A friend of mine, Julie Wright, the author of The Hazardous Universe series and several other books, recently posted an excellent defense of genre fiction on her blog.
Far too often, people think of genres like fantasy and science fiction to be 'easy' or 'safe' and not touch well on reality, or on the human condition. However, as Jules noted, this is very far from the truth.
Here is a link to her blog, and her excellent counter to this type of thinking: here.
In response to her defense of genre fiction, I wrote this comment:
Hey, Jules! I love how you said what you did about genre fiction. Good fiction, any kind in my opinion, is something that speaks to the soul. It shows that we can slay our own dragons. It connects with what makes us human.
For me, anything that is only fluff, or wish fulfillment, breaks its own rules, or doesn’t require its characters to truly work for what they get, is completely useless to me, because such stories do not help me learn anything about how to be a better human being.
Genre fiction authors like Rowling, Tolkien, Lewis, and um, you, however, don’t create fluff. What such authors write isn’t ‘safe’ entertainment. It has substance. Deep substance. It serves a vital purpose in the lives of people who read it, (whether readers are conscious of this or not) in that it can teach us things about how to be better human beings. It makes us more humane, more tolerant, more brave. It makes us realize that we need to work for what we get. It can stretch our minds and help us think in ways we didn’t before.
Tolkien and Lewis in particular, wrote stories that are, at their core, true stories. Not because they actually happened, but because despite being peopled with hobbits, elves, dragons etc., they convey basic human truths. They teach me that I can do more than I thought I could. They teach me that worthwhile things are worth fighting for, and sacrificing for. They help me to be kinder and yet also braver. If Bilbo can face a terrifying dragon, or if Frodo and Sam can get an evil ring all the way to Mount Doom, well, just maybe, I can face the dragons and the mountains in my life, too.