The Infernal Riddle of Historical Fantasy

Wednesday 24 November, 6 pm GMT

With James Treadwell (author of the Advent trilogy), L. J. MacWhirter (author of Black Snow Falling), Fraser Dallachy (Lecturer in historical linguistics), and Rob Maslen (Co-director of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at Glasgow).

Join us online as we celebrate the launch of James Treadwell’s most recent novel, The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach (Hodder and Stoughton, 2021), with a discussion of fantasy’s obsession with history. Each of our panelists shares this obsession. Treadwell’s novel is set in the late eighteenth century, MacWhirter’s in the time of the Tudors, while Dallachy and his colleagues have advised historical novelists by drawing on the vast resources of the Historical Thesaurus of English. Together they will consider some of the challenges faced by fantasists who choose to set their stories in the past. These may include:

  • Historical accuracy: does it matter?
  • Is language magic? (Advance warning: we think it is!)
  • What’s at stake in your choice of style as you seek to evoke lost times?
  • Clichés: should we avoid them?
  • Magic: what part has it played in history?

We’ll also be responding to questions sent in by participants. Come along and be one of them!

Book your free ticket here.

James Treadwell is the author of the acclaimed Advent trilogy, about the calamitous return of magic to a world that has forgotten it. These are Advent (2012), Anarchy (2013) and Arcadia (2015), published by Hodder and Stoughton. Before that he was an academic, whose books include Interpreting Wagner (Yale University Press 2003) and Autobiographical Writing and British Literature 1783-1834 (Oxford University Press 2005).


L. J. MacWhirter is an award-winning copywriter and author. Black Snow Falling was published by Scotland Street Press (2018), introducing a new YA mythology in multiple timelines. The 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal and the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award were among its listings and nominations. Liz is currently writing her debut novel for adults, an historical novel with magical realism, in the context of a cross-disciplinary creative practice PhD.

Fraser Dallachy is Lecturer in the Historical Thesaurus of English in the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow. He is Deputy Director of the Historical Thesaurus of English, and is currently working with colleagues both in Glasgow and at the Oxford English Dictionary to update the Thesaurus to its second edition, adding new words, senses, and improved dating to the resource. He has published numerous articles, book chapters and conference proceedings, and maintains several websites, including that of the Historical Thesaurus, second edition.

Rob Maslen is co-Director of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow. He has published Elizabethan Fictions (Oxford University Press, 1997), Shakespeare and Comedy (Bloomsbury 2005), The Shakespeare Handbook (with Michael Schmidt, 2008), and editions of Sir Philip Sidney’s Apology for Poetry (Manchester University Press, 2002), Mervyn Peake’s Collected Poems (Carcanet 2008) and Peake’s Complete Nonsense (with G. Peter Winnington, Carcanet 2011). He blogs at The City of Lost Books (https://thecityoflostbooks.glasgow.ac.uk/).

A Tale of Two Lindsays: In Search of Starkness Observatory

Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State University

The term “astronomical observatory” usually brings to mind an image of a gleaming white or silver hemispherical dome, or a vision of the Hubble Space Telescope, hurtling around the earth at 30,000 km per hour at an altitude of more than 500 km above the surface of our planet. But in centuries past, the basic architecture of the astronomical observatory was far more utilitarian, merely constructed to raise the observer above the local landscape. For example, Cheomseongdae in South Korea is a 7th century ten-meter-high bottle-shaped tower made of granite blocks (Castro Tirado 3).

Figure 1: Cheomseongdae Observatory [Public domain]
Figure 2. Exterior of the Rundetårn [Public domain].

The Rundetårn (Round Tower) Observatory in Copenhagen was built by Danish king Christian IV in 1642, a helical internal ramp not only leading to an observation platform 40 meters above the ground, but reportedly offering amusement to Peter the Great as he frequently rode his horse up to the top (Castro Tirado 6; Cajori 372). Hans Christian Andersen included numerous references to the Round Tower in his writings, for example as a setting in the 1857 novel To Be or Not To Be (At være eller ikke være) (“Hans Christian Andersen”).

Figure 3. Interior tamp of the Rundetårn [Jorge Láscar, CC-BY-2.0]

In H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel The War of the Worlds, the narrator recounts viewing Mars through a telescope in a “black and silent” fictional domed observatory in the English village of Ottershaw, describing the “shadowed lantern throwing a feeble glow upon the floor in the corner, the steady ticking of the clockwork of the telescope, the little slit in the roof” (Wells 11). George MacDonald’s 1864 short story “The Castle” includes an “observatory on a lofty tower,” part of the eponymous castle built on “the top of a high cliff” (n.p.). This latter architecture is echoed in David Lindsay’s 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus. The fictional “famous Starkness Observatory” where “Curious discoveries are made … from time to time” is said to be located on “the north-east coast of Scotland” (Lindsay 14). The characters Maskull and Nightspore arrived at the observatory after walking seven miles from the fictional Haillar Station, along a road “very wild and lonely, [that] ran for the greater part of the way near the edge of rather lofty cliffs, within sight of the North Sea” (Lindsay 17). The observatory complex, which looked as if it had been deserted for six months or more, is described as a “self-contained little community” and composed of “three buildings: a small, stone-built dwelling house [including a library], a low workshop, and, about two hundred yards farther north, a square tower of granite masonry, seventy feet in height” (Lindsay 17).

The eponymous departure for Arcturus is made from a platform on the top of the observatory tower. Lindsay’s choice of design is understandable, as it is certainly easier to launch a “torpedo of crystal” (Lindsay 27) from the flat roof of a tower than the narrow slit of a round dome. But the description of this abandoned Scottish observatory brings to mind the troubled history of real Scottish facilities, those in Edinburgh.  In 1768 optician Thomas Short (1711-1788) inherited a telescope made for the Danish King upon his telescope-maker brother James’ death. Thomas brought the instrument back to Edinburgh and after first setting it up on the roof of Heriot’s Hospital, petitioned the Town Council to lease him land on Calton Hill for the purpose of building an observatory that could be used by University of Edinburgh students (Brück, “The Story” 5). The stone structure was begun in 1776 but not completed until 1792, four years after Short’s death. While it is not built on the coast, and is composed of a single structure (unlike Starkness Observatory), it is made of stone, has a flat roof, and hugs a cliff-side.

Unfortunately, no funds had been set aside to purchase research-quality instruments, and the so-called Gothic Observatory languished. In 1811, nine years before the founding of the Royal Astronomical Society in London, a group of private citizens founded the Astronomical Institution of Edinburgh, and convinced the Town Council to lease them the Gothic Tower and adjoining land. The original structure (which became known as the Old Observatory) was slated to be used as a public observatory, while a true scientific observatory would be built nearby (Brück, “The Story” 7).

Famed Scottish engineer William Playfair’s unorthodox design for the new observatory was a “cruciform Roman Doric structure with six pillars in front of each of its strictly equal sides and with a prominent dome for a telescope at its centre” (Brück, “The Story” 8). While the observatory was begun in 1818 and not completed until 1825, a 1822 visit by King George IV led the facility to be “styled The Royal Observatory of King George the Fourth,” elevating it in name to a similar level as the Royal Observatory at Greenwich (Brück, “The Story” 10). Unfortunately the years were not kind to the new Royal Observatory, as financial support waned. The second Scottish Astronomer Royal, Charles Piazzi Smyth, announced his retirement in 1888, and a royal commission on the Scottish Universities issued a series of devastating recommendations, including abolishing the designations of Royal Observatory and Astronomer Royal for this facility (Brück, “Lord Crawford’s” 126).

Figure 6. Playfair’s Observatory [Andrew Shiva/Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0]
Figure 7. 1878 caricature of James Lindsay [Public domain].

All seemed lost for Edinburgh astronomy, but fate had other plans. James Ludovic Lindsay (1847-1913) twenty-sixth earl of Crawford and ninth earl of Balcarres, had long been trying to garner support for the Scottish Royal Observatory. A gifted amateur astronomer, in 1872 he moved to the mansion estate his grandfather had purchased in Dunecht, near Aberdeen, and built a world-class astronomical facility, including a 15-inch aperture refractor, in the U.K. second only to the Royal Greenwich Observatory. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1878 and president of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1878 and 1879 (Gingerich 872).

Dunecht is certainly farther north than Edinburgh, but while it is on the coast it is not in sight of the North Sea. Lindsay’s observatory did include a number of separate buildings, including some with cylindrical domes and single-story structures housing solar instruments and a photographic laboratory (Brück, “Lord Crawford’s” 102). While there was also a library and a stone-built astronomer’s house, which had an observing platform on the roof, there was no separate stone tower (Brück, “Lord Crawford’s” 99).  

Lindsay’s astronomical instruments were admittedly the envy of his colleagues, but his library was even more impressive. The so-called Crawford Collection is considered “one of the finest collections of astronomical books in the world, and especially rich in ancient and rare books, … altogether there may well be as many as 11,ooo books and pamphlets representing the individual contributions of well over 4,ooo authors in at least sixteen different languages” (Forbes 459). Upon the death of his father in 1880, the new Lord Crawford gave up his astronomical duties, leaving the day-to-day operation to his main assistant Ralph Copeland (1837-1905). When he later inherited his uncle’s title, he decided to sell Dunecht and move his observatory to Balcarres House in Southeast Fife, closer to the coast.

It was during this time (1888) that Piazzi Smyth resigned as astronomy professor at the University of Edinburgh and Scottish Astronomer Royal, leaving the future of Edinburgh astronomy hanging by a thread. Lindsay approached the government and offered all his astronomical equipment and his legendary library as “a gift to the nation, subject to the condition that the observatory should be rebuilt upon a suitable site and maintained in a proper manner” (“James Ludovic Lindsay” 272). The offer was accepted, and in 1889 Copeland was given the titles of Regius Professor of Practical Astronomy at the University of Edinburgh and Scottish Astronomer Royal (Brück, “Lord Crawford’s” 127). A committee was established to locate a more suitable site, away from the lights and smoke of the city, leading to the selection of Blackford Hill, a public park on the southern edge of Edinburgh. (Brück, “The Story” 53). As in the case of Starkness Observatory, there was no railway up to Blackford Hill, but a temporary track was built in 1892 branching from Blackford railway station in order to facilitate the movement of building supplies to the site (Brück, “The Story” 55). The main building is end capped by two revolving cylindrical domes “38 and 22 feet in diameter at the east and west ends of the building which were to cover the two principal telescopes of the observatory, the 15-inch refractor and a 24-inch reflector” (Brück, “The Story” 55). In between was a flat-roofed section housing the library and a platform for portable instruments. The facility was completed in 1895, far faster than the previous iterations of the Edinburgh observatories. With the Royal Observatory safely moved to Blackford Hill, the Calton Hill facilities became the property of the city council, and the Playfair facility was open to the public as the “City Observatory” for many decades.

Figure 8. The two revolving domes of the Blackford Hill Observatory [Magnus Hagdorm, CC-BY-SA-2.0]

While there is not a one-to-one correspondence between Lindsay’s description of Starkness Observatory and any one of the Edinburgh Observatories, there are tantalizing parallels to each. More importantly, having been born in 1876, David Lindsay could have witnessed the drama concerning the Royal Edinburgh Observatory in real time as a young man, having spent part of his youth in Jedburgh, Scotland (near the border with England) with father’s relatives (Ewing, “Biography”). While I have seen no evidence to suggest that David Lindsay was closely related to James Lindsay, the similarity in name may have attracted the author to the astronomer’s life story. It is also interesting that David’s older brother, Alexander (1869-1915) used the pseudonym Alexander Crawford to write serialized novels and short stories between 1911-15. As Murray Ewing notes, “the name Crawford has a long association with that of Lindsay, since a Sir David Lindsay (c.1360–1407) was made 1st Earl of Crawford in 1398” (Ewing, “Alexander ‘Crawford’ Lindsay”).

Today the observatories of Edinburgh have come back to life. While the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the closing of the Royal Observatory’s visitor’s center, scientific work continues at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) and the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Astronomy (IfA), both housed at the observatory. In 2018 the Collective Gallery took on responsibility for the Calton Hill complex, turning the City Observatory into a public celebration of contemporary art. In 2020 it was announced that the long-neglected Gothic Tower was being refurbished as apartments for visiting artists, special events, and vacations (Ferguson). This ultimate marriage of exploration, science, and the arts is certainly worthy of the heritage of Lindsay’s novel, and its Starkness Observatory. I wish them many successful voyages to ‘Art-cturus’ – and beyond.

References:

Brück, Hermann A. (1992) “Lord Crawford’s Observatory at Dun Echt 1872-1892.” Vistas in Astronomy 35: 81-138.

Brück, Hermann A. (1983) The Story of Astronomy in Edinburgh. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Cajori, Florian (1928) “Four Old Astronomical Observatory Buildings.” Science 26(4):372-6.

Castro Tirado, Miguel A. (2019) “Astronomical Observatories: From the Prehistory to the XVIII Century.” Revista Mexicana de Astronomía Y Astrofísica 51: 1-8.

Ewing, Murray (2021) “Alexander ‘Crawford’ Lindsay.” The Violet Apple https://www.violetapple.org.uk/notes/alexandercrawford.php

Ewing, Murray (2021) “Biography.” The Violet Apple https://www.violetapple.org.uk/life/life.php

Ferguson, Brian (2020) “Gothic Landmark Built for 18th Century Astronomers in Edinburgh to Become Artists’ Retreat on Calton Hill.” The Scotsman https://www.scotsman.com/whats-on/arts-and-entertainment/gothic-landmark-built-18th-century-astronomers-edinburgh-become-artists-retreat-calton-hill-2922771

Forbes, Eric G. (1973) “Collections II: The Crawford Collection of Books and Manuscripts on the History of Astronomy, Mathematics, Etc., at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh.” The British Journal for the History of Science 6(4): 459-61.

Gingerich, Owen (2004) “Lindsay, James Ludovic.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 872-3.

 “Hans Christian Andersen and the Round Tower” (n.d.) Rundetaarn https://www.rundetaarn.dk/en/article/hans-christian-andersen-and-the-round-tower

“James Ludovic Lindsay.” Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 74: 271-3.

Lindsay, David (2007) A Voyage to Arcturus. Radford: Wilder Publications.

MacDonald, George (2016) “The Portent and Other Stories.” Project Gutenberg https://www.gutenberg.org/files/8913/8913-h/8913-h.htm

Wells, H.G. (2008) The War of the Worlds. Waiheke Island: The Floating Press

Images:

(1) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cheomseongdae_Observatory_gyeongju.jpg Public domain

(2) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Denmark._Copenhagen_317_Rundetaarn.jpg Public domain

(3) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rundetaarn_-_Round_Tower_(37867038602).jpg Jorge Láscar CC-BY-2.0

(4) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Calton_Hill_Gothic_Tower_1792.jpg Public domain

(5) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Calton_Hill_Old_Observatory_2010.JPG Public domain

(6) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scotland-2016-Edinburgh-City_Observatory.jpg Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

(7) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lord_Lindsay_-_Earl_of_Crawford.jpg Public domain

(8) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Royal_Observatory,_Edinburgh,_Scotland-10Nov2010_(1).jpg Magnus Hagdorn CC-BY-SA-2.0

Fantasy Horror Reading Group Halloween Event

The Fantasy Horror Reading Group invites you for a night of fun, horror and mayhem with our live-streaming of Cabin in the Woods next Wednesday 27th of October at 19:00 BST.
We’ll be hosting the event on Discord, and there’ll also be a film bingo, with the winner being able to choose the topic for our first reading group session of this academic year!
The bingo card can be found below, and a copy is also posted on the Discord. For those who haven’t played before, you win when you cross off 5 boxes in a row, having identified the clues in the film. The centre square is blank for you to fill in as you please.

To join us, follow the link https://discord.gg/MNZe3KrEAs

We look forward to seeing you there for Halloween! In the meantime, stay spooky, and feel free to say hi on Discord and follow @WickedReadings on Twitter. We don’t bite… much.

Conference: Dissenting Beliefs: Heresy and Heterodoxy in Fantasy

The Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic and the University of Glasgow are happy to announce Dissenting Beliefs, an early career researcher conference on religious heresy and heterodoxy in fantasy literature and media. The conference is free to attend and will be held online via Zoom webinars on 11 December 2021.

Our keynote lecture for the conference will be delivered by Prof. Alana M. Vincent, Professor of Jewish Philosophy, Religion and Imagination at the University of Chester.

You can find the conference CFP here and find our full programme below.

Registration is already open – here is the link to book your free ticket.

Keep up with our latest updates by following Dissenting Beliefs on Facebook and Twitter.

Organising Committee:

Dr Taylor Driggers
Lucinda Holdsworth
Meg MacDonald
Luise Rössel

Contact Email: Dissenting.Beliefs@gmail.com

Programme:

9:30-10:00: Welcome and Opening Words


10:00-11:30: Panel 1: Feminist Mythic Counter Readings
Chloe Campbell — “Hell’s Under New Management Now”: Heresy, Patriarchy and Religious Subversion in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Eilidh Harrower — “Pharmakis”: Feminist Paganism in Circe by Madeline Miller

Grace Worm — In the Hands of the Goddess: Feminist Religion, Religious Piety, and Mistaken Interpretations in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall and Other Lands

10:00-11:30: Panel 2: Good Omens and its Descendants
Alex Booer— A Theology from the Margins: The Demon Crowley in TV’s Good Omens

Luise Roessel— Mirroring “sacred” textuality only to break it: the liberating power of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens

Matthew Konerth— The Demon Ascendant Narrative

11:30-11:45: Break


11:45-13:15: Panel 3: Fantastic Queer Heterodoxies
Marita Arvanti — God Has An Asshole?: Queer Heterodoxies in Elizabeth Bear’s Stratford Man duology

Koh Hui Ling Carina — Postmodern Fantasy and Queer Theology in Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree

Da Eun Kun — Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Blakean Fantasies for a Lesbian Feminist Subject


11:45-13:15: Panel 4: Interwar Paganism and Occultism
Andrew Korah — “To Pray to the Stars”: The Nonmoral Devotion to Beauty in Dunsany’s Fantasy

Georgia Van Raalte — “The Ass that Carries the Ark”: Fantasy, Initiation and Goddess Theology in Dion Fortune’s Occult Novels

Sean Martin — Gnostic and Pagan Archetypes in David Lindsay’s The Violet Apple, Devil’s Tor and The Witch


13:15-14:00: Lunch Break


14:00-15:40: Panel 5: Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue
Anna Milon — The High Church of the Goddess: Religious Syncretism in Live Action Role Play.

Smita Dhantal — A Socio-Psychological Analysis of Interreligious Dialogue in A Song of Ice and Fire

Snigdha Basu — Theological subversion of the indigenous and trails of Womanist theology in Joanne Harris’s Chocolat

Venetta Octavia — Fantasy or History: Religion vs. Magic


15:40-17:10: Keynote with Prof. Alana Vincent

Imagining Ecological Pasts and Futures: Folklore, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction in the Climate Crisis

Humans have always written tales of magic and wonder that relate the human to the non-human world, whether that ‘magic’ is folkloristic belief or the modern quasi-scientific speculations and re-imaginings of Science Fiction and Fantasy. But why should this matter in an age of catastrophic climate change?

Join us online on 17 November 2021, at 18:45 GMT, for an event in which colleagues from the Centre of Fantasy and the Fantastic will foreground via short presentations how both traditional folkloric stories as well as past and current Fantasy texts, whether intended for children or adults, usefully serve to imagine our place in the cultural/natural world, including interactions with non-human others. Tales of connection and disconnection—or of utopia and dystopia—are examples of serious play in which solutions to dilemmas, especially the climate crisis, can be explored.  In short, narratives of the Fantastic perennially provide not only welcome solace and escape, but also serve to spark new ways of thinking: fantasy is good to think with.

The evening will end with a Creative Writing Workshop led by two experienced workshop leaders so that participants can experiment with their own ideas, hopefully inspired by the presentations that have gone before.

Themes and Contributors

Fantasy, Ecology, and Children’s literature
Renewal and Transformation in Traditional and Pre-modern Supernatural Narratives
Transforming the Earth: Techno-Utopian Fantasies
Creative Writing Workshop

This event is part of the Being Human Festival and is supported by the Dear Green Bothy series.

Book your free online ticket here.

Exploring Cyberpunk Culture


Jack in to the matrix for a cyberpunk book launch! Join Glasgow University’s Dr Anna McFarlane via Zoom webinar at 6PM (BST) on 16th September 2021 to celebrate the launch of Cyberpunk Culture and Psychology: Seeing Through the Mirrorshades.  The book explores the work of William Gibson and the influence of cyberpunk science fiction. Anna will introduce her book, including her concept of gestalt literary criticism. She will then be joined by academic and broadcaster Dr Sarah Dillon for a conversation about the book and the journey from PhD thesis to monograph. Finally, Anna will be joined by Dr Graham J. Murphy (Seneca College) and Dr Lars Schmeink (Europa Universität Flensburg), her co-editors on The Routledge Companion to Cyberpunk Culture (2020) to talk about how the book fits in to existing cyberpunk research, and the future of cyberpunk scholarship. 

Click here to book your free ticket via Eventbrite.

CFP: GIFCon 2022: Fantasy Across Media

The Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic is pleased to announce a call for papers for Glasgow International Fantasy Conversations (GIFCon) 2022 with the theme of ‘Fantasy Across Media’.

Much of fantasy studies has focused on the genre’s presence in literature, with histories and theoretical frameworks often either implicitly or explicitly centring the written word. In some cases, academic, critic, and fan responses to the genre outside of literature even go so far as to erase or question the possibility of the genre’s existence in other media, perhaps most famously embodied in J.R.R. Tolkien’s insistence in ‘On Fairy-stories’ that some media, such as drama, are fundamentally incompatible with fantasy. These types of responses fail to account for the medium-specific benefits and challenges that different media pose for depictions of the impossible, serving to establish hierarchies between media, exclude non-literary media from analyses of the genre, and potentially limit a full understanding of the genre’s history.

Fantasy and the fantastic have had long, rich histories outside of literature, playing a central role in the development of theatre, film, and comic books, and celebrating a more recent boom on the small screen. Furthermore, from the innumerable reimaginings of the Arthurian tradition, to The Wizard of Oz, to manga and anime, to contemporary multimedia franchises and cinematic universes, fantasy texts have been integral to the history of transmedia storytelling, allowing their rich storyworlds to expand across multiple media. By examining fantasy with a focus on media, we find a genre shaped in distinct ways by the many different media and creative industries that produce it, with specific creative processes and varying cultural media traditions opening onto distinct forms of fantasy that may not be properly accounted for in fantasy studies’ traditional focus on Anglophone literature.

GIFCon 2022 is a three-day virtual conference that seeks to examine the myriad narrative possibilities afforded by fantasy across media. We welcome proposals for papers relating to this theme from researchers and practitioners working in the field of fantasy and the fantastic across all media, whether within the academy or beyond it. We are particularly interested in submissions from postgraduate and early career researchers, and researchers whose work focuses on non-Anglocentric fantasy. We will also offer creative workshops for those interested in exploring how the creative processes of different media shape fantastic storytelling on a practical level. 

We ask for 300-word abstracts for 20-minute papers. See our Suggested Topics list below for further inspiration. 

Please submit a 300-word abstract and a 100-word bionote via this form by December 3rd 2021 at midnight GMT.  

If you have any questions regarding our event or our CfP, please contact us at GIFCon@glasgow.ac.uk. Please also read through our Code of Conduct. We look forward to your submissions! 

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • Fantasy texts in film, theatre, television, oral traditions, comic books, games (both video and tabletop), new media, virtual reality, theme parks, podcasts, scripts, visual arts, etc. 
  • The relationship between genre and medium 
  • Histories of Fantasy media beyond literature 
  • The cross-media influence of Fantasy texts 
  • Medium-specificity or interrogations of medium-specificity in genre studies 
  • Adaptations of Fantasy texts 
  • Fantasy transmedia franchises 
  • Fanworks of Fantasy texts 
  • Fantasy and the fantastic in a non-Anglocentric medium, e.g. Bollywood fantasies, manga, anime, JRPGs, Karagöz shadow plays 
  • Relationship between Fantasy texts and the regional cultural industries that produce them 

CFP: Dissenting Beliefs: Heresy and Heterodoxy in Fantasy

Online Conference to be held on 11 December 2021, supported by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow.

Deadline for Submissions: 7th September 2021

Organising Committee:

Dr Taylor Driggers
Lucinda Holdsworth
Meg MacDonald
Luise Rössel

Contact Email: Dissenting.Beliefs@gmail.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DissentCon/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DissentCon/

Keynote

Alana M. Vincent is the Professor of Jewish Philosophy, Religion and Imagination at the University of Chester. Her published work engages a wide range of topics relating to religion, memory, and cultural imaginaries, from commemorations of mass killing to the afterlives of biblical texts. She has published several monographs, including Culture, Communion and Recovery: Tolkienian Fairy-Story and Inter-Religious Exchange (2014), and is currently researching the way that popular narratives, such as comic books and superhero movies, shape public perceptions of post-genocide reconciliation. Born in Canada, she currently resides in Liverpool with her partner and two cats.

Call for Papers

Religious fantasy, for a great many readers, is synonymous with Christian fantasy; more specifically, it is understood as literature overtly reproducing biblical narratives within a fantasy world, such as C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Concurrently, fantasy texts engaging with theology through non-allegorical means that challenge mainstream Christian doctrine are all too often dismissed as disingenuous, offensive or deliberately antagonistic. While this is sometimes the case, such a narrow view of religious fantasy excludes all but the least innovative texts from the genre and leaves little room for authors of other faiths. Furthermore, the dominance of texts affirming orthodoxy in religious fantasy discourse threatens to blind us to another side of belief: that radical, sometimes even heretical, literary reconfigurations of religion can also be acts of devotion.

If religious fantasy is instead allowed to encompass heterodoxy and heresy, theological subversions and expressions of misotheism, then the affordances of religious fantasy expand far beyond the didacticism popularly attributed to it. Understood in these terms, religious fantasy can be used: to affirm one’s identity and spiritual worth in opposition to official doctrines which may deny it, as a tool of protest against unjust systems of power, to explore complex spiritual responses to historical instances of religious complicity in atrocities, or to express lived spiritual experiences which do not conform to orthodox teachings.

This online conference, supported by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow, aims to explore the wide ranging affordances of heterodoxy and heresy in fantasy texts across a wide range of faiths. We welcome 20-minute papers from postgraduate students and early career researchers working in any area of fantasy or theology. These papers might address, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Queer, feminist and womanist theology in fantasy
  • Non-Western, post-colonial or anti-colonial heresies and fantasy
  • Misotheism, ‘New’ Atheism and Death of God theology in fantasy
  • Fantasy and interreligious dialogue
  • The affordances of fantasy in theologies of protest
  • New Media’s interactions with fantasy and theology, and how this might differ from traditional media

Please submit a 300 word abstract and a short bio (maximum 150 words) to Dissenting.Beliefs@gmail.com with the subject line ‘Abstract Submission’ by 31st August. Only applications from graduate students and early career researchers will be considered for this conference. We are particularly keen to highlight the contributions of underrepresented authors within the fantasy genre at this conference, therefore we will also not be accepting submissions on the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling or Philip Pullman.

This event will take place online on 11th December 2021 and will be made accessible to the public via both zoom and the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic’s YouTube channel.

CFP: Tolkien and Fantasy sessions at ICMS, Kalamazoo

We are seeking abstracts for two sessions on J.R.R. Tolkien and Young Adult Fantasy, sponsored by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, for the 57th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, Western Michigan University), to be held online on 9-14 May 2022.

Tolkien and the Medieval Animal

Organised by Kris Swank

The emerging field of “animal studies” shifts critical thought away from an assumption of human supremacy and instead explores the web of interdependence that enmeshes humans with all other forms of life (Crane 2015: 1). As Anna Tsing puts it, “Human nature is an interspecies relationship” (2012: 144). But these conceptions are not new. Susan Crane writes, “The people of medieval Britain lived in daily contact with domestic and wild animals. Forest and wasteland loomed over settlements, and even city streets teemed with all kinds of creatures” (2012: 1).

The medieval animal is explored in a number of recent monographs, e.g. Animals in the Middle Ages by Nona C. Flores (2000), The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages, 2nd ed., by Joyce E. Salisbury (2010), Animal Encounters: Contacts and Concepts in Medieval Britain by Susan Crane (2012), and Medieval Pets by Kathleen Walker-Meikle (2021), among others. Animals mattered to J.R.R. Tolkien, too, and his writings frequently engage with medieval conceptions of the interspecies relationships between humans and non-human animals. A few examples include Farmer Giles and his dog, Garm, Gandalf and Shadowfax, and bestiary animals Fastitocalon, the Oliphaunt, and dragons. Lists of animals found in Middle-earth are available online (e.g. here and here).

We welcome proposals for this paper session on “Tolkien and the Medieval Animal.” Interdisciplinary topics are welcome, and scholars might engage with a number of diverse fields, such as anthropology, art history, biology, communication, geography, history, literary studies, philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc. Panelists may also employ various theoretical perspectives.

For any questions on this session please contact Kris Swank at 2464732s@student.gla.ac.uk.

The Global Middle Ages in Young Adult Fantasy

Organised by Grace Ann Thomas Worm

Contemporary trends in Young Adult fantasy literature demonstrate a close relationship between young adult stories and a global medieval settings. Young Adult fantasies often use medieval settings to position arguments around identity, race, culture, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, violence, environmentalism, technology, folklore, and magic. We want to open a conversation about the turn toward a Global Middle Ages in Young Adult fantasy and its opportunities and challenges for new voices, groups, cultures, and readers.

Since the days of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, settings for fantasy novels have largely been modelled upon the medieval North: the British Isles and Scandinavia. In the last decade, a wave of emerging voices in the field of Young Adult fantasy have turned to the rich variety of cultural models, mythologies, and folklore traditions of the “Global Middle Ages,” that is pre-modern Africa, Asia, the Americas, Austronesia, even eastern and southern Europe. Among this wave of authors who write on global medievalism are Tomi Adeyemi, Renée Ahdieh, P. Djèlí Clark, Hafsah Faizal, Julie Kagawa, Nnedi Okrafor, Rebecca Roanhorse, Nghi Vo, Neon Yang, and many others.

We want to reveal not only cultures which have previously been silenced, but also groups which have been silenced, including women, the enslaved, indigenous peoples, queer, or disabled groups.

For any questions on this session please contact Grace Worm at g.worm.1@research.gla.ac.uk.

How to submit your abstract

All proposals must be submitted through the International Congress on Medieval Studies site: https://wmich.edu/medievalcongress/call

The proposal deadline is 15 September 2021

References

Crane, S. (2012). Animal Encounters: Contacts and Concepts in Medieval Britain (University of Pennsylvania Press).

Tsing, A. (2012). Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species: for Donna Haraway. Environmental Humanities 1, available at: https://read.dukeupress.edu/environmental-humanities/article/1/1/141/8082/Unruly-Edges-Mushrooms-as-Companion-SpeciesFor

Crane, S. (2015). ‘Medieval Animal Studies: Dogs at Work’. Oxford Handbooks Online, available at: https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935338.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199935338-e-103

Image Credits

Man with hunting dogs. Marginal drawing from Luttrell Psalter. Originally published in England East Anglia; circa 1325-1335. Photograph from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest, 2 Mar 2017.

Medieval Cosplaying. @ Grace Worm

CFP: Tolkien sessions at Leeds IMC 2022

Paper abstracts are currently being sought for the following Tolkien sessions for the Leeds International Medieval Congress, to be held at the University of Leeds on 4-7 July 2022. These sessions are organised by Dr Andrew Higgins and sponsored by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow.  The special thematic strand of the conference will be “Borders” which is reflected in several of the suggested sessions.

Paper submissions are being sought for the following sessions:

Tolkien: Medieval Roots and Modern Branches

This session can accommodate thematic topics on, and new approaches to, Tolkien’s medievalism, ranging from source studies and theoretical readings, to comparative studies of Tolkien’s and others’ works. 

Tolkien and Medieval Poets: A Session in Memory of Richard C. West  

This session is in memory of medievalist and distinguished Tolkien scholar who we sadly lost in 2020: Richard C. West.  Richard wrote some of the most important and influential early scholarship on Tolkien including his seminal 1975 essay ‘The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings’ which demonstrated how the narrative interlace structure used by medieval authors influenced Tolkien’s work.  In memory of Richard’s scholarship papers in this session will explore the influence and impact of works of medieval poetry and poets on the creative thought, process, and works of J.R.R. Tolkien.   

Crossing Borders in Middle-earth 

This will be the first session to directly address the special thematic strand of the conference.  Papers in this session can explore any aspects of borders in Tolkien’s works in the broadest sense of the term.  We welcome explorations of geographical, conceptual, political, linguistic and other borders in Middle-earth studies. 

Borders between Life and Death in Tolkien’s Legendarium

In the second session related to the thematic strand of the conference we are looking for papers that explore themes around metaphysical borders and liminal spaces between life and death in Tolkien’s works and their influences. 

Family Ties:  The Limits of Kinship in Tolkien’s Middle-earth

In his vast and complex life-long world-building Tolkien put a great focus in his narrative and para-textual work on developing networks of relationships between different races, languages and families, as in the case of the genealogies found in The Silmarillion and in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings. These networks of various forms of kinship create their own borders between the many peoples of Middle-earth.  This session welcomes papers that will explore the many different types of kinship networks Tolkien establishes in his legendarium and how they work within his rich secondary world. 

Orientation, Transgression, and Crossing Borders of Middle-earth

Papers in this session will explore broader topics around different types of less evident borders found in Tolkien’s creative thought and writing. They can include orientations and borders that are encountered and crossed (or not) in various types of social interactions and relationships in Tolkien’s legendarium including social, linguistic, racial and sexual. 

Tolkien as a Gateway to Interdisciplinary Teaching: A Roundtable

For our 2022 Roundtable we would like to hear from teachers who have used the works of Tolkien to introduce and engage students with new fields of study and disciplines. How have you used the works of Tolkien as a gateway for students to explore and become passionate about other areas of study?

  • Please submit a paper title and abstract by 31 August 2021 to  Dr. Andrew Higgins (asthiggins@me.com)
  • Length of abstracts: 150 words (max!) 
  • Papers will be 15-20 minutes long