The OF Blog: June 2006

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

There is more to fantasy than what is dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio

The following is a slightly edited version of a ranting commentary that I made over at wotmania. The link will show the reasons for the post, but here is the main part of the text, since it might provide some fodder for discussion here or elsewhere.

There seems to be an attitude by many readers, or perhaps perception is a better word, that fantasy is only epic fantasy. That Tolkien is the end-all and be-all of all things fantastic. That 'fantasy' involves only 'secondary worlds' and that 'worldbuilding' involves a pseudomedieval setting with noble men (and the occasional plucky wench with big tits and ass, to be blunt), with a few pixie-like elves, doughty dwarves (or dwarfs, if you must), and evil orc-like creatures that are minions of a Dark Lord (or lords or council of merely shadowy intentions). Oh, yeah, and with a Quest, not a goal, but a sacred Quest (with phallic-like swords in play, if not The Key to Immortal Life And/Or Defeating Said Dark One/Ones/Council of Merely Shadowy Intentions) to boot! Maybe with pages and pages of turgid prose being crapped out to fill up thousands of pages of material, all just so the Hero (from central casting) may pose, strike down the foe, fuck the chick, and have everyone cheer and to smile and to throw a party with even more homoerotic hugging than a whole bundle of Hobbit hugging partners can accomplish in 10 minutes of slow-time cinematography. Blech!

Oh, that's not the perception of everyone, but it is a common misconception as to what Fantasy/fantasy means. And yet a cursory search of some of the more popular blogs, especially those of authors writing outside of the epic fantasy tradition, often will reveal a bit of hand-wringing on how to define what 'fantasy' is. It obviously can't be proto-Fascist whiteboy whooping up on Dark Lord Satan/Suge Knight in his crib, now can it? It can't be that crap that a Goodkind or a Newcombe will shit out on a yearly basis, often selling into the hundreds of thousands of copies, can it? Why can't fantasy be true-honest-to-God literature? You know, throwin' it down like Gilgamesh rocked the house 4000 years ago?

And yet in the many fine points that these bloggers and authors make about how 'fantasy' is oh-so-much more than epic phallic worshipping, there often is a point that's being overlooked. If (as they and I myself personally do) fantasy involves the imagination and if it's the birthplace of so much else, then where do we place fantasy within the wider world?

I mean, we have tens (if not hundreds) of thousands (hell, maybe even millions) of Ayn Rand-worshipping Objectivists out there. We have millions of L. Ron Hubbard idolizing Scientologists. We have sex cults in Britain that follow after the dictates of an obscure '60s fantasy novel. We have people who are disgruntled, who are dissatisfied with today's postmodern world and its implications that many reject it. Oh, some do seek a Tolkienian 'consolement' in a nebulous fantasy (often epic style, 'cause the men must be real men and the women must know their role, at least for some of the readers), while others say 'fuck it' and they just rebel. They think, "What if Marxism could be applied virtually perfectly to a society? What would it be like?" Or perhaps they ponder, "What if women were in power and the men were just the fuck toys?" Or maybe they just say the hell with it and go, "Ya know, I think having gay-friendly worlds would say a lot about our world and its issues!"

Fantasy is not merely of one form, nor is it only part and parcel of literature. It's a dialogue that we carry on with ourselves, our societies, our past, and our conceptions of the present and future. It is an artifact, a vital part of material culture, one in which there are a whole host of issues that are at stake. One cannot escape it - what you choose is based on how you choose to see the world around you. Read a Danielle Steel now and fantasize about romance. Read Stephen King and maybe be wowed by the possibilities that might be macabre at times. Read a 'safe' novel, say something by V.S. Naipaul and you'll see conflict and attempts to grasp what it means to be human.

Fantasy is merely our processing of the data of the world around us and our desires to manipulate or to change our perceived world if it becomes threatening to us. Some might say fantasy is 'bad' or 'childish,' while ironically succumbing to their own fantasy versions of the world about, bound in iron-clad rules and procedures. Fantasy is multivariable, neither fish nor fowl, neither Good nor Evil, but a means of relating our hopes and fears to an audience of others and self combined. To view it as being 'this' or 'that' just seems to short-change it and that is a pity.
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