“Introduction: Next Year in Mondath”
I recently traveled to Wroclaw, Poland, to attend a conference on children’s literature. It was a wonderful experience (except for the efficiency of LOT Polish Airlines1), and I am grateful to Marek Oziewicz, Justyna Dezcz-Tryhubczak, and Agata Zarzycka of the Center for Young People’s Literature and Culture for organizing it and especially to Marek for inviting me to be the keynote speaker. What particularly struck me about this gathering of scholars from Poland, the US, Canada, Taiwan, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, the UK, Hungary, Croatia, Italy, and Bulgaria was that we spoke a common language. Not English, though I did reap the benefits of living in a culturally hegemonized world—most papers were delivered in my native tongue rather than the speakers’. Instead, our common language was the fantastic.
The range of topics was as diverse as the points of origin of the attendees, but whether the talk was about a Galician translation of a Mexican children’s story or about Soviet-era fairy tales, each speaker could be certain that the audience would share an interest and a set of literary touchstones. We all knew Tolkien and Pratchett, J. K. Rowling and L. Frank Baum, and the body of retold traditional tales and legends upon which these writers have built their worlds. Wherever we came from, we also came from the realm of the imagination. Ursula K. Le Guin once wrote about discovering in childhood that she was really a native of a country called Mondath, which only exists in the works of Lord Dunsany.2 Like Le Guin, we who attended the conference were all citizens of Mondath.
The conference organizers very aptly titled the gathering “Relevant Across Cultures: Visions of Connectedness and World Citizenship in Modern Fantasy for Young Readers.” Though some of us are not exactly young readers, we are connected by the things we read and experience in fantasy. Tolkien thought that the stuff of magic was precisely the most basic and universal sorts of things: bread and trees and stars and stones. Much modern literature forgets about these fundamental realities, but fantasy brings us back to them. No wonder it crosses borders freely.
Many of the conference speakers talked about the challenges of translation—for instance, one of the attendees, Anikó Zohár, is Terry Pratchett’s Hungarian translator, faced with the task of carrying his verbal soap bubbles across the minefields of cultural and linguistic difference. Many of the works discussed are not available in English. I would love to read some of those Soviet fairy tales, which, according to Anna Gubergrits from Talinn, mostly managed to evade the regime’s pressure to propagandize, unlike the realistic children’s literature of the time, but those stories are no longer available even in Russian, let alone in English versions. Still, there is something eminently translatable about the core experience of fantasy. Unlike poetry, fantasy—or its mythic substructure—is what does not get lost in translation. It is indeed relevant across cultures, at least for those of us who remember Mondath.
This issue of the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts is not so obviously international as our gathering in Wroclaw, yet the writers being discussed are some of the same ones I heard about at the conference. The Anglo-American fantasy tradition is now part of world culture, influencing writers in dozens of languages. These essays on Tolkien, Robin Hobb, Terry Pratchett, John Gardner, and H. P. Lovecraft would have fit right into the sessions. Chris Brawley talks about Tolkien in terms of his ecological awareness, which is always tempered by a sense of inevitable loss that Brawley traces to Tolkien’s Christian eschatology. Siobhan Carroll talks about a writer who is not so widely known as Tolkien or Pratchett but whose fantasy works, whether published under the name of Robin Hobb or that of Megan Lindholm, have always taken up complex and challenging issues of perception, identity, and, in this case, honor. Gideon Haberkorn’s essay on Pratchett shows one reason why Pratchett’s work is internationally renowned: his ability to reinvent narrative models and to overlay traditional and contemporary forms of heroism in his Discworld novels. Marie Nelson examines a writer better known for his mainstream work than for fantasy, but she finds that John Gardner’s treatment of Grendel shares some of the same ambitions and sensibility as Tolkien’s mythopoeisis. Finally, Vivian Ralickas looks at one of the foundational writers of modern horror—H. P. Lovecraft—and explores the philosophical and aesthetic issues that underlie Lovecraft’s work, and, by implication, the work of his many followers.
You might think of this journal as another sort of conference: an ongoing meeting of international scholars who share an interest in the impossible and a love for fundamental things like trees and heroes, horror and honor. May we meet together next year in Mondath.
1. My deepest disappointment with the trip was that the aircraft from Warsaw to Wroclaw was not, as promised on my Expedia itinerary, a “two-bedroom apartment for five.” Alas, only in Mondath.
2. “A Citizen of Mondath,” The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, ed. Susan Wood (New York: Putnam’s, 1979): 25–30.
“The Fading of the World: Tolkien’s Ecology and Loss in The Lord of the Rings”
“Honor-bound: Self and Other in the Honor Culture of Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son Series”
“Cultural Palimpsests: Terry Pratchett’s New Fantasy Heroes”
“John Gardner’s Grendel: A Story Retold and Transformed in the Process”
“‘Cosmic Horror’ and the Question of the Sublime in Lovecraft”
Matt Lawrence’s Like a Splinter in Your Mind: The Philosophy Behind the Matrix Trilogy
Rev. by Laurie Cubbison
Rocío Carrasco Carrasco’s New Heroes on Screen: Prototypes of Masculinity in Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema
Rev. by John Garrison
Frenchy Lunning’s Mechademia 1: Emerging Worlds of Anime and Manga
Rev. by Stefan Hall
Christopher Lehrich’s The Occult Mind: Magic in Theory and Practice
Rev. by Leon Marvell
Patricia Monk’s Alien Theory: The Alien as Archetype in the Science Fiction Short Story
Rev. by Margaret McBride
Gina Wisker’s Horror Fiction: An Introduction
Rev. by Roger C. Schlobin
Claire Squires’s Philip Pullman, Master Storyteller: A Guide to the Worlds of His Dark Materials
Rev. by Kelly Searsmith
Fred Erisman’s Boys’ Books, Boys’ Dreams and the Mystique of Flight
Rev. by Ronald Thomas
Emmanuel Carrère’s I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick and Brian J. Robb’s Counterfeit Worlds: Philip K. Dick on Film
Rev. by Jason P. Vest
Annalee Newitz’s Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Culture
Rev. by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock