|Which is better craft? This?|
Despite my attempts to say I was just being nostalgic for the days when fantasy readers were "fringe" and when we had our little secret faves, I took some heat. It all sort of culminated in many of the commenters agreeing that "good" writing is in the eye of the beholder and that they (here comes the old standby from bitter former English majors:) didn't learn to appreciate good writing until they broke free of the chains of English departments.
I get it. English professors are sometimes snobs who seem to want to distill all plot out of literature. And I agree: Portrait of a Lady is a bore, but a brilliant bore that one should read and then feel free of. I once heard that Samuel Johnson [thanks to George, for the correction] said that "Paradise Lost is the greatest poem ever written in English, but no one ever wished it longer." I agree whole heartedly with that.
And, yes, when I was in grad school, I remember feeling as if the professors looked down upon those of us who chose to add the creative writing component to our degrees. (As if they ever would have had careers without us lowly writers...)
But I have a problem with those who would mention JK Rowling in the same breath as Margaret Atwood; or who think it is snobby to say Steinbeck is a great writer and that Stephen King is merely a competent one.
I have been plagued, in a way, all of my life by the arts I pursue: music and literature. If I try to draw a house and I can't, people are quick and able to say I am not a good artist. But if there is a band who thrashes about on their instruments like mittened orangutans and that band has the right "vibe," they might well be labeled as ground-breakers, even though they have zero competence on their instruments or as composers.
There is a difference between what one likes and what is well-crafted. Who judges what is well crafted? Me, damn it. (Just kidding.) We each have to judge, but one should have some level of competence if one is going to say X is a great writer or Y is a great songwriter. Love what you want, but low standards (or the lack thereof) are not good for the growth of art.
It sure is nice to say "there is no good or bad" in the creative realms. It makes us all feel fuzzy, I am sure. But it just ain't true when it comes to craft. I really don't want someone who just likes to read to tell me that I am wrong to say that there is a difference in quality between Dan Brown and Toni Morrison.
That said, I love to listen to hard rock. I enjoy it, but I would never compare it, in terms of craft, to the compositions of Samuel Barber. I'd have to be an idiot. But, I am allowed (and so is everyone else) to enjoy whatever I want. I would never stand in the way of that.
My dad used to say that our society is becoming a game of musical chairs in which no one takes away a chair, ever. He had something there.