15 December 2005

And yet more wandering thoughts on fantasy

I was thinking about a reply of handworn's to my earlier post on fantasy:

I think what the medieval kick is about is partly the exoticness you mention, 'cause the further away in time you get, the further away from an individual person's experience it gets and the more supernatural it seems. But there's also a measure of wish-fulfillment in medievalism because the hard science that began to arise in the Renaissance often contradicts the perception of reality.

I kept trying to frame a reply, and ended up with a tangent instead. That contradiction of our perception of reality is, I think, a great source of inspiration for fantasy. I can think of two clear examples: Crowley's Aegypt (and its sequels), and Lovecraft. Aegypt has at its heart the effects of those very contradictions, and of the cognitive dissonance and shock that they cause. It's one of those books that flatly contradicts the kneejerk idea of people like Gregory Benford that fantasy is only about nostalgia. The book is a meditation on change -- not on it being bad or good, but just on it, and what it means, and what it does to us.

H.P. Lovecraft is that odd duck who sometimes is considered horror, sometimes fantasy, sometimes science fiction. His Big Bads are advanced aliens. Everything, as Darrell Schweitzer notes in the above Gregory Benford link, is materially and rationally based. He, too, is meditating on change. Unlike Crowley, he has a decidedly one-sided, and negative, view of that change.

I think that my wondering about fantasy set in more modern historical time periods, and in settings inspired by same, may have been motivated by something that has been tickling my brain. It seems like there's this neat division in our little genre minds that goes something like this: science fiction is the literature of change, and deals with social possibilities and transformation. Fantasy, on the other hand, is mythic literature, which deals with individual, psychological issues. But I think that both can tread on the other territory. Fantasy, in particular, can have Big Things to say about change, and transformation, and about, frankly, science and its role in our lives (and, likewise, science fiction can be mythic. but that's another essay).

I guess -- it seems like we still fret and wonder about all this technology. Science Fiction has some great things to say on that subject. Fantasy can too, I think, with its unique angle of vision. And it can do it by doing more than just gazing back at the mythical past.


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