25 Apr 2011

Is fantasy the same as Science fiction, or is it a narrative genre in its own right Part II

Ok so here are the rest of my thoughts

For me fantasy is generally mythic in nature. A hero or heroes who seek to redress some evil or imbalance. Typically a quest or journey must be undertaken, wars fought, villains defeated. These stories find their origins in our myths and legends like; Arthur, Perseus, Beowulf. Often in these stories there is a paranormal element; magic or mythical beasts, strange races and monsters. Fantasy also incorporates adventure stories, journeys into strange lands by adventurers seeking treasure and fame. Typically these stories are set in a fictional medieval or pre-industrial world.

What you could argue is that Fantasy is trying to create it's own mythology. Not the mythology of a culture, but instead the mythology of the writer and his reader. While some fantasy is directly inspired by historical cultural mythology, others tales are simply stories of the common man(or  woman) and their place in the fictional world. This is commonly known as low fantasy, and I love it.

A very common theme of fantasy literature is the hero of seemingly  humble origins whose family or home is destroyed, which is a catalyst for them to go on a quest to discover the secret of their greater destiny and destroy/overthrow an oppressive evil. usually with a mentor and a rag tag band of friends with skills and attributes to help them succeed.

Sound familiar? Of course it does, its  Star Wars IV; A New Hope. Star wars as a story which follows mythic convention of a hero's journey. This does not make Star wars a fantasy story per say. But for me the inclusion of the Jedi knights does. The Jedi knights use a paranormal power known as the force. The hero's mystic mentor is a Jedi Knight who instructs him on his journey. Even the name Jedi Knight and their use of light sabres  are fantasy elements. I believe Lucas took a fantasy story and did use science fiction as a setting, blending the two and in doing so created something new, but very familiar to his audience.

Genre purists have a great difficulty in movies that over lap genre styles and conventions. Mostly because they stick to rigid theories about what a narrative is, while forgetting that in most cases the creator is simply trying and exciting vehicle for his story.

But where does that lead us? Are they the same, or different?

For me I think that Fantasy is a distinct narrative style. It can have it's own conventions, and typically it's own setting. But also that there is room for the blurring of boundaries. Which is good.  But while I think you could have a fantasy science fiction, I am not sure the reverse is true. While I could be wrong, can you inject science into a fantasy setting and have it retain what it is that makes it fantasy? Or would the science over power the fantasy elements and just make it a science fiction story?

That's my opinion anyway.

Enjoy your ANZAC Day but also remember our Service men and women today
"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them"

23 Apr 2011

Is fantasy the same as Science fiction, or is it a narrative genre in its own right Part I

When I first started this blog I was worried I wouldn't know what to write. However now I realise the problem is choosing what to write.
I sat for ages in front of my PC debating whether or not I wanted to write about this topic or my unbridled rage over the white peace poppies.

I have decided to leave the rant to FB, and write briefly on this topic which was inspired by one of my followers (sounds a bit like a cult doesn't it? Kool aide anyone?) comments . Thank you Tim.

So are fantasy and Science fiction effectively the same genre, or are they different?

At university I learnt about the various genre of film; the Western, The Gangster film, Horror etc.  These genres would have stylistic elements and share common themes. The Western for example, would be be set, rather obviously in the old west. Traditionally these films typified the journey of a hero who generally tamed the wild through conflict. Whether that was the country (nature) its self, or criminal men who preyed on society. Typically these heroes were men who although defended civilisation, were not part of it. Although they were sometimes civilised by a doe eyed farmers daughter, or a school maarm.

I was also taught that Science fiction was not a genre on it's own, but merely a setting for another type of narrative. I disagreed with that idea then, as I do now.

One of their examples was  Blade Runner the 1982 film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford. My lecturers argument was along the lines that Blade Runner  was essentially a film Noir movie, just set in the future. And they are right. The set, lighting and production of Blade Runner is classic film Noir. The added narration also giving it that Sam Spade sort of feel.

But my lecturer was also wrong. Science fiction literature (both film and writing) is about the impact of  science and/or technology on the characters or the characters society (Alien life is included in the umbrella of  science as well).  A common theme appears to be the dangers of science and individuals stepping over some ethical boundary and suffering the consequences.  In Blade Runner  that technology is the Replicants, an artificial human like slave race that desires freedom.

To me Science fiction is it's own genre. Yes it can be a setting and a vehicle for other styles of narrative, but also has its own themes and styles.

So what is Fantasy? Is it a separate genre?

Now I am not too flash on this "post a blog" thing yet so I have broken up my thoughts to make this one of the two part post.  By doing so this is still a blog and not a bloody essay, and also may keep you interested.

Part II coming soon

Enjoy your Easter break everyone.

17 Apr 2011

So now what?

So what will I talk about?

How about Fantasy as literature

I will assume it was my mother that told me bible stories of Samson, and David. And while some of you must be wiping the bile like spittle from your mouths when you read ‘bible’, my mother was, and is a pious woman who also filled my head full of magic and monsters from around the world. Also for a young boy some of those stories are exciting. “He Killed them with a dead animals jaw bone? WICKED!” “ So John the Baptist’s job was dunking people? And then some girl who liked him had his head cut off for not snogging her? Typical girls, but WICKED!”

These experiences of story telling were breif, and they were combined with fairy stories and other books which held my interest for longer. But through them, and my indulgent family I discovered a love of story telling. Then I discovered the Myths and legends of Ancient Greece, which led to a life times love of world mythology. The stories of Hercules, Theseus, and Perseus enthralled me as a boy. Through the wonder of books I travelled with the Argonauts, and fought the Medusa over and over with these mighty heroes.

From here it was an easy transition to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, and Tolkien’s Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series. I fought with Taran, Peter, and Aragorn, and struggled with Frodo on his mighty quest. There were several others, but these classics stick resolutely in my mind.

In my teens I eagerly devoured any book I could. As I grew older my tastes leaned to Science fiction, but I also discovered Robert E. Howards Conan as he sought adventure in lost and forgotten kingdoms. I can’t remember all the stories I have read, good or bad but I generally enjoyed them.

Then in the uninformative years of my late teens and early twenties a girl friend of mine introduced me to David Eddings The Belgariad. Now I understand that you may be a fan of Mr. Eddings and his works, especially the Belgariad, but I am not. I read the first book promptly, and then started the second. I think it I was about half way through when I had a sudden realization. Not only was I no longer enjoying it, but I had fairly much worked out the plot of the entire series. Given the praise my then partner heaped upon the series, I persevered. I read the rest of the series only to find to my disappointment that I had been right all along.

This led to a rather long series of disappointing reads which put me off reading fantasy stories for years. When I returned to New Zealand from London I discovered George R. R. Martin. I don’t know why or how I missed him, but I did. His writing was intelligent and engaging and reawakened my love of fantasy stories.

The biggest problem with Fantasy is that a lot of it is formulaic, and the characters bland stereotypes; The boy destined to be king, a peaceful kingdom threatened by a dark wizard, a grim faced barbarian warrior searching for a crown, you get the idea.What I don’t understand is why so many writers copy the great stories or insist on such trite plot devices. So many science fiction writers have taken the opportunity to create wonderful stories, and perhaps make a commentary on contemporary society or culture. Science fiction has often been used as a vehicle for social commentary so why can't Fantasy?

You could argue that fantasy by the very nature of its genre could not be used as such a medium for expression due to its distance from contemporary culture. How can the tale of wizards and warriors and Elves, swords and sorcery, reflect America’s problems with Wall Street, or political revolution in Africa?

But why couldn’t it? Why can’t fictional fantasy societies or conflicts be an allusion for current issues? Weren’t there reflections of World War Two in the Lord of the Rings? I personally believe that it is an under utilized genre, with as much potential as any. You may have read such stories, which further my point. Undoubtedly if you are a fan of fantasy you have certainly read some dross. My hope is that there will be a renaissance of fantasy literature. Perhaps the recent HBO production of The Game of Thrones and the Hobbit will help.

16 Apr 2011

A beginning

You shiver briefly as the cold night hits you. You pull you coat tightly around your body, as your walk briskly to your destination. As you reach the foot of the stairs leading in to a gothic old building on the busy street, you are intercepted by a bull necked, well dressed door man. You rummage for your invitation in your various layers. Those same layers that protect you from the dark winters chill are also protecting the silver edged card from your prying fingers. With relief and satisfaction you present the invitation to the doorman.  He surprises you by reading it fully and giving you a carful look before ushering you past him up the dark veined marble steps behind him. A second doorman hops off the black wrought iron railing to open the dark open double doors for you.

You enter a welcoming warm hall lit by candles. You can see that there are several dinner parties in full swing. You did not know that it was fancy dress, when you see the many characters feasting and laughing. Pirates and rogues carouse in one corner, a group of caricatured monkeys wearing circa World War 2 American army uniforms chatter animatedly at another table. You see Vikings, Vampires and Faeries as you head for the main table you glimpse something large and dark moving in the shadows, and hope that this is indeed a costume party. You reach your hosts table, and your seat is ready. You host has been waiting for you before he continues starts his dialogue. Will tonight be a story, a tall tale from the past, or a discussion on film, history or current events?

Welcome to my imagination. I have been expecting you.