. (I cut out a few ‘uhh’s but it’s otherwise accurate. Original language he warned about is still present.)

        “Am I on? *You’re on.*

        “The problem with a lot of people who read only literary fiction is that they assume that fantasy is just books about orcs and goblins and wizards and goblins and bullshit. And to be fair a lot of fantasy is about that stuff. The problem with people in fantasy is they believe that literary fiction is just stories about a guy drinking tea and staring out the window at the rain while he thinks about his mother. And the truth is a lit of literary fiction is just that. Like kind of pointless, angsty, emo masturbatory bullshit.

        “However, we should not be judged by our lowest common denominators. And also, you should not fall prey to the fallacious thinking that literary fiction is literary and all other genres are genres. Literary fiction is a genre, and I will fight to the death anyone who denies this very self-evident truth.

        “So is there a lot of fantasy that is raw shit out there? Absolutely. Absolutely, it’s popcorn reading at best. But you can’t deny that a lot of Lit Fic is also shit. Everything in the world is shit. We judge by the best and there is some truly excellent fantasy out there, for example, Midsummer’s Night Dream, Hamlet with the ghost, Macbeth [with] the ghost AND witches. I’m also fond of the Odyssey. You know, most of the Pentitude from the Old Testament are gargantuan Pantagruel (might not be his exact words, I tried my best with what I heard and chrome’s spell check. I think he means the Pentitude was largely made up).

        “You know, honestly, fantasy existed before Lit Fic, and if you deny those roots, you’re pruning yourself so closely that you can’t help but wither and die.”

        That’s the transcript, word for word (aside from the Old Testament bit at the end).

  4. […] @wingedreviews Check out this awesome Patrick Rothfuss vid, if you haven't seen it already!  […]

    • Avatar Aldrich Wright says:

      “Gargantua and Pantagruel” is a fantasy novel by rabelais, a 16th century french novelist . What he said was the Pentateuch (the first five books of the OT), Gargantua and Pantagruel etc

      BTW, if you HAVEN’T read Gargantua and Pantagruel you, are in for a treat…it is a HOOT.

  5. In Germany, teachers and critics use the term “trivial literature”. I think that’s really the only kind of literature that matters. Who in their right mind would ever read anything else. “Proper literature” always seems boring at best and preachy at worst, incapable of grasping the concept of entertainment. I always wonder why it exists at all, and I assume it’s probably only because the “proper art critics” like to reassure each other that they are doing something important, while the rest of the world couldn’t really care less.

    As the cartoon with the sci-fi writer in a space suits go: “You’re all just jealous of my jetpack.”

  6. Those of us working in F&SF have been arguing this for years! Well said, Pat!

  7. Avatar Andrea Harris says:

    It sounds like the student is taking a Creative Writing course that is focused on “literary fiction” and genre (scifi, crime fiction, fantasy) being not part of the course, won’t count towards completing assignments. It has nothing to do with the validity of fantasy or any other genre, it’s just not what the students are supposed to be studying.

    • Avatar Overlord says:

      I wouldn’t say that is the case. I’d say that the student is taking a ‘Creative Writing’ course and that the tutors / person designing the curriculum has geared it towards Literary Fiction.

      Same as on my Advanced Creative Writing course. I was told to write imaginative fiction, but not fantasy…

  8. […] Here’s the link on Fantasy Faction, assuming the comments will be interesting. […]

  9. Avatar Kevin D says:

    fantastic rebuttal. Not aggressive,not taking sides, just facts. I love the Shakespearean references. I like this guy.

  10. Avatar Emily says:

    I posted this on Reddit in the thread where I first saw this, but I wanted to also share this opinion here (slightly revised below).

    I’m a huge Pat Rothfuss fan (met him twice at PAX! Squee!) and I will also “fight to the death” with anyone who says fantasy or genre fiction can’t be high quality and deeply enriching.

    THAT SAID, as a writing teacher myself (although I don’t teach creative writing), I can’t help but feel a little bit of sympathy for the creative writing teacher. Saying that a genre fiction reading “doesn’t count” for the assignment is very different from saying that genre fiction is “low quality”, or otherwise engaging in the kind of snobbery people seem to be assuming the teacher subscribes to. If the students are studying and practicing a specific genre of fiction, doesn’t it make a little bit of sense that the teacher would ask them to do assignments related to that genre? There are lots of academic/literary creative writing teachers who AGREE with Rothfus that literary fiction is a genre, and make it clear in class that that’s the genre they’re practicing, yet I’ve seen countless classmates still get frustrated and upset when they can’t work on a sci-fi short story (including me in my first academic lit-fic class before I learned the usefulness of the genre distinction!)

    Isn’t it also possible that because this writing teacher is teaching a *literary fiction* class, it’s somewhat reasonable to ask students to go to readings of authors who write in the genre they are studying?

    It wouldn’t make much sense if Brandon Sanderson sent his students to readings by academic/literary writers, right?

    I’m not denying that this kind of academic snobbery exists (it does, and it frustrates me too), but it just seems like those students maybe jumped to conclusions, or don’t understand the program they enrolled in. I think we need more context before demonizing the teacher, honestly.

    If my students did a stunt like that to me because they didn’t like an assignment or class activity I designed to support what I’m trying to teach them, I think I’d probably be pretty upset/heartbroken. Teachers work hard to put together their curriculum, and study for a long time in their specialization. This kind of stunt would be really painful to be on the receiving end of.

    All of this said, Pat’s video is still worth passing around and sharing because there is still a large amount of that elitism sentiment out there that needs to go away… I just feel bad for the teacher, who may or may not have actually subscribed to that view and might not deserve the backlash s/he’s no doubt getting from the internet right now.

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