In obituary-land of late I have found my friends divided between those who mourned the passing of Anthony Minghella and those who marked the passing of Arthur C Clarke, and similarly between those who marked the loss of Paul Scofield and those who mourned for Brian “Mr Foggy Barraclough” Wilde.
It’s the high art, low art thing, of course, and the tidying of lives into boxes posthumously.
I’ve heard little mention of Minghella script editing Grange Hill (vital popular drama for twenty years of children- low art), or of Paul Scofield’s appearance in a presentation of highlights from Hamlet rudely cut short by a Kia-ora advert (for ATV therefore low art, even with Peter Brook on board), or Wilde’s appearances in Elizabeth R or Play for Today (not massively popular comedy series and therefore high art).
Furthermore, I’ve just heard a BBC World Service arts show say there was another loss to the world of film (after discussing Minghella), Arthur C Clarke, though he worked in quite another genre, science fiction, and got annoyed.
Let’s get this straight- Arthur C Clarke may have co-written a famous movie, but he was not from the world of film because of that, and Anthony Minghella wrote fantasy, just like Clarke- The Storyteller and The Greek Myths and Truly, Madly, Deeply are in the same genre as Clarke*.
Now high art chaps may well want to say “No, no, they’re using metaphor, they’re not actually fantasy, they’re using fantastic trappings to explore reality.”
Newsflash- this is not unknown in the world of fantasy fiction- those Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter and George Orwell pieces aren’t proper literature using the tropes of fantasy, they are it.
Similarly, Clarke was not attempting to predict the future in his books with dates in the title but explore ideas, and his butting up of the transcendent and spiritual with the world of rivets and physics is at the heart of some of his most memorable work.
Everyone who’s ever read The Nine Billion Names of God knows it’s a fable, an exploration of where we put faith and science, and, as I’ve read Simon Guerrier discuss recently, an attractively open ended fable that tells us a great deal about us as readers.
If I may posit a Fourth Clarke’s Law posthumously: “Any sufficiently advanced science fiction is indistinguishable from literature and any sufficiently advanced popular culture is indistinguishable from art”.
Get over it, ghetto-makers. Porridge is as good as King Lear, don't make me choose.
The idea for this post was given to me by an enigmatic piece of pure geometry sitting incongruously on a stone age plain, or possibly by observing the geometry in nature and trying to make sense of it.
*Mind, they were telly really, weren’t they? Not legit cinema films.
Oh and if you don't think science fiction and fantasy are the same thing you've forgotten Clarke's Third Law and need to ask yourself how come they're always tucked away together in the same corner of 'proper' bookshops.