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Reading Journal Entry 4: The Aesthetics of Fantasy Literature and Art

Wow...it's truly the first day of spring here. 70 degrees and gorgeous, picturesque like the old-school images of The Party trekking out on the epic Quest (because, as you know, it NEVER rains in fantasy, right?)

Roger Schlobin's "The Aesthetics of Fantasy Literature and Art" doesn't really answer that age-old question of why we never picturing it raining on the heroes, why Aragorn has time to shower and do his hair before the final, climactic battle, and why the heroes are never out of gold when they come to Ye Olde Tavern and Adventure Kickoff Point.

However, if I had to suggest one craft book for every fantasy writer to read, it would be this one. Comprised of a number of essays on fantasy and its conventions, the book is by no means a light read. Come with a highlighter and a bit of patience. I will say that the essays are arranged very well, from more elemental concepts like "What is Fantasy?" all the way up to the importance of ethics, and the secondary world as character not just setting. Oooh....shiny!

I learned something excellent from each essay.
Here are some of the best and most useful quotes. I try to sum up a bit after each...

Preface:"[W]hile fantasy is impossible from one perspective, which could vaguely be labeled as 'realistic,' it must be psychologically valid."
In addition to instilling wonder in your reader, you must also give them a sense that the world works by rules and conventions that are stable and sensible.

The Encounter with Fantasy by Gary Wolfe: "[I]f the fantasy author successfully integrates idea and affect to achieve a primary level of belief in the work, this deeper level of belief will emerge naturally."
Although wonder can be instilled, it must be buoyed by belief to be sustained. Only the believing reader will buy into the idea that fantasy is actually reality.

On the Nature of Fantasy by C.N. Manlove: "As soon as the supernatural becomes possible, we are no longer dealing with fantasy but science fiction.
If a chara in your story shoots a lightning bolt, it's the HOW that matters.
If he speaks an incant, weaves arcane gestures with hand or wand, and the lightning bolt springs from his hand--it's fantasy.
If he clicks a button on the gauntlet he's wearing, and the flux capacitor roars to life and shoots 121 gigawatts--it's sci-fi.

From Fancy to Fantasy: Coleridge and Beyond by W.R. Irwin: Okay, I'm not going to lie, I didn't find this one useful. A lot of jabber about what Coleridge thought about a concept that's clearly outdated. Please, could we just forget that "Kubla Khan" nonsense? Coleridge's best work was, without a doubt, The Christabel. 'nuff said.

The Secondary Worlds of High Fantasy by Zahorsky and Boyer: "The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are now in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from the outside."
Actually, this quote is from Tolkien himself, and it supports the above statement that secondary worlds must have rules and laws that are make sense and are consistent. If you break your own rules, you create nothing but chaos with zero believability.

Ethical Fantasy for Children by Francis Molson: "A more significant...pattern in ethical fantasy than surmounting obstacles in discerning good from evil is facing up to the necessity of choosing between the two and then screwing up the courage to act accordingly.
Edmund has to humble himself to his brothers and sisters in order to fight the White Witch in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" while in "The Black Cauldron," Ellidyr who throws himself into the evil relic and sacrifices himself to save his friends. In choosing good over evil, these children demonstrate their readiness to enter the adult world and accept adult consequences.

Pure and Applied Fantasy by Robert Crossley: "There are 'pure' fantasies of the magical type that are morally charged and deal impressively with issues of individual merit and social justice...[a]nd there are 'applied' fantasies...that are little more than homages to applied science."
Not all fantasies are based on ethics, only the good ones--just kidding! ;]

Heroic Fantasy and Social Reality by Jules Zanger: "Once we accept the denial of the real world implicit in magic that works, or the existence of elves...we find ourselves on otherwise familiar turf: conflict and resolution, psychological characterization, and motivation."
A good secondary world is invisible, yet its presence its deeply felt.

For me, this book was a huge reaffirmation of why I write fantasy. Not only that, but it shed some light on the why of it. My own motives illuminated, I feel a bit like Morgoth with the Silmarils. ;]


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