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The final chapter turns its attention to considering how fantastic forms facilitate productive exchanges between creators and audiences. It contends that fantasies are made both in communities and for communities – sometimes as gifts, sometimes as challenges, but always with the idea of adding something new to a shared commons that can in its turn be taken up, valued and built upon. The chapter begins by discussing the importance of craft and exchange in Fantasy culture, considering how Fantasy diverges from conflictual models of influence articulated by critics like Harold Bloom and exploring how fantasies such as Jo Walton’s Among Others and Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story express a deep faith in the power of readers and reading. It then explores fan-cultural exchanges, touching on Critical Role, Archive of Our Own, A Very Potter Musical and the practice of modding video games. Finally, the chapter turns to questions of inclusion, discussing works by Patricia A. McKillip and Ursula K. Le Guin, the representation of race in genre fiction, and the changing ways that contemporary communities play Dungeons & Dragons.
Providing an engaging and accessible introduction to the Fantasy genre in literature, media and culture, this incisive volume explores why Fantasy matters in the context of its unique affordances, its disparate pasts and its extraordinary current flourishing. It pays especial attention to Fantasy's engagements with histories and traditions, its manifestations across media and its dynamic communities. Matthew Sangster covers works ancient and modern; well-known and obscure; and ranging in scale from brief poems and stories to sprawling transmedia franchises. Chapters explore the roles Fantasy plays in negotiating the beliefs we live by; the iterative processes through which fantasies build, develop and question; the root traditions that inform and underpin modern Fantasy; how Fantasy interrogates the preconceptions of realism and Enlightenment totalisations; the practices, politics and aesthetics of world-building; and the importance of Fantasy communities for maintaining the field as a diverse and ever-changing commons.
The introduction explores what is at stake in Fantasy culture. It opens with a passage from a 1951 letter by J. R. R. Tolkien that expresses his aspirations and doubts, before exploring how Tolkien’s success served to catalyse a series of formations inspired in part by him but not bounded or limited by his conceptions. Through discussing Michael Moorcock’s essay ‘Epic Pooh’, the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series, societies and awards in the 1970s, and Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, it models Fantasy as a generative, ongoing conversation. The introduction then engages directly with questions of definition, considering the centrality of impossibility to a consensus about what Fantasy means, discussing important work by Brian Attebery and Farah Mendlesohn, and asserting that Fantasy is best understood as a complex assemblage of creators, audiences, languages, forms, conventions, tropes, communities, institutions, histories and traditions. It closes by arguing that dismissing Fantasy as an escapist form is both quixotic and myopic. People often have very good reasons to want to get outside dominant frameworks for a while, and they return from Fantasy worlds refreshed and with valuable new perspectives.
One of the most common criticisms of Fantasy is that it is repetitive, derivative and uninspired. This chapter argues that this is a misconception. Rather than repeating, Fantasy iterates: its creators self-consciously rework tropes and patterns in manners that acknowledge the necessarily entangled nature of human communications and cultures. Drawing on work by Colin Burrow on imitation and Linda Hutcheon on adaptation, it argues that originality is recent, problematic and overrated as a criterion for judging art, and that fantasies demonstrate a productive awareness of culture as being collaborative and renegotiable. The main subjects discussed include Diana Wynne Jones’s The Tough Guide to Fantasyland and The Dark Lord of Derkholm; Thomas Malory’s Launcelot and T. H. White’s Lancelot; Death in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman; dragons many and various; Terry Brooks’ much-maligned The Sword of Shannara; fan fiction and N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance series; and the marriage of lore and mechanics in Magic: The Gathering. The chapter closes by considering the archetype-focused criticism of Vladimir Propp and Joseph Campbell, discussing both the attractions of such models and how imposing grand patterns can blind us to both stories’ irreducible specifics and their exclusions.
This short conclusion briefly summarises the book’s contentions regarding language, iteration, reworked traditions, mimesis, world-building and communities, before articulating a final argument for the importance and interest of Fantasy.
This chapter explores the ways in which modern works of Fantasy remake longstanding cultural forms. It modifies John Clute’s notion of taproot texts by focusing on larger-scale modes of meaning-making rather than individual influential works, examining the ways in which Fantasy is deeply informed by myths and legends, epic and romance, folk and fairy tales, and religions. Any one of these could be the subject for a book in itself, so the chapter employs a selective approach, giving a sense of each mode’s larger patterns, exploring how these have been taken up in Fantasy and examining a small selection of case studies. The myths and legends section focuses on how recent Fantasy texts remake the story of Hades and Persephone, considering Anaïs Mitchell’s musical Hadestown, Supergiant’s game Hades and Rachel Smythe’s webtoon Lore Olympus. Other key works discussed include Avatar: The Last Airbender, Sofia Samatar’s The Winged Histories, Angela Carter’s ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and Kelly Link’s ‘Travels with the Snow Queen’.
While there are a few older examples of fantasies that create secondary worlds imaginatively separate from the Earth we know, such building projects became increasingly prevalent during the twentieth century. World-building is seen as one of the quintessential activities of contemporary Fantasy. Consequently, this chapter considers what fantasies, their creators and their audiences gain from imagining new worlds. It begins by examining J. R. R. Tolkien’s arguments about the importance of consistency and immersion in sub-creation, while also considering alternative views articulated by writers including Michael Saler, André Breton and H. P. Lovecraft. After drawing out the wide applicability of the world-building metaphor in conversation with work by Farah Mendlesohn, the chapter explores the metaphor’s limitations by looking at examples drawn from Michael Moorcock and Fredric Jameson. The second part of the chapter explores a wide range of world-building techniques using case studies that include Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World, E. R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series, Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Fantasy television, Planescape: Torment and Elden Ring.
This chapter considers how Fantasy is rooted in language’s ability to describe things that do not exist, arguing that this same ability is crucial for constructing the value systems that allow human cultures to operate. In intervening in conversations about meaningfulness and identity, Fantasy plays with heady stuff, but by explicitly parading its impossibility, it creates productive and revealing abstractions that can both playfully and critically interrogate received norms and languages of power. Fantasies ask whether the world we have made through language is the one we want, holding open imaginative spaces for alternatives that are by turns utopian, dystopian, revealingly similar and radically different. Key works discussed in this chapter include Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, Plato’s Republic, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea Books, Ted Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life’, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, Jorge Luis Borges’s ‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’, Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist and Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.
This chapter considers how Fantasy has been shaped by and shaped modern understandings that privilege facts, realism and scientific knowledge. It argues that while Fantasy has often been belittled by discourses that seek to define what is true, right and possible, fantasies have engaged in good faith with such discourses while serving as valuable means for negotiating their limitations. The chapter begins by discussing Enlightenment and its oversights, before pivoting to discuss how Fantasy was side-lined by discourses of genius that exalted authors and demeaned audiences, setting Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and Francis Jeffrey against more sympathetic appraisals by Joseph Addison, Charles Lamb and George MacDonald. The back half of the chapter explores how Fantasy engages critically with dominant rationalist and realist understandings that emerged during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, considering works including Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, the animated series Arcane, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Elder Race, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Rivers Solomon’s The Deep.
This chapter opens by considering the vexed relationship between Romantic poetic practices that were increasingly interested in the powers and perceptions of individuals and the Romantic period’s burgeoning metropolitan profusion. The first sections explore the ambivalent or outright negative attitudes towards cities and their populations expressed by poets such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey and considers how distancing perspectives are employed in writings by Walter Scott and Letitia Landon. The later parts of the essay consider alternative versions of the urban sublime, touching on topographical and statistical representations by Thomas Malton and Patrick Colquhoun; celebrations of multiplicity by Pierce Egan and William Hazlitt; readings against the grain by Charles Baudelaire, Thomas De Quincey and Charles Lamb; and considerations of ruination by John Martin, Anna Laetitia Barbauld and Mary Shelley.