by David Anthony Durham
I've been getting asked this question quite a bit recently: "David, why fantasy?" Inherent in the question is the suggestion that my time could be better spent elsewhere, in a more serious pursuit, with something tougher and of greater import. I believe wholeheartedly, however, that nothing I could have written at this point would have been more serious, or tougher, or more completely engaging. As far as the import goes - well, I think there's plenty to be found in my imagined world that reflects directly back on ours. Acacia is a novel about the myths empires create to explain their crimes. It's about how difficult it is to join idealism with action. It's about ambition and hope and dealing with the disappointments inflicted by a callous world. It's about family legacy, sibling rivalry, and striving to correct past wrongs.
Having said that, I guess I still haven't answered the fundamental question. Why fantasy? Part of it had to do with paying homage to a genre that was important to me as a young reader. Nothing drove me to read like fantasy did. I ate up CS Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Fred Saberhagen and Stephen R Donaldson. Ursula K LeGuin was challenging and exciting for reasons I didn't completely understand at the time. I read The Lord of the Rings in middle school, at a time when my reading level still hadn't risen from the slow start I got in elementary school. My teacher cautioned me against my reading Tolkein. It was above my reading level, she said, and I'd probably find it too difficult. If I hadn't wanted so badly to fall into this imagined world I would probably have accepted that. But I had to read that book. It wasn't easy, but pushing through such novels improved my reading by bounds, improved my self-image, stimulated my imagination and set me on the path to being a writer. Fantasy was a gateway for me, one that opened up a world of all sorts of literature and connected me with the wonders of storytelling as a way to meaningfully explore life's great questions.
In college and graduate school, I settled in to an academic study of literary fiction, but I never forgot the pure excitement I'd felt as a young reader. I found that—on the side and somewhat secretly—I was still drawn toward imaginative tales that were also novels of ideas: Octavia Butler, Orson Scott Card, Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman, Frank Herbert, Neal Stephenson, just to name a few. And I realized how much fantasy was becoming a part of my children's life, both in the classics and in new works by Cornelia Funke, MI McAllister, Kai Meyer, Phillip Pullman, JK Rowling, Jonathon Stroud, just to name a few. All this got me thinking...
What if I could recapture the joy of exploring an imagined world in my own work, and do so in a way that's "literary" but also exciting: a quest, an adventure, a saga, something that could entertain and challenge at the same time? And what if I could do it with a truly multiracial cast of characters that includes and represents for our actual cultural diversity? I found that too exciting an idea to resist.
That's why I wrote Acacia. It was humbling to imagine trying to join the ranks of the authors named above, but it was also more exciting than any other project I could imagine. I very much hope that readers find the project a worthy one, because I'm hoping that Acacia: The War With The Mein is just the beginning.
David Anthony Durham