JFA 27.2 (2016)

Introduction: Big Phanta versus Home Cures

It is sort of thrilling to be able to complain about fantasy success stories. Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Twilight, and the sprawling universe of superheroes saturate our culture, constituting a common frame of reference rivaling many religions and probably surpassing both science and history. And that’s mostly a good thing, although a little more historical and scientific awareness wouldn’t hurt humanity’s chance of surviving the century. However, something happens to fantasy when it becomes really successful. It gets broader, less nuanced, and more insistent. It wants to sell you things, including itself. It starts to resemble big corporations like Pfizer and Bayer: the drug companies that recruit doctors and politicians to convince us that we need their products to maintain our health and sanity by smoothing over reality. Let’s call these book and media franchises Big Phanta.

Unlike Big Phanta, well-crafted fantasy stories are quirky, particular, and obdurate. They are more likely to unsettle than to soothe. This includes the written texts that form the basis for many of the franchises: Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire as opposed to the televised Game of Thrones, or Tolkien’s The Hobbit in comparison with Peter Jackson’s. Sometimes, because fiction, as well as media, can be franchised, one has to go back to the sources behind a particular written text to get to the un-homogenized experience, the real home-brew. Behind the Twilight series lurk Dracula and Carmilla and a lot of disturbing folk narrative about unsparkly vampires. Typically, this kind of fantasy comes into being only with time and isolation: it has to cure, like olives or country hams. It’s labor-intensive and intense. It rarely pleases all tastes. Whereas Big Phanta is reliably uniform and can be turned out in mass quantities, each Home Cure is a new challenge, a unique flavor. Sometimes you have to cut out moldy bits, or throw out a whole spoiled batch. The trade-off is that home-cured fantasy can also be a home cure. With the right reader at the right time, it is, as Ray Bradbury once said, a medicine for melancholy.

Each of the articles in this issue includes an implied contrast between Big Phanta and something else. Irina Ruppo Malone looks at medievalist fantasy from the pens of Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, better known as writers of science fiction. The Strugatskys’ Hard to Be a God might have been written as a response to the growing popularity of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but the kind of Medievalist nostalgia satirized by the Strugatskys predates Tolkien. Ruppo Malone directs us toward Sir Walter Scott and his successors. It’s hard to know which texts and movements from the West were available to Soviet readers, but other possible targets could include William Morris, Lord Dunsany, and Robert Howard. None of these is Big Phanta in the same way something like the Potter movies is, but taken collectively they exert an ideological push away from history into what Ruppo Malone calls a “dream space” of the past. Science fantasy like Hard to Be a God ruptures that dream space and is thus perhaps its own home cure.

Caroline E. Jones looks at the version of Big Phanta represented in the dystopian state of Panem in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy. That state is maintained by a mix of deprivation and illusion—the latter is the circus part of Collins’s bread-and-circuses allusion. Jones asserts that Collins’s take on dystopia is like the critical utopias identified by Tom Moylan in that the oppressive state generates its own self-critique and, eventually, downfall. This downfall comes in the form of the resisting heroes Katniss and Peeta, whose actions catalyze a rebellion by asserting that hope endures even amid devastation and injustice. Jones focuses on the novels, rather than on the film adaptations. Collins’s home-cured version includes a warning that even resistance can become tyranny; when transferred to the big screen, however, some of that subtlety was lost and the films occasionally came to resemble the sort of spectacle that enures the citizens of Panem to their own oppression.

Marek Oziewicz looks explicitly at the way meaning and affect can change in the transfer from one medium to another: in this case, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Acknowledging that movies and novels have different dynamics, Oziewicz nonetheless claims that the film versions are what he calls a “beautiful disaster”: cinematically gorgeous and useful as fodder for computer game designers but narratively incoherent and lacking the ethical vision that was an important part of Tolkien’s Home Cure.

Kelly Budruweit takes on Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels: arguably Big Phanta even in their print incarnation. One could argue that there is a difference between author’s and publisher’s ambitions, and that packaging can turn something from Home Cure to Big Phanta, but the pattern Budruweit identifies, of pulling the Gothic mode’s fangs, so to speak, is Meyer’s own choice. In this case, the books and movies of the Twilight franchise appeal broadly in proportion to their sanitizing of the vampire metaphor and their reinscription of a conservative view of sexuality and self in the imaginative space once occupied by dangerously deviant beings like Nosferatu and Lamia.

Finally, Joseph Young reminds us that one generation’s bold experiment can become the next generation’s establishment to be rebelled against: he shows how both George R. R. Martin and Terry Pratchett take Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as a set of rules to be broken. Focusing on Martin and invoking Northop Frye’s theory of modes, he compares scenes in Tolkien and Martin, showing how Tolkien’s use of the high mimetic mode creates an opportunity for parody in the ironic mode. The target is not Tolkien himself so much as his instantiation as a literary monument. It is not the text itself that has become Big Phanta but rather the uses of it by fans and imitators. Martin offers a Home Cure that involves lots of sweating, bleeding, and purgation: not comfortable or comforting, but then good cures rarely are.


Introduction: Big Phanta versus Home Cures
Brian Attebery

What’s Wrong with Medievalism? Tolkien, the Strugatsky Brothers, and the Question of the Ideology of Fantasy
Irina Ruppo Malone

Changing the World: Faces of Rebellion in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Trilogy
Caroline E. Jones

Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: A Beautiful Disaster
Marek C. Oziewicz

Twilight’s Heteronormative Reversal of the Monstrous: Utopia and the Gothic Design
Kelly Budruweit

The American Pratchett? Muck and Modality in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire
Joseph Young


Jennifer L. Feeley and Sarah Ann Wells’s Simultaneous Worlds: Global Science Fiction Cinema
Rev. by Mark Azzopardi

Dieter Petzold’s C. S. Lewis—50 Jahre nach seinem Tod. Werk und Wirkung zwischen Huldigung und Kritik. [C. S. Lewis—50 Years after his Death. Works and Influence Between Tribute and Criticism]
Rev. by Bruce A. Beatie

Sarah Juliet Lauro’s The Transatlantic Zombie: Slavery, Rebellion, and Living Dead
Rev. by Kyle William Bishop

Tara Pedersen’s Mermaids and the Production of Knowledge in Early Modern England
Rev. by Melissa Ridley Elmes

Eduardo Urzaiz’s Eugenia: A Fictional Sketch of Future Customs: A Critical Edition
Rev. by Miguel García

Markus P. J. Bohlmann and Sean Moreland’s Monstrous Children and Childish Monsters: Essays on Cinema’s Holy Terrors
Rev. by Ana Grinberg

Justin Everett and Jeffrey H. Shanks’s The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales: The Evolution of Modern Fantasy and Horror
Rev. by Sean A. Guynes

James Burton’s Philosophy and Science Fiction: Henri Bergson and the Fabulations of Philip K. Dick
Rev. by Chad A. Hines

Patricia García’s Space and the Postmodern Fantastic in Contemporary Literature: The Architectural Void
Rev. by Dale Knickerbocker

Linnie Blake and Xavier Aldana Reyes’s Digital Horror: Haunted Technologies, Network Panic and the Found Footage Phenomenon
Rev. by Murray Leeder

Quentin Meillassoux’s Science Fiction and Extro-Science Fiction
Rev. by Sean Matharoo

Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock’s The Works of Tim Burton: Margins to Mainstream
Rev. by John W. Morehead

Helen Young’s Race and Popular Fantasy Literature: Habits of Whiteness
Rev. by Marek C. Oziewicz

Matthew Carl Strecher’s The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami
Rev. by Pedro Ponce

Carl Freedman’s Art and Idea in the Novels of China Miéville & Caroline Edwards and Tony Venezia’s China Miéville: Critical Essays
Rev. by Benjamin J. Robertson

Leslie A. Donovan’s Approaches to Teaching Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Other Works
Rev. by W. A. Senior

Persephone Braham’s From Amazons to Zombies: Monsters in Latin America
Rev. by Audrey Taylor

Angelika Bammer’s Partial Visions: Feminism and Utopianism in the 1970s
Rev. by Karina A. Vado

Nicholas Michaud’s Adventure Time and Philosophy: The Handbook for Heroes
Rev. by Justin Wigard