06 November 2006

The Bounds of Fantasy

Yesterday's discourse with M. T. Anderson about "new wave fabulism" and fantasy prompted some more thinking about what the bounds of fantasy literature are.

As in any taxonomic discussion, this may simply be a matter of lumping and splitting. I may prefer a broader definition of "fantasy" than others, one that incorporates all of the following groupings:

  • Entire story takes place in a fantastic world (e.g., The Lord of the Rings, Rowan of Rin)
  • Protagonist travels from our familiar world to a separate fantastic world (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Phantom Tollbooth)
  • Protagonist learns that the familiar world holds hidden dimensions and depths (Harry Potter, The Dark Is Rising, arguably Charlotte's Web and Freddy the Pig)
  • Protagonist deals with an odd, fantastic being or event in the familiar world (The Phoenix and the Carpet; Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher)
Does "magical realism" or "new wave fabulism" or whatever one wants to call it confine itself to the fourth subgrouping above? That does allow "Less emphasis on the construction of coherent alternative worlds" as Anderson wrote, and more attention to the response and/or origin of the anomalous fantastic element.

How much does fantasy literature have to explain or justify its unreal elements? I operate on the basis that as long as the story remains enjoyable and engrossing enough, it can keep ahead of the logic police. But of course adults are often more skeptical than young readers, and some adults more than others--sad to say.

Is "escape" a necessary part of fantasy literature, particularly those forms that involves journeys to different worlds or dimensions of this world? And does that in turn make fantasy an inherently optimistic, comedic (in the Aristotlean sense) form (while science fiction can take up the cause of pessimism)?

Does the implication that "it was all just a dream" or a psychological projection make an unreal story more real, or less of a story? (Answer with reference to "The Secret Sharer," Alice in Wonderland, and the MGM Wizard of Oz.)

And, as I've asked before, can any definition of "magical realism" or "new wave fabulism" logically exclude E. Nesbit's "Deliverers of Their Country"?

1 comment:

Little Willow said...

I think you've described the various scenarios extremely well and chosen appropriate examples. Bravo.

A lifelong fan of Alice in Wonderland, I nevertheless readily admit that I've never much liked the ending for two reasons: her adventures haven't quite reached a close, IMHO, even with the trial and such; and then, when she gets home, she has lovely thoughts and remarks, but her sister gets the closing paragraphs, which I felt was unnecessary.

Oh, as an addendum to my comment on your previous post, I also like the phrase "urban fantasy" as an off-shoot of contemporary fantasy.