Workshop registration opens on May 3 at noon BST.
This document is updated as needed. All times listed are BST, British Summer Time
Panelists in alphabetical order (by first name):
- Aicha Daoudi
- Alvin Emmanuel Alagao
- Amber Hancock
- Amy Richmond
- Ane B. Ruiz-Lejarcegui
- Anika Klose
- Anushmita Mohanty
- Caighlan Smith
- Cameron Bourquein
- Canchen Cao
- Charlie Schroeder and Roxanne Tuckman
- Chengcheng You
- Cristina Espejo
- Declan Roberts
- Despoina Tantsiopoulou
- Dr Dimitra Nikolaidou
- Eilidh Harrower
- Esther Edelmann
- Eugenia Biavati
- Fergus Attlee and James Lowder
- Fiona Reid
- Francesca Bihet
- Hannah Mimiec
- Isabelle Hanshue
- James Lowder and Fergus Attlee
- Jamie MacGregor
- Katarina Dulude
- Lizao Hu
- Louise Marchel
- Luise Rössel
- M. Caroline McCaulay
- Madalena Daleziou
- Madeleine Sinclair
- Madeline Wahl
- Maggie White
- Mark Hines
- Mars Nicoli
- Megan Stephens
- Mercury Natis
- Nathaniel Harrington
- Parvathy R.
- Rachel Milne
- Rebecca Gault
- Roxanne Tuckman and Charlie Schroeder
- Sababa Monjur
- Saga Bokne
- Samantha Hammond
- Suzanne Black
- Tam Moules
- Timothy Miller
- Vaibhav Dwivedi
- Xiuqi Huang
- Yimin Xu
Trickster Witches: The Manifestation of the Archaic Trickster Energy in Female Characters of the American Fantasy Genre
The archetype of the trickster has long been linked to boundary crossing and liminality. In recent decades, there have been numerous studies concerning the gender of the figure, and the female trickster rose to the surface. Some of these significant studies include those of Marilyn Jurich, Lori Landay, Maria Tatar, and Ricki Stefanie Tannen. They identify numerous female tricksters such as Scheherazade (One Thousand and One Nights), Cat Woman (Batman), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), and Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City). These scholars focused their research on genres like folklore, as well as realistic romance, comedy, dystopia, and thrillers, but they neglected Fantasy. In fact, this neglection could account for two of these scholars’ statements: That supernatural and magical characters, specifically witches, could not be possible tricksters (Jurich 49) and that the archaic feature of the trickster; buffoonery, has disappeared in post-modern times leaving only tricksters as culture heroes (Tannen 133)*. However, what if we inspect Fantasy for supernatural tricksters? This present paper aims to do just that. It examines three American series: Charmed, Supernatural, and Witches of East End demonstrating how trickster energies can manifest in witches like Phoebe Halliwell, Rowena MacLeod, and Wendy Beauchamp. It also demonstrates how fantastical dramas can provide a medium for these characters to exhibit the archaic duality of cultural heroism and buffoonery. It starts by addressing the characters’ liminality in moral behavior. It moves to tackle how they transcend and transgress creative tendencies being verbal and magical, and, finally, it concludes with an examination of the duality and how the three witches demonstrate an archaic image of the archetype.
*The scholar Michael Carroll agrees with Tannen that buffoonery disappears in post-modern tricksters (male or female).
Aicha Daoudi is a Ph.D. student at the University of Limerick, Ireland. Academically, she focuses her research on genre studies and psychoanalytic criticism. She previously worked on the effects of roleplay in video games, the monomyth, as well as themes of female repression and mental illness. She is currently working on the overlap of the trope of the witch with archaic archetypal energies in American television series of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. Her research interests include popular culture, American fiction, Fantasy, archetypes, witchcraft, and the supernatural.
Alvin Emmanuel Alagao
A Filipino Gamer Gets Lost in the Universe of Saga Frontier in 1998 and 2021: An Autoethnography
SaGa Frontier is a science fantasy Japanese role-playing game developed by Square Enix (then Squaresoft) that was originally released for the PlayStation in 1997. While SaGa Frontier proved popular in Japan and even got a rerelease in the mid-2000s as part of Square’s Ultimate Hits label, it only ended up being a cult classic in North America.
A number of factors could be said to have contributed to the disparity between the popularity of Saga Frontier in North America and the popularity of the game in Japan. The non-linear character of game and its arcane mechanics may have turned off American gamers, for one. Such a difference should not come as a surprise since different groups of people “read” works differently. Indeed, a study by Brückner et. al. (2019) found that there were significant differences in the ways Japanese and German gamers received JRPGs. For one, the study found that in the case of Trails of Cold Steel, German gamers had positive view of its plot while Japanese gamers “frequently criticize the story of ToCS as being repetitive and stereotypical, with characters that lack depth and appear to be unnecessary to the story” (p. 226).
While Square did not intentionally target a Filipino audience for SaGa Frontier, I was able to play its US release in 1998 and its remastered version in 2021. How did I, a Filipino gamer living in the Philippiness—a non-addressee—receive the game? Using an autoethnographic approach, this paper will take a critical look into my own experience of getting lost in the universe of Saga Frontier. By writing this paper, I hope that I can shed more light on how fantasy JRPGs generate different responses as they traverse cultural boundaries.
Alvin Emmanuel G. Alagao is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman’s MA Art Studies (Art History) program. He currently teaches at the Department of Humanities, University of the Philippines Los Baños. His current research interests include the history of Philippine painting and its aesthetics, art and technology, and reception study/history/theory. He has been playing video games since he was five years old (maybe even younger) and would also like to do more research in game studies. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Rejected and Searching for Home: An Exploration of Doorways and Queer Representation in Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway
My paper will explore the themes of rejection, home and queerness as represented within Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway through her allegorical use of doors to other worlds. ‘Doors’ and ‘doorways’ is a common trope in both fantasy literature and children’s/young adult literature. From Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, these doorways are often associated with identity formation with a focus on that transitional period between adolescence and adulthood. Every Heart a Doorway, however, considers the aftermath of a traditional portal fantasy by emphasizing the tragedy of finding ‘home’ on the other side of a doorway only to lose it again. Indeed, having returned from a different world irrevocably changed, each character at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children embodies the struggle of living an identity when surrounded by misunderstanding and rejection. Through their choices in clothing, food and bedroom, the teenagers of the novel exemplify what Georg Simmel described those who ‘at any moment … separate the connected and connect the separate.’ The poignancy of the author’s approach to questions of doorways and home is further highlighted through the novel’s queer representation; of its five main characters, three are explicitly queer and centers often-underrepresented identities within that spectrum, including asexual and transgendered individuals. Thus, examining this novel through a queer lens, I will discuss the significance of the novel’s connected tropes of doorways and home through an examination of its diverse character representation, how the narrative defines the concept of home and the isolating dangers of being unable to find the way home.
Amber Hancock is originally from Chino, California, and received her BA and MA in English from California State University Fullerton in 2008 and 2014 respectively. She recently earned her PhD at Bangor University in North Wales, which explored different kinds of border representation across prose genres within Late Modern/Contemporary Welsh and Scottish-based, English-language literature.
Twitter: Dr Amber Hancock@amadaun777
The Living (and Loving) Dead: The Erotic Rejection of Death in Critical Role: Campaign 3
Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is no stranger to transgressing death. From death mechanics and saving throws, revivification spells, undead creatures, and more, the fascination with defying or reversing death is central to many players enjoyment of the game. Never is this more obvious than in the live-play D&D stream Critical Role (2015-Present) where character entanglements with death form recurring plot arcs throughout the three campaigns streamed on Twitch.com. The current campaign, Critical Role: Campaign Three, follows the adventuring party The Bell’s Hells as they grapple with political troubles and corruptions. In this group, actress Marisha Ray plays the character of Laudna, a dead woman brought back to life by the – also dead – necromancer who killed her, Delilah Briarwood. Both characters are defined by their conscious/unconscious rejections of the final bodily boundary – death. This paper aims to perform an autopsy on the dead women and the fan reactions to them, exploring the eroticism of the relationship between them and the fan eroticisation of Laudna in particular. The relationship between Laudna and Imogen Temult, played by actress Laura Bailey, has been a fan favourite, with the pairing amassing 800+ hits on fanfiction site Archive Of Our Own. This paper will use a combination of critical engagement with the live-stream and improvisation by Ray, Bailey, and Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer and fanart and engagement on social media, supplemented with gender and queer body politics theory. It will argue that the fan engagement aids in the transgression of death, placing the dead female body as an object of queer erotic potential, not sexualizing it under the male gaze, but rather under a queer female gaze.
Amy Richmond (she/they) is an early-career academic who holds an MA(hons) in English from the University of Aberdeen and an MLitt in Fantasy Literature from the University of Glasgow. Specialising in contemporary fantastic fiction, their research interests include spatial theory, queer theory, Young Adult fiction, and body politics. She has presented at Exclamat!on Conference and is on the journal board as Social Media Officer and Copyeditor for Mapping the Impossible.
Ane B. Ruiz-Lejarcegui
Embracing Hybrid Identities in Silvia Moreno-García’s The Daughter of Doctor Moreau
Silvia Moreno-García’s The Daughter of Doctor Moreau (2022) offers a feminist re-imagining of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), focusing on the antagonist’s daughter, Carlota Moreau. Although both novels involve a ruthless Doctor who has managed to manufacture half-human, half-animal creatures, Wells’ takes place in a remote island, away from repercussions, while Moreno-García’s is set against the backdrop of the Caste War of Yucatán, in late nineteenth century Mexico. This paper aims to show that Moreno-García’s use of real Mexican history and elements of its cultural identity, far from serving as mere background against which to tell Wells’ story, becomes an opportunity to approach alterity and transgression from an intersectional perspective. The hybrid identity—highly mediated in the original novel by its white, male, bourgeois focaliser—is offered its own voice in the 2022 re-imagining by having the titular daughter be a hybrid herself. Thus, I argue that hybridity becomes a metaphor for all forms of exploitation endured by marginalised communities: that of women under men, slaves under owners, people of colour under white people, and an overarching capitalism that makes commodities out of them all. In order to illustrate this, I will first look at the importance of naming as a process to establish the hybrids’ identity and its interrelatedness with the Maya language and culture, through a comparison of each novel’s depiction and mediation of alterity. Secondly, I will examine Carlota’s journey of self-discovery through the lens of what Latina feminist author Mariana Ortega has designated as the ‘multiplicitous selfhood’. Lastly, I will ponder on how The Daughter of Doctor Moreau converges Wells’ original dissolution of binary oppositions with an optimistic approach towards marginalised identities that not only breaks such hierarchies but also embraces—cultural, linguistic, racial—hybridity.
Ane Belen Ruiz Lejarcegui is a PhD student from the University of the Basque Country, Spain, where she has been granted a scholarship by the Basque Government to carry out her thesis on hybrid identities, power asymmetries and othering in science fictional narrative discourse. She has done extensive research on H.G. Wells’ early works for her BA and MA dissertations, and her interests include Gothic fiction, Monster Studies, Critical Posthumanism and Cultural Studies.
“My Colours Are Mine” – New Shades of Detective Fiction in Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina’s Catching Teller Crow
The traditional detective story follows a well-established pattern: a crime, an investigation, and the restoration of order. Genre rules regarding plot and solution first laid out by Van Dine establish a Great Detective who uses scientific methods and rationality to end a previous abnormal state while also restoring a sense of justice. Taking the colonial origins of the detective story into account, the reinstated order is largely influenced by a Eurocentric viewpoint. The alleged superiority of European values leads to the othering non-European characters, who are in turn presented as suspects or culprits.
Instead of perpetuating European methods and empiricism in the detective story, Catching Teller Crow by Aboriginal Australian authors Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina defy the genre tradition. With three Aboriginal dead girls at the centre of the investigation, the speculative YA novel challenges the traditional depiction of the Great Detective by foregrounding “intra- and intergenerational relationships between women rooted in indigenous epistemologies” (Mattila and Burger 20). In this paper, I will explore how the narrative’s combination of prose and poetry as well as the non-Western approaches to closure and reconciliation offer powerful resistance to the social order fostered by the traditional detective story. Addressing Australia’s history of colonisation and the Stolen Generations through a magical realist lens subverts and dismantles the established colonial order, consequently turning Catching Teller Crow into a feminist postcolonial rewriting (20, 26). Contesting Van Dine’s rules for detective fiction, the novel’s supernatural detective, witness, and murderer defy the boundaries of not only detective fiction but also the borders between life and death as the natural order is not restored but re-established.
Anika Klose is a German postgraduate student of Fantasy MLitt at the University of Glasgow. She completed her BA in Media and Culture Science at the Heinrich-Heine-University of Dusseldorf. As an illustrator and student assistant, she was part of the project “Charting the Australian Fantastic”. Moreover, she published blog posts and lectured on Australian Speculative Fiction. In 2022, she has spoken at GiFCon and the Once and Future Fantasies Conference. Her research interests include fantasy costumes, queer monsters, and bodily disassociation.
On Why We Read Fantasy: Affective Responses as Generic Boundaries
Fantasy, like most genres, is difficult to define or delineate, as the varieties of texts that employ the fantastic across time and space often have little in common. BBC’s Merlin, Syed Haider Bakhsh’s Qissa-e Hatim Tai, Amish Tripathi’s The Immortals of Meluha, Jordan Ifueko’s Raybearer, and Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West all share elements of the fantastic. As a more disparate set of texts could barely exist, in what ways can the generic boundaries of fantasy be defined? In this paper, I will explore how the affective responses of the audience can be used to understand the unifying features of the fantasy genre. What emotional needs, I ask, does fantasy fulfill, why have readers turned to fantasy for these emotional experiences, and how do these emotions diverge and converge across contexts? If genre can be viewed as a pact between the reader and the audience, this pact that can help understand the boundaries of fantasy. My methodology aligns with Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance, which uses reader responses to analyse the romance genre. In this paper, I shall examine the strategies, tropes, and rhetoric used by writers of the fantasy texts mentioned above, as well as elements of marketing and presentation that fulfill specific audience expectations. I shall also draw upon audience responses through book review and online discussion posts in conjunction with affect theories to answer the question of what audiences look for in fantasy. Both audience disappointment and satisfaction, I shall argue, have influenced the evolution of fantasy. Finally, drawing on Ebony Elizabeth Thomas’s The Dark Fantastic, I shall also analyse the implications of marginalization in fantasy to ask how underrepresented or problematically depicted audiences negotiate affective responses to fantasy fiction, and the ways in which are they excluded from the generic pact between audience and writers of fantasy.
Anushmita Mohanty is from Ahmedabad, India, and is currently a PhD candidate in Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She previously graduated with a Masters in World Literatures from the University of Oxford, and has a BA in English from Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi. Her research has been published in the Oxford Research in English Journal, and the Contemporary Literature Review of India. She previously worked as an Assistant Editor for Studies in History, SAGE. Her research interests include education and literature, fantasy fiction, children’s literature, and book history.
A Hero’s Morality Play: Epic Fantasy Heroes and Morality Mechanics in Video Games
In considering Epic Fantasy, Tolkien inevitably comes to mind, alongside other more modern popular works such as Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire or Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. But what happens when the narrative tropes represented by such Epic Fantasy stories are channeled through the medium of video games? How does the story and the consumer’s reaction to the story change when the consumer is required to step into the shoes – or take up the sword – of the Epic hero themselves? In this presentation, I seek to analyze the ludonarrative operations (how gameplay and narrative work together to create the gaming experience) of several Epic Fantasy games which employ either explicitly or by implication morality mechanics through player in-game choice, such as the Fable series (2004-2010), the Dragon Age series (2009-2004), and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011). I expose how allowing the player moral choice within such narratives might enhance player engagement to the narrative they are personalizing, but at the risk of disengaging players from the ethical implications of the choices they have made. To engage in morality mechanics through Epic Fantasy video games complicates player ethical involvement as (1) the fantastical setting places moral scenarios a step away from “reality” and (2) the player’s assumption of the hero role in these games often goes unchanged despite player actions; a player can lie, cheat, steal, murder, and still narratively retain the role of heroic savior in the main plot. This paper therefore seeks to investigate how the video game consumer’s moral playing of the hero – as opposed to the literature or film-consumer’s moral judgement of the hero – can change perhaps not the overarching glory of the Epic Fantasy hero plot but, and perhaps more insidiously, the day-to-day living as a hero in a virtual fantasy world.
Caighlan Smith is a PhD student with the English Department of Memorial University of Newfoundland, holding a B.A. (Hons.) in English from Memorial University and an MLitt (with Distinction) in Fantasy from the University of Glasgow. Her current research interests include power dynamics, gender, monstrosity, fantasy, and hero narratives in video games.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like “Mairon”?: Exploring How Sauron’s Most Marginal Name Recasts the Lord of the Rings
“[N]othing is evil in the beginning, even Sauron was not so.” These words from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings express a theological axiom and hint at a character arc for its hidden and eponymous villain—an arc we are never shown, even in the wider corpus of Tolkien’s Legendarium. Unlike Morgoth (the Luciferian “beginner of discord”) who appeared within the opening chapter of The Silmarillion as the unfallen “Melkor,” the unfallen pre-Sauron remained hidden and nameless—until 2007. With the publication of the 17th volume of the Tolkien linguistic journal Parma Eldalamberon, we learned that Sauron had once been “Mairon” (The Admirable).
This name exists only in one place, a figurative and literal margin: a single footnote to a metatextual project inside a niche linguistic journal which had, until very recently, remained out of print. Yet within fandom this marginal note has generated a metaphorical “Great Wave” of transformative works and renewed interest in Sauron as a character. What gives this bit of marginalia such potency in fandom? What can be gleaned from this name amid the dozens of other names and epithets applied to Sauron both in The Lord of the Rings and across the Legendarium? How does “Mairon” compare to the names of Sauron’s maia foils Melyanna, Curumo, and Olórin? What might “Mairon” suggest about the telos of its owner? And what can we make of Tolkien’s statement that Sauron “continued to call himself “Mairon” […] until after the fall of Numenor?”
In the spirit of Croft’s and Broadwell’s work on onomastics in Tolkien as well as the Tolkien fandom history work of Dawn Walls-Thumma, I will explore these questions with regard to how they help shape a potential “capsule story” for the Lord of the Rings, himself.
Cameron Bourquein (she/her) is an independent scholar who received her BA from Anderson University in 2006 (Theatre Studies, Graphic Design, Information Systems). Her undergraduate thesis integrated her love of sculpture, set design, acting, and the photography of Josef Sudek into a one-woman show examining the intersection of external space and internal narrative. A lover of Tolkien since the mid 90s, Cameron is currently focused on researching Sauron and his intersections with the metaphysics of Middle-earth. She will be presenting this April at the Popular Culture Association’s 2023 National Conference and this August at The Mythopoeic Society’s Midsummer Seminar.
What the “Other” Uncovers: The Periphery of the Medieval Fantasy World and Universe
When contemplating the wonders of the universe, human beings tend to respond imaginatively to phenomena that seem to be poised between fantasy and reality. Monsters have been considered as creatures characterised by “otherness” in various cultures across the fantastic world, as can be observed in medieval writings on distant races and marvellous lands. Considerable scholarly attention has been paid to monsters and the ideology of monstrosity in the Middle Ages; however, relatively little effort has been made to perform cross-cultural examination of monstrous races in the global context of medieval fantasy. This paper will explore how people in the global Middle Ages represented their wonderment at “monstrous races” from the 11th century to the early modern period.
In conversation with scholarship on religious conflict and cultural dissemination in the Middle Ages, the paper will investigate the narratives of monstrous figures in a range of sources, from medieval Christian world maps, mappae mundi, to Arabic and Chinese manuscripts on geography. It will offer insights into how medieval people interconnectedly expressed contemporary social, theological and ideological concerns about “the Other”, both “real” monsters and people who were perceived as monstrous beings. A historical analysis of religious conflict in the Middle Ages will be provided to explain why medieval Christians perceived the Monsters, the Muslims and the Orientals as “the Other”, and how they transformed this conception of otherness into a cartographical form. Meanwhile, this paper will examine how non-European cultures shaped fantastic depictions of the “the Other” to discover compelling interconnections between historical records of monstrous races in liminal spaces and margins.
Canchen Cao is a postgraduate student in Medieval History, who holds a first-class honours degree in English Literature and History of Art from University of Glasgow. Her academic interest mainly focuses on exploring the interconnection between medieval geography and monstrous creatures from a global interdisciplinary perspective, seeking to uncover how medieval historical records formulated people’s understanding of the human body and monstrous races. She has already presented her research at several international academic conferences, extensively on monster study, medical science and cross-cultural investigation of cartography in the Middle Ages.
Charlie Schroeder and Roxanne Tuckman
Grotesque Bodies and Surreal Planes: Transgressing the Boundaries of the Weird through Video Game Glitches
Video games are unique in their propensity to break–no matter how streamlined a virtual world is, the intended experience engineered by a developer will, inevitably, shatter. A player might find themselves glitching out of the intended boundaries of their virtual world and into a place unknown even to developers, filled with half-rendered horrors and surreal images. Or, they might find that objects and characters begin to behave and move in ways that defy the laws of physics. This paper will explore how these unintended effects invoke the Weird, as defined by Mark Fisher in The Weird and the Eerie: “that which lies beyond standard perception, cognition, and experience” (2017). Though this paper will argue that all glitches are inherently Weird, player response to these unexpected events can vary greatly; a glitch in a video game may be grotesque, warping the human form beyond recognition. It may be sublime as imagined by Immanuel Kant, unveiling a surreal plane of overwhelming power and beauty. It may even be absurd, attested to by the various humorous videos on YouTube devoted to video game glitches. This paper will use examples of such glitches from well-known titles like Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft, FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series, Behavior Interactive’s Dead by Daylight, and various realistic military shooters.
Charlie Schroeder (he/they) received their Master of Letter’s in Fantasy Literature at the University of Glasgow. Their research interests include video games, Tolkien studies, queer & transgender theory, and postcolonial theory.
Roxanne Tuckman (she/her) is a graduate student in the English MA program at California State University Northridge. Her research interests include Gender & Women studies, Queer theory, and the Horror genre.
Outlandish Representations: Crossing Boundaries of Species and Genres in Young Adult Liminal Fantasy
If the Anthropocene “resists literary fiction”, as Amitav Ghosh claims, due to the unrepresentability of the increasing uncanniness of quotidian experience, young adult liminal fantasy may emerge as an alternative mode of fiction formally suited to this task. The genre is often characterized by carefully nuanced sensibilities at the subtle borderline between adolescence and adulthood, the familiar and the unfamiliar, the natural and the unnatural to conjure up the banality of the impossible encounter. Representative of such liminality, fantastic creatures are byproducts of complex interactions and literary mediations of the adult authors drawing close to ever-new aesthetic and ethical norms for young adult readers. Within the Anthropocene context, new creatural beings come one after another along with a trend of genre blending on the literary scene. Drawn on the Deleuzian conceptual resources, this study hypothesises a typology of “outlandish creatures” and investigates how the representation of these creatures is canvassed for a capacity to hybridise genre expectations and draw out post-anthropocentric implications that appease current concerns for environmental ethics. The selected narratives, Sonya Hartnett’s The Midnight Zoo (2011), Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls (2011) and Shaun Tan’s Tales from the Inner City (2018), are closely read with a focus on the affect of child-animal encounter, the mixture of magic realism and ecoGothic, and the zoomorphic imagination each evokes. The study concludes with the ethical-aesthetic complexity of YA liminal fantasy in crossing boundaries between species and genres in the Anthropocene.
YOU Chengcheng is an Assistant Professor at the Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of Macau. Her work has been published in, among others, Children’s Literature in Education, Mosaic: An Interdisciplinary Critical Journal, The Lion and the Unicorn, International Research in Children’s Literature and English Studies. Her latest book is Poetics and Ethics of Anthropomorphism: Children, Animals, and Poetry, coauthored with Christopher Kelen (Routledge, 2021). Her publications also include book chapters in the anthologies: Debatable Lands: New Directions in Children’s Gothic (2017), and Posthumanism in Fantastic Fiction (2018) and Representing Childhood and Atrocity (2022).
Fairy tales and Fantasy: Expanding Boundaries and Subverting Expectations
Despite the well-known escapist qualities of fantasy literature and fairy tales, the societies and worlds they depict are often based on the real societies and societal norms under which they were written. This means that beyond the dragons, unicorns and wizards, the patriarchal structures that have dominated the social discourses for centuries are often a very prevalent issue in the genre, even in our current time. In this paper, I aim to examine and discuss the boundaries of the fantastic and fairy-tale genres through two different novels, Howl’s Moving Castle (1986), by Diana Wynne Jones, and Stardust (1999), by Neil Gaiman. I will analyze whether these works break apart from conventions usually present in these genres and whether they can be used as examples of subversive narratives. In specific, I will focus on gender roles and the representation of patriarchal structures, two topics that continue to be a point of contention for works in these genres. Are recent fantastical works really breaking the boundaries of female agency and representation and these traditional, patriarchal structures, or does the basic structure continue to be the same with only the added awareness and recognition of the problem? I argue that by including fairy-tale elements and tropes it later subverts, Howl’s Moving Castle stands perfectly between the fairy-tale and fantasy genres, creating a unique story that breaks with the traditional moulds of both; whereas Stardust, despite being a more recent work, offers a more traditional and conservative view of the same story. With this, I hope to prove that the fairy tale is a genre that can keep pushing the boundaries of fantasy, but that it is important to differentiate between the content that truly upends the genre’s roots and the more performative ways of raising awareness of current issues.
Cristina Espejo is a first-year PhD student at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. She has a keen interest in fantasy literature, specifically fairy-tale narratives and how they influence fantastic works. She has been working on this topic ever since she finished her English Studies degree, continuing to develop it through her master’s thesis “The New Fairy Tale: Subverting Genre and Characterization in Diana Wynne-Jones Howl’s Moving Castle and its Film Adaptation”. She is currently working on the subversive tendencies of the fairy tale in fantasy novels of the last half of the 20th century.
Blurred Battle Lines: Analyzing Energy Analogues in Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn
This paper is a case study for a larger argument I have been making throughout my academic career by blurring the lines between popular and academic theoretical discourse. Therefore, this paper uses a popular fantasy narrative, Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn, to explain the concept of a hyperobject and how hyperobjects can help us understand the looming environmental catastrophes of the twenty-first century. To accomplish these goals this paper begins with a brief overview of Legendborn’s plot, followed by a similarly brief summary of the theoretics of hyperobjects. The summary of hyperobjects is followed by examining the similarities between the contemporary world’s energy systems and the magical energy systems utilized in Legendborn. Specifically, this section focuses on how the different uses of that energy system between the Root practitioners and the Legendborn highlight the varying energy systems within contemporary western society. Progressing onwards, the paper then examines the blurred boundary between the individualistic magic of the Legendborn and the communal magic of the Root practitioners as analogous to the current alternative energy debates in western society. Lastly, this paper concludes with an explanation of the other fantasy narratives which could ameliorate understandings of energy humanities concepts. By blurring the boundaries between fantasy and other scholarly genres, as well as the boundary between academic and popular scholarship, this paper showcases the arbitrary nature of the placement of the boundaries.
Hello, my name is Declan Roberts, and I am a Ph.D. student at Memorial University. I am focused on finding ways to relate ecocritical and energy humanities concepts through popular YA fantasy narratives. Furthermore, I aim to highlight how popular narratives can contribute to a societal understanding of various energy and environmental concepts contributing to our current climate crisis. My other scholarly interests are examining the concept of work and labour and the changes to these concepts throughout literary epochs.
Opposing School of Thought: Marginalization and the Campus in R.F. Kuang’s “Babel”
In Rebecca F. Kuang’s 2022 novel “Babel,” boundaries are almost tactile. The Royal Institute for Translation sits in the heart of Oxford, which is the heart of England, which is, finally, the centre of the entire world. Set in the early 19th century, it recounts the story of a young Cantonese boy named Robin, brutally severed from his family and brought to the centre of centres to aid the colonisers through the act of translation. He and his friends, the rest of the “Babblers” who also come from the periphery into the centre, are denied assimilation or even acknowledgement of anything but their necessity. The school, the place where they were supposed to finally find their equals and the subject of their childhood hopes for a sense of belonging shall never truly accept them as anything more than means to an end. I will try to show that “Babel” is a contemplation about the role of education in the continuation of building walls instead of bridges among peoples and institutions. The protagonists’ subalternity, the term used by Spivak in her essay “Can the Subaltern Speak,” has been inserted into the centre through cultural interpretation, but it has yet to be completely rid of, which is ultimately the goal according to the theorist. Despite their translation-focused education, their existence goes untranslatable, their bodies become their “texts” through which they attempt speech. The transformative power of the campus is not only seen in the way silver bars produced in and by it bend reality, but also in how it makes centres out of peripheries, provided they remain within its premises. The moment of their exit, though, they reassume their otherness, and when they come back boundaries, proven precarious, are bound to be destroyed.
I have a BA from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens on English Language and Literature with a specialization on Literature and Culture. I hold an MA from the same department, titled “The Greek Element in Anglophone Literature,” with a dissertation on modern rewritings of Euripides’s “Bacchae.” This year I started my PhD in the English Language and Literature department of the University of Athens, where I research the role of the university and boarding school campus in fantasy fiction. I live in Athens and I am a volunteer teacher at the Open School for Migrants in Piraeus.
Dr Dimitra Nikolaidou
Centering on the Margins: The Evolution of Fantasy Tabletop Roe-Playing Games
Since their inception, fantasy Tabletop Role-Playing Games (TRPGs) had to contest with accusations of deliberate marginalization of women, minorities and indigenous populations. Initially a niche hobby addressed at a narrow demographic, TRPGS evaded criticism up to a point as their origins in pulp fantasy literature rendered them beneath the notice of critics; however, shifts in the perception of fantasy facilitated by online discourse as well as the increased popularity of gaming among adults recently brought these issues to the forefront. Established game designers responded to criticism in different ways; some made incremental changes, others upended established narratives while new designers revitalized the genre by adopting entirely different approaches in accordance to new mores. Given the well-established and reciprocative relationship between fantasy literature and fantasy TRPGs, and the increased impact of gaming in Western culture, this evolution is of importance far beyond the gaming community.
The proposed paper aims to a) examine the ways in which women, minorities, subaltern cultures and LGBTQ+ people have been either marginalized or symbolically annihilated in TRPGs and b) chart the evolution away from marginalization and into inclusion through a decades-long process of conflict and negotiation. To achieve these aims, the paper utilizes a combined framework of narrative and cultural studies, mainly focusing on the Dungeons and Dragons and World of Darkness as case studies but also including illustrative examples from Legend of the Five Rings, Vaesen and Call of Cthulhu. The conclusions suggest that, due to their unique format, fantasy TRPGs are quick to respond to shifting sociocultural mores and evolve accordingly though not without encountering resistance; the process is also bound to influence not only fantasy literature but also Western culture in general.
Keywords: TRPGs, Fantasy Literature, Intersectionality, Narrative, Culture
Dimitra Nikolaidou holds a PhD from the University of Aristotle, Thessaloniki. Her work has been presented in numerous conferences and workshops. Her papers have been published by Bloomsbury and are scheduled to be published by Palgrave Macmillan and MIT Press, among others. She’s the co-founder of the Tales of the Wyrd Speculative Fiction Workshop. She is additionally a published author of speculative fiction.
“You kids have fun” – ‘Bodies Bodies Bodies’ and ‘Scream’ as Reflections of Changing Generational Fears
This paper will compare Scream (1996) and Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022) as reflections of the Millennial generation and Generation Z, discussing how their differences show the changing fears of the two generations, and how audience reactions to Bodies Bodies Bodies reflects the societal view of Generation Z as a whole.
Scream (1996) is a defining horror film for the Millennial generation, as it rejuvenated the horror genre, bringing back the slasher film and thrilling audiences. Across the Millennial generation, there has been various waves of horror, ranging from extreme gore to psychological thriller. However, it is theorised that a new wave of generational horror is beginning to appear. The arrival of ‘Gen-Z’ horror creates an interesting comparison of two generations, showing the boundaries between them and how different their fears are.
Alice Bucknell, in her article ‘How modern horror cinema is galvanising Generation Z’, explains “Gen Z horror is not so much concerned with terror, violence and trauma point blank as it is with the forces of consumption culture that surround it.” (2017) In many ways, Bodies Bodies Bodies follows very similar tropes to that of classic horror films of Millennial audiences, but places them in a new context with influence from Generation Z culture, often with a comedic undertone. With references to TikTok, astrology, and in-depth discussions of mental health and trauma, the movie is reflection of how Millennials view the younger generation.
By comparing Scream and Bodies Bodies Bodies, this paper moves to show how the horror genre is shifting focus, and beginning to depict fears and worries of the new generation of viewers, with polarising reactions from audience members either enjoying the new wave of horror, or believing it to be just as superficial as Gen-Z is seen to be.
Eilidh Harrower graduated from the University of Glasgow, achieving Distinction in her MLitt English Literature degree. Her research interests include, but are not limited to, theatre and literature, transmedial studies, horror, witchcraft and paganism, creative writing and experimental forms of literature. She hopes to examine some of these interests even further as a PhD candidate in the future. Eilidh had the honour of presenting at the Dissenting Beliefs conference in December 2021, and Glasgow International Fantasy Conversations (GIFCon) in April 2022, and Once and Future Fantasies in July 2022, all held and organised by the University of Glasgow.
Fantastic Underdevelopment in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Devil’s Elixirs and Reinaldo Arenas’ Hallucinations
The literary fantastic has often been analysed as a symptomatic expression of the return of the repressed (Jackson 1981) or reduced to a structural reader function (Todorov 1973). More recently, it has also been read as the superstructural expression of the fluctuations and tensions of capital (McNally, 2011). What said psychoanalytical, structuralist, and Marxist approaches have in common is that they describe the fantastic as an “unconscious,” or “passive” function of an underlying structure, be it a psychic, semiotic, or basal economic one.
This paper, in contrast, recasts the literary fantastic as a deliberate, that is, conscious response to modernity. Postulating that the genre seeks to make palpable the “phantom-like objectivity” of bourgeois society, I argue, more concretely, that the fantastic emerges as a form of “critical anti-realism” in response to regional discourses about political and economic under/development. As Andre Gunder Frank (1979) and Samir Amin (2011) contend, “marginal” world regions only begin to underdevelop as a result of their integration into a single world market. As such, underdevelopment is literally the creation of modernity, and, hence, the product of capital’s spatial hierarchization into core and peripheral economies. The fantastic, as I will contend, emerges as the aesthetic expression of the coincidence of residual marginal and dominant emergent elements, and, in so doing, actively comments on the dialectics of under/development. My paper sets out to describe this correlation between the fantastic and the notion of dependent accumulation by producing a comparison between E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Devil’s Elixirs and Reinaldo Arenas’ Hallucinations. Both novels emerge in the context of arising nation-states (Germany and Cuba) and depict the social transitions from (colonial) feudalism to bourgeois society. As such, they directly address the question of politico-economic integration and development.
Esther Edelmann is an early-career scholar, who successfully defended her dissertation Inverted Worlds and Belated Baroques, last year at Leiden University. Her dissertation focuses on neo-baroque and fantastic elements in Latin American and German literature and philosophy. She teaches at the Departments for “International Studies” and “Literature, Film, and Media Studies” at Leiden University. Before graduating from Leiden, she spent a few years as visiting Graduate Student in the Department for German and Romance and Literatures at The Johns Hopkins University. Currently, she is preparing her dissertation manuscript for publication in Brill’s “Literary Modernism Book Series.”
Resisting narrative patterns: the transgressive power of Terry Pratchett’s parody
Parody only works if the audience knows what is being parodied in the first place. In other words, parody can only work if there are already expectations of how the narrative will go. So, when a dragon attacks the city of Ankh-Morpork in Terry Pratchett’s ‘Guards! Guards!’ both the readers and characters await the hero who will come forth to save the day, recognisable as such by a crown-shaped birthmark and the heroic sword he is carrying. Pratchett introduces such a hero, and then has the dragon incinerate him on the spot and proclaim itself king instead.
Pratchett sets up the scene according to conventional standardised narrative patterns, before disrupting them through parody. He draws attention to our expectations, challenges our assumptions, and questions the boundaries that regulate the centre of the genre and gatekeep its margins. He first uses the transgressive power of parody to highlight and subvert, then he offers an alternative, turning the attention of the readers towards other narratives, other heroes.
Using both Attebery’s ‘fuzzy sets’ and Prototype Theory I argue that parody is essential to the fantasy genre. It can help it flourish by turning away from the centre and looking at marginal narratives instead. It tackles issues of story-making as well as representation and diversity, challenging what is too-often perceived as the standard and therefore the true and only form fantasy can take.
Parody is a liminal force, it depends on the centre of the genre in order to work but takes the narrative spotlight away from it. Terry Pratchett’s parody operates on that ‘consensus fantasy universe’ and its transgressive force sweeps the entire genre by showing, questioning, and ultimately breaking its boundaries and expanding its margins.
I am doing my PhD at King’s College London with a project on Parody in Medievalist Fantasy. Before this I had just as much fun doing an MA in Medieval Studies, with a dissertation on the medieval in the Marvel Universe, and a BA in Foreign Languages and Literature, which in turn ended with a dissertation on why fantasy dragons started talking. I was asked once why we should read fantasy and decided to make a career out of explaining why. In my spare time I can be found talking about Lancelot to any unsuspecting passerby.
Fergus Attlee and James Lowder
Fantastic Interdisciplinarity: Two Human Geographers on Makoto Shinkai’s Voices of a Distant Star and Your Name.
The last several decades has seen the field of Human geography develop a notable interest in both film (Cresswell and Dixon, 2002) and, to a lesser extent, speculative fiction (Kitchen and Kneale, 2001). Despite this, engagements with fantasy remain on the periphery of the discipline and work on fantasy film is especially rare. By foregrounding work at the margins of Human geography, this paper draws attention to the specific ways that the fantastic can be utilised across disciplines to provide valuable interdisciplinary insights. This is done through two case studies concerning the animated films of Japanese director Makoto Shinkai. The first engagement examines Voices of a Distant Star (2002), a short film about two teenage friends, a boy and a girl, who are separated after one of them is sent into space to fight an alien threat. By examining the figure of the mobile phone, used by the characters to communicate across distance, this analysis unpacks the place of technology in the film, highlighting its emotional resonances and transcendental capabilities. The second engagement relates to Your Name (2016), a romantic fantasy film featuring two high school students, a girl from the countryside and a boy from Tokyo, who mysteriously start to swap bodies and must eventually undo the catastrophic impact of a comet. By foregrounding the film’s portrayal of the comet, this analysis examines how Your Name entangles human life with the inhuman rhythms of the Earth and broader cosmos. Alongside their own arguments, both engagements also emphasise shared themes, including the important role of love and connection in Shinkai’s work. Overall, through the work of two Human geographers, this paper highlights the value of fantasy across disciplines, articulating arguments around the place of technology and the inhuman in the films of Makoto Shinkai.
James is an interdisciplinary PhD student at the University of Glasgow in the department of Geography and Earth Science. His current work considers the textual analysis of film, the embodied experiences of stargazing and the tracing of falling meteorites.
Fergus is an interdisciplinary PhD student in Geographical and Earth Science at the University of Glasgow. His current research is investigating issues of privacy and consent in relation to geolocational technologies, which are increasingly prevalent across all aspects of life.
Beyond the Table and Into the Dungeon: How Neurodivergent and Queer People Explore Identity Through TTRPGs
For most of history, media in all forms has often taken a very heteronormative and neurotypical viewpoint, and in many instances, this is still the case today. Due to this, people who are queer and/or neurodivergent, may struggle to find representation within forms of media such as video games, television, and cinema. Tabletop Roleplaying Games (TTRPGs) provide players with an immersive experience unlike one that more traditional media could provide. Players can control characters’ choices, narratives, and storylines and have influence on themes being touched upon. How do queer and neurodivergent people operate, when they are provided with a fantasy setting in which they themselves set the boundaries and limits they explore?
Many individuals that are part of these marginalised groups find themselves excluded from society for how they act or identify. When given a safe setting in which they can explore this freely, I hypothesise that new opportunities for exploring their identities will arise. It may be that this is through character creation, in-game role play, or through navigating the game more generally. For example, this could mean a queer person exploring their identity by creating a queer character, or an autistic person finding comfort in having the guidelines of TTRPG core rulebooks to help explore who they are through roleplay. All throughout, they are navigating the boundaries that the game sets for them, as well as those they set for themselves.
This paper will discuss the ways in which queer and neurodivergent people develop and explore their own identities through engagement with TTRPGs, with a specific focus on Dungeons and Dragons. Through engagement with methods such as gameplay analysis and group interviews, it explores questions about the relationship between gameplay and identity, particularly in relation to marginalised communities.
Fiona Reid is a postgraduate student, currently undertaking a Master by Research in Psychology at Abertay University. Her main research interests explore neurodiversity, sexuality, and gender, often through the lens of nerd culture and with a passion for creative research methods. Her research is often interdisciplinary, engaging with disability studies, queer studies, ludology, and social studies. Having completed an undergraduate degree in Public Sociology studying women with ADHD through photovoice, she is now expanding her research to reflect her interest in games, fantasy, and roleplay.
On the Borders of Fairyland: Science and the Supernatural in Andrew Lang’s That Very Mab and The Chronicles of Pantouflia
Scottish anthropologist and journalist Andrew Lang is best known as editor of the popular Coloured Fairy Book series (1889-1913). However, his fictional works have received less attention, even though they reflect his sometimes contentious opinions regarding the study of magic and folklore. The satire That Very Mab (1885), published with the poet May Kendall, follows exiled fairy queen Mab’s tour of nineteenth-century English society, which is now hostile to the fairy folk’s old ways. The volume explores the boundaries between science and supernatural. In one incident, Mab is captured by a scientist, treated like a butterfly specimen, and categorised. When his son starts worshiping the fairy, the scientist proclaims to have discovered the origin of religion. This is a moment of self-satire for anthropologist Lang, who previously published Custom and Myth (1884). Reflecting the common folkloric theme of fairies forever retreating, Mab flees to safety in the Admiralty Islands, just outside the realms of the British Empire.
Similarly, Lang’s Pantouflia stories address issues traversing the borders of fairy tales and rational enlightenment thinking. Prince Prigio (1889), Prince Ricardo (1893), and the Tales of a Fairy Court (1907) burlesque the courtly fairy tale. Prigio begins with the traditional theme of fairies presiding over a royal Christening, with one fairy cursing Prigio to be too clever. Prigio grows up too rational to believe in fairy magic, even though it surrounds him. However, eventually converted to fairy belief, Prigio raises his son Ricardo on an excess of fairy magic. Conversely, Ricardo merely uses fairy gifts like machines to complete his quests, losing all gallantry in the process. Like Victorian consumerist devices, magic fairy gifts are rendered as tools to complete tasks. In these texts Lang reflects on the fairies’ cultural position and demotion to the nursery in the face of nineteenth-century modernity.
Francesca Bihet is an independent scholar who completed her PhD at the University of Chichester in 2020. Her thesis Folklore and Fairies: the History of Fairies in the Folklore Society from 1878 to 1945 explored the changes in the academic treatment of fairies by Folklore Society members over this period and how far these reflect wider folkloric and cultural trends. Among other articles, she has published the chapters ‘Pouques and the Faiteaux: The Channel Islands’, in Magical Folk (2018), and ‘Death and the Fairy: Hidden Gardens and the Haunting of Childhood’, in EcoGothic Gardens in the Long Nineteenth Century (2020).
Won’t Somebody Think of the Children! Liminal Fantasy and Biopower in Hope Mirrlees’s ‘Lud-In-The-Mist’
As a liminal fantasy, Lud-in-the-Mist plays with the boundary between text and reader. The reader is required to take an active role in constructing and interpreting the fantastic elements of the text. This happens when they are able to recognise the existence of Fairyland and its fruit, while the characters refuse to acknowledge it.
This paper explores the ways in which concepts of liminal fantasy and biopower can be used in concert, through textual analysis of Lud-in-the-Mist. Biopower is concerned with human beings existing as a species that can be made the ‘object of a political strategy’(1). In this system human beings are viewed as something closer to machines that can be acted upon to produce desired outputs. The society of Dorimare is deeply concerned with the bodies of its citizens. The main conflict of the novel arises from the proliferation of ‘fairy fruit’ and its invasion into the children of Lud. The consumption of fairy fruit and disappearance into fairyland represents a transgression of the political strategy of Lud when it takes the children away from their schools. This threat to society is not rectified through the senators and law men of Lud, who serve as a source of humour. Peace is only restored when the disciplinary institutions of the schools, senate, and language of Lud are transgressed and the population is reconciled with their fairy heritage.
Reading Lud-In-The-Mist, and other liminal fantasies, through the lens of biopower opens up potentially new readings of the ways in which state infrastructure and disciplinary institutions can control the boundaries between domination and freedom within fantasy works. As well as the possibilities for their transgression.
(1)Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1977-78 ed. by Michel Senellart trans. by Graham Burchell (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillian 2007 [1977-78]) p. 1
Hannah Mimiec is a Masters student on the University of Glasgow’s Fantasy MLitt program. They previously completed a degree in Scots Law and English Literature at Glasgow. Their research interests lie within the interaction between fantasy and economics, specifically political economy and feminist theories of work, as well as with the mechanics of tabletop roleplaying games. Hannah is the MLitt liaison on this year’s GIFCon committee and is currently playing far too much D&D and Cyberpunk Red in their spare time.
From Prisoner to King: Entrapment and Escape Through the Fantastic in Susanna Clarke’s Novels
Susanna Clarke’s novels, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Piranesi, depict the exploitation of marginalized people through magical systems and imprisoned in a fantastical ‘Other World.’ This paper explores the ways in which Clarke’s marginalized characters, specifically Stephen Black and Piranesi, in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Piranesi subvert power structures and free themselves from their captors as expressed in the liminal fantasy realms in which they reside. Both characters experience an involuntary thresh-hold crossing into another world and are exploited by captors learned in magic for the sake of power or knowledge. However, both Stephen and Piranesi are able to free themselves and transgress the systems they were marginalized by through the knowledge and/or power they gain from the fantasy worlds they have been imprisoned in. This paper will draw upon Farah Mendelsohn’s definitions of portal and liminal fantasies to explore how the fantasy worlds in these two novels are used by characters to both support exploitative systems and to transgress against them.
Isabelle Hanshue (she/her) is an Mlitt student studying Fantasy Literature at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests include Gothic Literature, Romantic Literature, media studies, and Medievalism. She is currently planning a research project focusing upon marginalized identities and the history of vampires in media. In her free time, she enjoys reading Neil Gaiman and Mary Shelley novels and watching horror films. She also enjoys learning languages and is currently learning Romanian.
Now with more blood, guts, and gore!: Horror Cinema in the Wake of Covid-19
Horror is a genre that has always been in conversation with the society that it is created in, and is often directly influenced by it. With this in mind, I would like to question how the global Covid-19 pandemic has impacted horror already, and what changes we may see going forward.
Since its inception, the horror genre has been questioning and transgressing boundaries in order to provoke a reaction from the audience. It is this breaking of boundaries, along with the often taboo subject matter that the horror genre deals with, that has resulted in the genre being subject to moral panic and censorship. Horror gives audiences a controlled environment in which to experience fear and other extreme emotions without any real life consequences.
In an article for Fangoria, Zoe Rose Smith notes that 2022 saw a considerable rise in the popularity of movies labelled ‘extreme horror’ — a sub-genre of horror that refers to movies that include an excessive use of violence and sexual content. These types of movies are generally considered too ‘extreme’ for mainstream audiences, often resulting in them having a small release and being harder to locate. Aaron Michael Kerner (2016) identifies a similar demand for extreme horror that emerged in the wake of 9/11 with the rise of the ‘torture-porn’ sub-genre. He argues that the war on terror and collective trauma experienced by Americans was instrumental in the development of the genre. As reality itself becomes more horrific, horror films are forced to become more extreme and push more boundaries to provoke their audience. By comparing Terrifier (2016) to Terrifier 2 (2022), and Hellraiser (1987) to the 2022 remake, I will argue that we are already seeing mainstream horror movies become more extreme as a result of the global trauma of Covid-19.
Jamie MacGregor (they/them) completed their MLitt in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. Their Masters dissertation was about Creative Destruction and Transness in Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal (2013-2015), and they hope to continue this research in a PhD focusing on transness and the horror genre. Jamie has varied research interests depending on when you ask them, but they are primarily interested in the horror genre across media, queer and trans theory, fan studies, gothic studies, the uncanny, medical humanities, and the overlap of philosophy and media. They can currently be found stressing about PhD applications and cuddling their dog.
To Refuse What Has Been Refused to You: Depictions of the Undercommons in the Future Imaginaries of Arcane and Babel
Both released within the past year, the novel Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang and the television series Arcane share many commonalities despite possessing very different premises. Namely, they depict societies that are revolutionized by fantastical energy advancements through forms of magic. These technologies benefit the very wealthy but are created at the expense of those on the margins of society. While the boundaries in these texts are largely social, in the case of Arcane, there is visual depiction through the wealthy of Piltover living on the ‘topside’ of the bridge, while the city’s poor inhabitants live in the polluted ‘Undercity.’
The texts feature themes of the undercommons as described by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney. The Hermes Society of Babel and the Firelights of Arcane function as secret groups that choose intentionally to live on the margins, outside of the boundaries drawn by the ruling elite, the British Empire and Piltover respectively. In doing so, they are able to enact social change and transgress upon society’s boundaries by rejecting being a part of them at all.
Through comparative analysis, this paper explores the similarities and differences between these two fictional depictions of the undercommons and how they demonstrate a need for social change based in our present, existing as much as future imaginaries as they do fantastical tales. Though The Undercommons was published nearly a decade ago, its relevance persists; Timothy Lyle, for example, noted the urgency to join the undercommons in a CLA Journal article in 2021. This renewed urgency and along with the surging popularity of texts like Babel and Arcane demonstrate the ways in which fantasy reflects our current sociopolitical state and demonstrates the need for change.
Katarina Dulude is a current Fantasy MLitt student at the University of Glasgow. She is interested in modern fantasy and animation, eco-criticism and queer ecologies, feminist studies, Marxism, and popular culture. She has three previous publications including her undergraduate thesis “Mad Men, Troubled Mothers, and Scarred Children: Representations of Parent-Child Trauma in Mad Men” and two other articles both published by Johns Hopkins University. She also enjoys acting and photography, adores cats, speaks three languages, and has an undying obsession with She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
Fantasy as crossover carnival: Transgressing boundaries in Aaron Becker’s wordless picturebook trilogy
Putting child characters at the centre, fantasy for children in various forms allows experimentation with children’s position in the world and navigation of space between childhood and adulthood. Situating adult characters in child-initiated adventures, fantasy for dual readership extends the intergenerational interactions and offers possibilities of reconstructing adult-child relations. Drawn from Nikolajeva’s (2010) application of carnival theory to children’s literature and Beckett’s (2017) conceptualization of crossover picturebooks, this article takes fantasy as crossover carnival and investigates how fantasy may empower ordinary children or/and adults in Aaron Becker’s trilogy, enclosing wordless picturebooks “Journey” (2013), “Quest” (2014), and “Return” (2016). With reference to Painter et al.’s (2012) strategies of reading visuals, it incorporates the analysis of compositional meanings of fantasy worldbuilding, ideational meanings of character representations, and particularly interpersonal meanings of power realisation. The selected wordless narratives demonstrate fantasy’s empowerment of marginalised children and fantasy’s liberation of the adult who is fully occupied by work through threshold-crossing to a magical realm, obtaining heroic traits, and possessing magical agency. Such empowerment and liberation could only be achieved under certain conditions and for a limited time, as fantasy worldbuilding retains the real order of the world, and characters’ physical dislocation to the real world is temporary. This study further illustrates the perception that fantasy is not as opposed to realism. The healing power of crossover fantasy to cross-generational relations is inherently permanent and can transgress the boundaries between fantasy and reality.
Lizao Hu holds an MEd in Children’s Literature and Literacies offered by the University of Glasgow. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. degree in Literary Studies (English) at the University of Macau. She is interested in inquiring about ecological, multicultural, and power issues in children’s literature as well as multimodality in children’s picturebooks.
Revolution or Fantastic Dream? The Importance of William Morris’ ‘News from Nowhere’ in the Psychedelic Creative Landscape of 1960s London.
‘News From Nowhere’ is William Morris’ utopian vision of a future which expounds the social, political, creative, and aesthetic ideals of the nineteenth-century visionary. The tale tells of the time travel of William Guest with whom the reader journeys from 1890s Britain to a future approximation of London and a journey up the Thames. Guest witnesses a society revolutionised in the 1960s where a characteristic retrieval of a medieval aesthetic is enjoyed in a reforested landscape with relaxed social rules and the absence of any monetary currency.
Utilising visual and textual material from my recent PhD research (The Transcendental Aesthetic – Nineteenth Century Revivals in the 1960s) this paper will explore the distinct resonances between Morris’ text and events in the 1960s and the potential role of the novel as a catalyst in social and creative change. In reaction to the streamlined designs and consumerism of the early 1960s, key counter-cultural movements later in the decade simultaneously pushed new boundaries in social freedoms and behaviours whilst adopting older forms of representation and a sense of self-definition much akin to Morris’ vision. While designers such as Mary Quant and John Pearse adopted the designs of Morris for their clothing, creative collectives such as ‘Hapshash and the Coloured Coat’ and ‘The Fool’ (cf medieval designs for The Beatles’ Apple Boutique where payment was elective) adopted interdisciplinary creative practices where visual and lyrical imageries merged. As boundaries of fantasy and reality blurred in the wake of new psychedelic drugs, so too did many social / creative norms and the paper will explore the role of Morris and his c20th readers in creating a liminal space for transcendence and/or revolution, firstly in the imagined world of the text and secondly in inspiring influential artists, writers, and designers to attempt to realise something of Morris’ ideal.
Louise Marchal is a visual artist and writer and is currently a practice-based PhD researcher at the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. Research for her biography of the sculptor Frances Darlington led her to re-evaluate the perception of romantic nineteenth-century imagery as received through its revivals in the late 1960s, and this informed her PhD topic which queries the articulation of psychedelic or meditative transcendence through such imageries. Louise graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1995 with an Honours degree in English Literature.
Crossing the lake – The land of the dead, resurrection, and Jesus in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (1995-2000) examines boundaries and margins in numerous ways. For example, protagonists Lyra and Will both move in the margins of their societies, while being confronted with the physical and mental boundaries between childhood and adulthood and the liminal space in-between, adolescence. Furthermore, the whole trilogy revolves around the crossings between countless parallel worlds, including a knife cutting through reality/dimensions.
One of the most unique and fascinating border-crossings in the trilogy, however, is Lyra and Will’s journey to the world of the dead. This late episode is rich with liminal and marginal spaces, as well as metaphorical and literal breaches of boundaries and borders: e.g. the suburbs of the dead, port of transit, and holding areas; personal Deaths hiding in the margins of vision; existential questions about “truth/reality” vs. “lies/fantasy” raised by the Harpies; the crossing of a lake to the land of the dead, including the painful disjunction of the bond between soul/dæmon and body/human.
It has been acknowledged that Lyra and Will function as Eve and Adam figures, through whom Pullman attempts to re-tell (and redeem) the Christian Fall myth (e.g. Tóth; Dickerson and O’Hara). The literature on the trilogy, however, stays remarkably silent on another biblical figure: Jesus Christ. Occasionally, his absence from the trilogy is proclaimed and Pat Pinsent even goes as far as attesting it “a Christ-shaped hole” (30). However, acknowledging the presence of a Jesus figure in the trilogy would give the story a whole new religious dimension.
Thus, this paper will examine Lyra and Will’s ultimate border-crossing to the land of the dead (and the following resurrection/s) in more detail and will argue that Lyra and Will together are Jesus-figure/s who die and walk between the worlds in order to redeem the dead and liberate their souls.
Luise Rössel is a current PhD student in English Literature at the University of Glasgow. She is writing about fantasy literature from around the millennial change with religious elements, mostly from Revelation and Genesis. She obtained an MLitt in Fantasy Literature from the University of Glasgow (2019) and an MPhil in Children’s Literature from Trinity College, Dublin (2018). She did her BA degree in Literary Theory and Comparative Literature, as well as Philosophy, at the Ludwig-Maximilians- Universität, Munich.
M. Caroline McCaulay
“The Childbed is Our Battlefield”: Examining Depictions of Childbirth in Contemporary Fantasy
Pregnancy has often casually been called a “magical time” in women’s lives. However, fantasy media has frequently portrayed pregnancy and childbirth as a traumatic, and often deadly, experience for women. This vision of childbirth recently resurged in the public’s attention with the 2022 premiere episode of HBO’s House of Dragons, in which a highly reported upon scene involving a forced caesarean delivery ends in the death of the mother. As she tells her daughter, “The childbed is our battlefield.”
This paper takes a critical eye to birth scenes in fantasy media, specifically examining texts which are also regarded as empowering to its female identifying characters. The central question of the paper asks how fantasy’s often impossible depictions of birth might affect reader’s perceptions of the reality of childbirth. Are these scenes empowering or frightening? Can there be a definitive line between fantasy and reality in depictions of childbirth? When is a border between realism and fantasy crossed? Is the brutality of some fantastic birth scenes warranted, given the maternal mortality rate of women worldwide?
The texts examined include a fairy-led, magical birth scene in Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End, the horrifying birth of the Minotaur in Madeline Miller’s Circe, and the multiple depictions of traumatic births in the HBO series House of the Dragon.
M. Caroline McCaulay is a writer and scholar from Carmel, Indiana, USA. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) at Indiana University and is currently a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Southern Mississippi. She frequently writes fiction about sisterhood, Hollywood, and mental health – but also about sorority girl werewolves and pregnant cows. Her creative work can be found in Boudin, the online home of The McNeese Review. Her scholarship focuses on depictions of motherhood and female empowerment in literature. Her scholarship has most recently been presented at the Center for Faulkner Studies at Southeast Missouri State University.
Threshold Crossing and Deconstructed Portals in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
In Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn defines portal fantasy as ‘a fantastic world entered through a portal’ and argues that in this type ‘the fantastic […] does not “leak.” Although individuals may cross both ways, the magic does not’ (xix). Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is an exception that blurs the boundaries between reality and the fantastic and features an intrusion in the form of the consciousness-consuming Spectres. A similar motif is present in Laini Taylor’s YA trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, whereby Karou, a human living in Prague, is raised by human-monster hybrids whose house is a portal between the human world and the fantastic Eretz. DoSaB displays portal-quest elements, with a relatively clueless Karou entering Eretz through a magical threshold. Yet, this trilogy is not a clear-cut example of portal fantasy either, as intrusions also feature prominently. While portals are integral plot points in both trilogies, their use requires sacrifices to save the universes connected by them.
This paper studies portals as thresholds in HDM and DoSaB to examine attitudes regarding maturity and personal responsibility in YA fantasy. The trilogies’ starting points both involve threshold-crossing yet move away from earlier children’s and YA fantasy traditions, with their clear entrance of an innocent main character into the fantastic and equally clear return to ‘nonfantastic normality’ as analysed by Catherine Butler. Instead, the main characters enter the portals later, after painful experiences, and the fantastic remains in their lives after forgoing portals, moving away from boundaries often encountered in earlier works. Moreover, the featured intrusions emphasize the cost of portals in both trilogies, revealing shifting attitudes permeating contemporary YA fantasy, with both trilogies granting their young main characters agency, recognising their ability to destroy, but also to mend their worlds.
Madalena Daleziou obtained her undergraduate degree in English Literature from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. She then studied the Fantasy MLitt at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests include Children’s and YA fantasy, anime and manga, animals studies in fantasy, and dystopian literature. Madalena is a speculative fiction author whose short fiction and poetry has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The Deadlands, and other venues. She is the Social Media Officer of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic.
Fantastical Subjectivity in Rana Dasgupta’s Twenty-First Century Folktales
This paper examines the politics of fantastic irrealism in selected short stories from Rana Dasgupta’s twenty-first century collection Tokyo Cancelled (2005), an “experiment in storytelling”, which revitalises the “old wisdom” of folktales in order to register both the “giant forces of modernity” and the “exquisite minutia of personal experience” in a hyperconnected world (Dasgupta 2006, 13-15). For Dasgupta, folkloric forms mediate in fantastical terms a world of irreal “transformations” linked directly to “global forces” (Dasgupta and Elborough 2006, 6). This paper focuses specifically on Dasgupta’s portrayal of fantastical subjectivities, showing how the contemporary folktales collected in Tokyo Cancelled attend to the reconfiguration of selfhood in an era of accelerated neoliberal globalisation. Applying a method of world literary comparativism, the paper presents close readings of folktales including “The Memory Editor”, “The Billionaire’s Sleep” and “The Recycler of Dreams”, examining Dasgupta’s folkloric depiction of the colonization of subjectivity by neoliberal contemporaneity. More broadly, the paper considers Dasgupta’s re-invigoration of archaic forms of folk orality as a tool for challenging hegemony in the contemporary world.
Dasgupta, Rana. 2006. “Writing Tokyo Cancelled.” In Tokyo Cancelled. London: Harper Perennial.
Dasgupta, Rana, and Travis Elborough. 2006. “Global Enchantment: Travis Elborough Talks to Rana Dasgupta.” In Tokyo Cancelled. London: Harper Perennial.
Madeleine Sinclair is an English and Comparative Literature PhD student and Wolfson Scholar at University of Warwick, UK. Her thesis focuses on the interconnections between aesthetics, politics and ecology in the twenty-first century short story-cycle.
Who Is Allowed To Cast Spells?: Stuttering, Fluency, And Spellcasting In The Harry Potter Series
Stuttering, as defined by The Stuttering Foundation, is “a communication disorder in which the flow of speech is broken by repetitions (li-li-like this), prolongations (lllllike this), or abnormal stoppages (no sound) of sounds and syllables.” In the Harry Potter series, witches and wizards cast spells predominantly by speaking words out loud. This paper will explore boundaries in magic systems, specifically the boundary between fluent and disfluent spellcasters in the Harry Potter series, and draw attention to what’s missing in current research. Through close reading and textual analysis of the Harry Potter texts, I will compare and contrast how fluent people speak spells to the stuttering of Professor Quirrell. Because Professor Quirrell impersonated having a stutter, he does not need to worry about disfluency when casting spells. But people who have speech impediments do not have that luxury.
This paper will acknowledge that magic in the Harry Potter series can do many wondrous things, including regrowing bones. However, because Professor Quirrell was able to convincingly impersonate someone who stutters, this implies that speech impediments still exist in the Muggle world and the wizarding world. This shows that speech impediments have not been eliminated by magic. Thus, instead of looking for ways to eliminate speech impediments using magic, this paper will also focus on spellcasting accessibility and what that could look like in fantasy texts. Furthermore, this paper will then explore the difficulty of casting nonverbal spells in the Harry Potter series and deconstruct the negative stereotypes of stuttering in fantasy spellcasting contexts. Finally, it will be acknowledged that there is ample room for disability awareness and accessibility in children’s fantasy literature.
Madeline Wahl is a postgraduate student pursuing an MLitt in Fantasy Literature at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. Previously, she has held editorial positions at Reader’s Digest, HuffPost, and Golf Channel. She was a speaker at the Australian Speak Easy Association’s online 2020 conference and has previously written about stuttering for The Stuttering Foundation. She holds a BA in Advertising/Public Relations with a minor in Psychology and a minor in English-Writing from the University of Central Florida. She is working on her first novel in YA Fantasy and her first nonfiction book proposal on millennial caregiving.
Challenging Energy Exuberance through Epic Fantasy: A Study of N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy
This paper examines the embedded energy unconscious of N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy, parsing the author’s tonal depictions of energy usage alongside Frederick Buell’s 2012 essay “A Short History of Oil Cultures: or The Marriage of Exuberance and Catastrophe”. Investigating areas of “catastrophic” and “exuberant” energy exertion in the text, this paper begins by outlining the dominant oil culture in America and questioning whether epic fantasy authors—even as they construct works of petrofiction—are truly able to escape the clutches of this hegemonic perception of energy in the U.S. Positioning catastrophe as inextricably linked to depictions of oppressed magical and non-magical bodies in this trilogy, this paper ultimately outlines how Jemisin subverts the dominant American oil unconscious. I demonstrate through close reading how she textually saddles exuberance to infrastructural access and agency as well as characterizes exuberance as an inadequate tool for repairing energy-based damage. With this popular work as a case study, this presentation suggests that epic fantasy is a fruitful avenue through which to refigure the contemporary energy crisis. In exploring Jemisin’s success in creating a work of radical petrofiction, this presentation also exemplifies vital energy humanities tools for interpreting energy themes in epic fantasy–particularly concerning Max Black’s “interaction view of metaphor” and the detection of exuberance and catastrophe in texts. Finally, this paper gestures toward a progressive and energy-aware texture emerging in contemporary American epic fantasy with the growth of BIPOC-created secondary worlds. Through her work of epic petro-fantasy, Jemisin simultaneously pushes against the classically exuberant characteristics of both epic fantasy and systemic perceptions of oil in the U.S., questioning the belief that carbon consumption is a productive force across racial and socio-economic lines. This paper is an adaptation of chapter two of my MLitt Fantasy dissertation from the University of Glasgow.
Maggie White (she/her) received her undergraduate degree from Davidson College and holds an MLitt in Fantasy Literature from the University of Glasgow. Her research interests include the energy humanities, speculative/fantastical fiction, Victorian fiction, improv and literature, posthumanism, and worldbuilding. Maggie’s core research aim is to further an understanding of speculative literature’s cultural impact, focusing largely on its role in transformative depictions of global energy dependencies and the climate crisis at large. Maggie currently lives in Mississippi with her partner, David, and her dog, Dolly.
Stats and Soil: Race and Homeland in Fantastic Worlds
This work focuses on a persistent trope of racial worldbuilding in fantastic worlds. Nominally, such worlds operate on the premise that vastly different possibilities from our current world exist and are commonplace. However, in reality, such settings often traffic in pseudoscientific race “realism.” Built upon ahistorical notions of medieval cultures, in which nascent nation-states were racially and ethnically homogenous, racial segregation in fantastic worlds is a common and oft-neglected trope. From Middle Earth, to Skyrim, to the Forgotten Realms, fantasy settings tend to define a people by the land they occupy and the borders over which they control. Elves, Dwarves, Humans, and Orcs are associated with various topographies, blurring the line between land and people. Indeed, this trope often aligns with White supremacist ideologies which link race, place, homeland, culture, language , and civilization as synonymous and interlinked. Many worldbuilders of fantastic settings would have us believe that land and soil are deterministic and impermeable factors in the reproduction of race, language, and culture. Most contemporary audiences will associate this trope with Tolkien’s Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings, and I will briefly touch on its reproduction over time. However, in addition to the print and media in which fantasy races are correspondingly linked to the ecosystems in which they live, virtual and analog roleplaying games embolden and further the trope in a way that scholarship hasn’t fully appreciated. This work analyzes this narrative shorthand across various artforms before examining its unique permutation in analog gaming. Then, the trope of racial bioessentialism in nation or statecraft will be compared to the rhetoric of White nationalists, especially in the context of comparisons to medievalisms, accurate or not.
Mark Hines is a PhD student in the University of Kentucky’ English Department. He is interested in the fantastic and the speculative in gaming, broadly. In particular, he examines how political and racist discourse from our world becomes shifted and blurred through representation in gaming. For speculative worlds that consistently ask “What is possible?,” he wonders why the representations of race, gender, and political dominance so often echo those of our own.
The Sex of Angels: Nonbinary readings of otherworldly creatures in Supernatural (2005-2020) and Good Omens (2019-)
The “Sex of Angels”, or otherwise gendered understandings of otherworldly beings, is an age-old theological question. Fantasy media has interpreted and portrayed it in many ways, from the more traditional elucubrations of Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass (2000) to Janet’s catchphrase “Not a girl!” in The Good Place (2016-2020). In a society that is becoming increasingly more aware of gender variances beyond the binary, the nonbinary potential of these creatures has been praised for offering representation organically but also criticised for the innate othering that comes from presenting genderlessness as a non-human feature.
This paper explores nonbinary fans’ (re)interpretations of tv angels and demons to navigate their own gender identity and/or expression. Transformative online fandom spaces are socially engineered as private, thus providing a safe space for fans to express their own queer, gender-diverse identities through storytelling.
This analysis will be done through two case studies with a widely queer fanbase – Supernatural (2005 – 2020) and Good Omens (2019-).
As a fandom born of the mid-naughts but still rather popular due to the show’s longevity, Supernatural is the ideal starting point to understand how fandom sentiments around gender representation may have shifted through the years. For instance, looking at its role in the development of widespread fandom tropes around gender dynamics such as Omegaverse.
As a more recent example, Good Omens more openly challenges assumptions about gender and has a large community of trans fan. This fandom has produced work which deconstructs gender into individual signifiers that are mixed and matched to best represent the journey, experience and sensibility of the fan artist creating it.
This analysis looks at what trans fans have to say about the gender of otherworldly creatures, as well as considering what textual elements of these shows especially appeal to said fans.
Mars Nicoli – pronouns he/him – is a PhD student in Media and GTA at Sheffield Hallam University researching transgender representation, viewership and authorship of horror. He is also interested in fan studies and specifically in fandom as a place of queer self-discovery. His Master’s thesis in Film looked at the degendering of pregnancy in Good Omens fanfiction. His work is committed to centring marginalised voices and talking with rather than about people: nothing about us without us.
The borders of power: Superheroes and disability
Disability and superheroes may appear at first glance to be antithetical. The figure of the superhero, which as Vincent M. Gaine argues is ‘ostensibly a power fantasy’ (7), is continually aligned with strength and dominance, the centrepiece of a genre which ‘takes vigorous and potent bodies as a given’ (Alaniz 11). However, there are in fact several superhero characters in contemporary film and television with disabilities or severe health conditions, and if this seems surprising it supports David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder’s assertion that cultural representations of disability are prolific but go largely unnoticed by audiences (225). Mitchell and Snyder introduce a framework of ‘narrative prosthesis’, arguing that many narratives rely on disability to differentiate a central character ‘from the anonymous background of the “norm”’ (222), but that after this initial interest has been sparked, disability is often overlooked or even subject to ‘an obliteration of the difference through a “cure”’ (227).
The “curing” of disability is often literalised in superhero narratives through the gaining of superpowers (for example in the case of Captain America). However, there are occasions where disability and superpowers are allowed to coexist, including Daredevil (who is visually impaired but whose other senses are supernaturally heightened) and Professor X (who is a wheelchair user with telekinetic powers). This paper will examine these cases, exploring how superpowers and disability interact in forming these characters’ identities. In particular, it will question whether these examples can be seen as a challenge to the standard ‘vigorous and potent bodies’ of the genre or whether the addition of superpowers includes those with disabilities within this category without challenging its right to be held as the norm.
Megan Stephens (she/her) is a PhD candidate in the School of English at the University of Sheffield, funded by the AHRC through the White Rose Consortium. She is researching death and grievability in contemporary fantastic film and television, exploring how the implicit cultural valuing of different types of characters is often betrayed at and confirmed by their moment of death. She is an Associate Editor at Mapping the Impossible: Journal for Fantasy Research.
“And its Folks are Queerer”: Queer Marginality and the Chosen Family Dynamics of the Bagginses of Bag-End
Since the 1960s, Queer has evolved from a vague, multivalent term denoting various degrees of strangeness to a signifier of the identity politics movement, in which the term has been reclaimed as a means towards demanding representation, rights and respect from the margins of heternormative society. To be Queer in the 21st century is to exist in a state of direct confrontation against the established norms of society, but the meaning of Queer has not changed, though it has narrowed and become popularized. Though the language to describe members of the LGBTQ+ community has evolved over time, to be Queer folk has always been, at its foundations, a process of being forced into the margins of society by cultural heternormativity. It is in this forced marginality that the concept of “Found Family” has become intrinsic to the Queer community. It is through “Found Family” that people who have become alienated from their biological families, and society at large, find joy, love, acceptance and companionship in a hostile and difficult world.
Though J.R.R. Tolkien may not have been intending to create such a dynamic in The Lord of the Rings, the Bagginses of Bag-End exemplify this “Found Family” dynamic. This paper will explore the features of both Bilbo and Frodo as folk in the margins of their community, which contribute to their home being considered “a queer place, and its folk are queerer”, and how this dynamic is applicable to the 20th-century queer experience. The paper will then consider why Tolkien wrote the Bagginses in this manner, and how the universal themes of Love and Fellowship may have resonated through “Found Family” to an English Catholic who lost much of his own biological family at a young age.
Mercury Natis (they/them) is a student of Imaginative Literature at Signum University, focusing on Tolkien Studies and Queer Theory. They hold a previous MA in Museum Education and a BA in Art History. Their primary focus is on queer resonances in interwar fantasy, in the pre-identity politics age of ambiguity and disruption. They have previously presented at Oxonmoot on the similarities between Tolkien’s perspective on fantasy and Sontag’s essay on Camp, and are currently preparing a paper for publication on T.H. White’s The Once and Future King as a work of Camp art.
“síneadh eile lenár dtraidisiún scéalaíochta”: Fantasy and “Celtic” tradition
In this paper, I explore the relationship between genre fantasy and the “traditional” literatures — both premodern and modern — of Celtic-language communities, which have for more than two hundred years been used (and misused) by writers of fantasy and related genres in dominant languges. Rather than approaching this question through an analysis of dominant-language texts, however, I want to approach it, instead, through modern Celtic-language literatures. I focus in this paper on Darach Ó Scolaí’s Táin Bó Cuailnge (2017) and Fionnlagh MacLeòid’s Gormshuil an Rìgh (2010). Ó Scolaí’s preface describes his work, a modern Irish-language version of the best-known medieval Gaelic narrative, as “síneadh eile lenár dtraidisiún scéalaíochta” [another extension of our narrative tradition] (2017, 7), and MacLeòid’s novel mimics both the form and style of a Scottish Gaelic oral narrative. My central questions are: can we read these texts as fantasy, and what does it mean for us to do so?
I consider two aspects of these texts in particular: their relation to “traditional” narrative forms (the medieval hero-tale, the modern oral folktale) and their relationship to modern literary forms (the novel, genre fantasy). How do these two texts situate themselves — formally, stylistically, paratextually, and contextually — in relation to the “Celtic” traditions they draw on? How, conversely, are they situated, whether intentionally or simply by virtue of being produced and read in the twenty-first century, in relation to the novel form, and to the fantasy genre in particular? What differentiates these texts from so-called “Celtic fantasy” in dominant languages? How might these texts — and other examples of the growing body of fantasy in the modern Celtic languages — enable us to think in new ways about dominant-language Celtic fantasy and its complex and often problematic relationship to Celtic-language communities in the present?
Nathaniel Harrington received his Ph.D. in comparative literature from the University of Toronto. His dissertation looked at the representations of reading in and real-world reading practices for fantasy and science fiction in Scottish Gaelic and English. His current projects consider the relationship between language death and speculative fiction and the development of (quote-unquote) “Celtic fantasy”. His other interests include Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, contemporary denied-language poetics, Gaelic literary history, and meeting new cats.
The Cracks Within: Liminality and Hero-making in Fantasy
Farah Mendlesohn defines liminal fantasy “relies, after all on a knowingness” on the part of both the reader and the characters within the story (Mendlesohn 182). The ambiguity between our expectations of the real and the fantastical is where liminality lies, and where one can experience “what it’s like to have fallen into the crack” (Mendlesohn 183). The chasm of knowingness, or lack thereof, between the real world and the fantastical or between our expectations of genre tropes and narrative structures, all embody that “crack” where the fantastic is experienced.
In a slight departure Mendlesohn’s idea, Gaiman introduces Neverwhere (1996) as a story about “people who fall through the cracks” (Gaiman, iv). In doing so, Gaiman’s perspective shifts liminality away from a representation of the space between worlds to the ambiguity of identity and knowability within a character.
Here, I explore how “heroes” are formed of those who “fall through the cracks”. They are neither of one world nor the other, and embody that crack, chasm, or liminality within themselves. In Neverwhere Richard Mayhew feels like he belongs nowhere, either in his unexciting everyday life or as an outsider in London Below. In Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea, the antagonist, the Shadow, is an outward manifestation of the hollowness and not-knowing of the protagonist, Sparrowhawk, himself.
I argue that the gap in knowing, as it plays out within a character in a story, is itself a liminal space where the fantastic becomes possible. To support my argument, I will look at the characters of Richard Mayhew (from Neverwhere), Sparrowhawk (from A Wizard of Earthsea), Sam Vymes (from Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards!), and Jonathan Strange (from Suzanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) and explore the different ways each of these characters contain within themselves and embody a fantastical liminal space.
I did my MPhil from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, on the non-anthropocentric rhetoric of popular fantasy in the 20th Century. I currently work as a freelance academic editor. My academic interests center around exploring how each instance of rhetoric shapes and questions the enclosing genre or archive, by focusing on fictionality. I also moonlight on Instagram as a dog mom, and part-time selfie enthusiast who maps cities on foot.
We’re All Mad Queer: Breaching the Boundaries of Sanity and Sex in Wonderland and Oz
Narratives of difference are immensely popular in children’s literature. The figure of the eternal child in Peter Pan; the talking animals of Narnia; Harry Potter’s whimsical world of witchcraft and wizardry, all involve two crucial elements. What is the use of a book, without alterity and wonder? When burying their nose into a book, one might hope to transcend the everyday, and instead embody various fantastic creatures. One might hope, then, to become something different.
Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ series and L. Frank Baum’s ‘Oz’ series have been read and loved for centuries by children and adults alike. Both have also seen numerous adaptations, from the literary, to musicals, to plays and films. As a result, both are boundary-breaching texts. These ‘external’ boundaries, of readership and medium, are also reflected within the texts themselves: alongside fluidity in language and narrative comes fluidity in representations of various categories of difference.
This paper examines the interconnections between madness and queerness in the ‘Alice’ and ‘Oz’ texts. Various sociological studies have illuminated the socially constructed nature of both sexuality and sanity, but few have examined the crossover between the two, especially in relation to literary representations. Children’s books, which routinely render real-world norms topsy-turvy, are a strong place to start. Counter to narratives of fear that inflect discourses around madness, sexuality, and childhood, Alice and Oz celebrate alterity of various kinds, equating madness and queerness with play and opposing dominant cultural perceptions of deviance. Through analyses of iconographies of madness; depictions of chronoanormativity and queer time; and readings of the formations of queer relationships to ‘others’ and to gender, this paper will consider how madness and queerness are represented and intertwined in these enduring fantasy texts.
Rachel Milne is a Visiting Lecturer at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. She holds a BA (Hons) in Media from Queen Margaret University, and an MLitt in Comparative Literature from the University of Glasgow. Her work primarily centres around representations of otherness in children’s literature and film, especially in relation to queerness, disability, and neurodivergence. Her writings on childhood and difference in literature and film have been published in peer-reviewed journals and blogs, and she has presented her work on Disney and disability, queerness in African cinema, childhood in Scottish film, and otherness in children’s literature, at various international conferences.
A Conspiracy of Bodies: Negating Sexual Anthropocentrism
The tradition of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ narrative – one where a beautiful, often female, human falls for a truly monstrous figure, often a man – is one that has persisted in the cultural imagination ever since Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve wrote her original version in 1740, following in the tradition of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales. However, the cultural opinions on sex and sexuality have to come to fluctuate significantly over the following years. As fantasy erotica becomes an emergent subgenre within the field, sexual behaviour comes to the forefront. This paper will seek to explore the cultural implications of monster-human erotica and the practice of teratophilia in literature and media. The tracing of desire through the constructed monstrous body raises questions of what the body is and the wider cultural discourse around acceptable societal standards. By discussing monster media such as Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’, Marvel’s ‘Venom’, and China Miéville’s ‘Perdido Street Station’, this paper will utilise theories of anthropocentrism and sexuality studies to explore why exactly the monstrous, hybrid bodies of fantastic media trigger desire within the audience – and the radical potential of such an act.
Rebecca Gault is an early-career academic from Glasgow, Scotland. She has a MA in English Literature from the University of Glasgow and a MLitt in Fantasy Literature from the University of Glasgow. Her research interests include monstrosity, gender and sexuality studies, the construction of the body, and modes of fantasy. She is currently the co-host of Out To Get You, a podcast examining horror media through the lens of marginalised experiences, and often writes about horror, fantasy, and comic books.
“I Don’t Wanna Become a Demon”: Rethinking Binaries in Princess Mononoke and Okja
Fantasy can be effective as a mode of destabilizing and problematizing binary thinking (nature/culture, human/nonhuman, center/periphery for instance). Although separated by two decades, Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke (1997) and Bong Joon-ho’s Okja (2017) pivot around the common theme of converting the nonhuman into marketable materials. This paper engages with the selected films in order to explore the material as well as metaphorical borders of the Anthropocene discourse that normalize and justify exploitation, instrumentalization and extraction of the nonhuman ones for the sole purpose of fueling the capitalist engine of so-called growth. Additionally, this paper thinks through and about extraction, thereby seeks to answer why and how the human/nonhuman binary is required for the biopolitical authorities to justify extraction and hyper-consumption of the nonhuman. Reading through an ecofeminist lens, the paper scrutinizes the techno-fixes proposed and practiced by the authority and argues for epistemological rethinking to conceive of alternative future(s) free of extractive hegemony that relies heavily on the human/nonhuman binary. To do so, the paper discusses: First, how do San in Princess Mononoke and Mija in Okja defy the binary by siding with the nonhuman and against the ‘demonic’ industrial forces as represented by Lady Eboshi and Lucy Mirando respectively. Second, how Lady Eboshi and Lucy Mirando’s absolute disregard for nonhuman agency is propelled not only by their goal of endless resource extraction but also their anthropocentric ideology that allows them to exploit and abuse the nonhumans as commodities. While the adults are entirely driven by techno-capitalist lust and are ignorant of the horrific outcome of such extractive practices, the children initiate epistemological rethinking by building kinship with the nonhuman to ensure a more inclusive and compassionate society where the humans can live harmoniously with their planetary partners.
Sababa Monjur is currently enrolled as a doctoral student at Philipps University Marburg. She completed her MA in North American Studies from the same institute. Her research interest includes SF, popular culture, gender studies, environmental studies and ecofeminism. The latter area is the focus of her dissertation. She is the recipient of ICCS Graduate Scholarship 2022.
Settler Fairies: Postcolonial Implications of Fairies in America
In The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature, Brian Attebery notes that many of the European settlers in North America left their traditional supernatural stories behind when they emigrated. Apparently, the New World was not congenial to fairies and suchlike (20). In contemporary American fantasy, however, the continent is abundantly populated with fairy creatures of all shapes and sizes. Often, they are depicted as immigrants themselves, having crossed the mighty boundary of the Atlantic to colonize America alongside the human settlers who believed in them.
In my paper, I will discuss four novels which use the motif of fairies as European immigrants to America, analysing the implications of this motif from a postcolonial perspective. Firstly, I consider Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks and Keith Donohue’s The Stolen Child. In these novels, fairy creatures of European descent are the only supernatural beings encountered; there is no indication of the existence of indigenous spirits. In this way, I argue, Bull’s and Donohue’s novels participate in the erasure of indigenous stories and perpetuate conceptions of pre-colonial America as an unclaimed wilderness.
Secondly, I turn to two novels where the fairies’ settler status is given thematic weight. In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, fairies such as piskies and leprechauns are depicted alongside a large variety of supernatural beings from multiple cultural contexts. The main story is repeatedly interrupted by interludes which describe the arrival of these beings in America at different points in history, thus emphasising America’s status as a cultural melting pot. Charles de Lint, in Widdershins, goes further still, depicting a long-standing and bitter conflict between colonising fairies and indigenous spirits. In Gaiman’s and de Lint’s novels, folkloric motifs are employed to tell stories which attempt to take into consideration the complex and tangled colonial history of America and all of its peoples.
Saga Bokne is a PhD student in English literature at Karlstad University, Sweden. She is particularly interested in how folklore and mythology are reused and reinterpreted in contemporary fantasy. She is also very interested in the politics and ideology of fantasy. At Karlstad university, she teaches courses in children’s literature and academic writing, among other things. Her doctoral dissertation will be about the depictions and functions of fairies in post-Tolkienian fantasy literature.
“To Win or Lose a Great Game”: Board Games, Seth Dickinson’s “Masquerade” Series, and Policing Fantasy’s Political Boundaries
Board game imagery is a common feature of fantasy literature, with the language of moves, countermoves, gambits, and endgames often used within fantasy texts to shape a reader’s understanding of political strategy and plays for power. This paper explores the role of such game-inflected imagery in delimiting the boundaries of the political change presented as legible, believable, or possible in the fantasy genre. I take as a case study Seth Dickinson’s “The Masquerade”, a fantasy series dense with board game imagery. Dickinson uses board games, with their associations of neat, schematised worlds and strategies, to invoke a specific model of political change: one where the world is figured as rational and rewritable, a board to be manipulated by a sufficiently clever player of the political game. However, as the series progresses, Dickinson invites the reader to interrogate the link between this game-inflected model of political change and the imperial ideology “The Masquerade” seeks to challenge. He does so by exploring the boundaries placed on action and agency by a game-inflected model of change: as one character points out, to beat a master at their own game, one is forced to play by their rules, accepting the possibility space of the board instead of reaching across the table to slit the other player’s throat. By tracing the shifting associations and logics of board game imagery in “The Masquerade”, I explore what it means that fantasy literature so often shapes the reader’s understanding of political change through imagery of rulesets, board edges, and boundaries on political action, uncovering the relationship between the board game and the fantasy genre’s oft-cited ability to envision alternative political structures.
Samantha Hammond is a researcher interested in the intersections between literature and gaming, and in the role of space, systems thinking, and political change in both forms. She holds a Bachelor of Arts with Class I Honours in English Literature and a Graduate Certificate in Writing, Editing, and Publishing from the University of Queensland. During her undergraduate studies, she presented at two symposia and was awarded several prizes, including the Steele Rudd Memorial Essay Prize for best essay in Australian literature. She is currently studying a Master of Theatre (Dramaturgy) at the University of Melbourne.
Suzanne R. Black
Canon(n)s in the Distance: Black Sails Fanfiction, Decolonial Gothic and the Negotiation of Canon
Fanfiction texts necessarily replicate canonical elements from the media texts they rewrite while changing some aspects of the characters, setting or plots. One criticism that is often aimed at fanfiction is that it tends to be conservative rather than progressive when dealing with racial issues (Lothian & Stanfill, 2021). I identify several works of fanfiction related to the television series Black Sails (2014-2017) – itself related to Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure novel Treasure Island (1883) – in which the boundaries of the Gothic genre of fantasy and their transgressions are used to reckon with race and racism.
Fanfiction’s tendency to minimise issues of race and racism emerge as genre interruptions in keeping with the Gothic tradition where “In seeing one time and its values cross into another, both periods are disturbed. The dispatching of unwanted ideas and attitudes into an imagined past does not guarantee they have been overcome” (Botting, 2013, p.3). The Decolonial Gothic, in particular, is an effective strategy for this as it can “mobilise supernatural figurations of threat and anxiety to grapple not with colonialism or its aftereffects, but with coloniality as the enduring alliance between Eurocentric master narratives of race, gender and nature, and capitalism as a set of economic/ecological relations that link regions and communities unequally together” (Duncan, 2022, p.319). I argue that Black Sails fanfiction cannot escape being haunted by its literary and historical forebears and these spectres often manifest as genre play.
Botting, Fred. Gothic. Routledge, 2013.
Duncan, Rebecca. ‘Decolonial Gothic: Beyond the Postcolonial in Gothic Studies’. Gothic Studies, vol. 24, no. 3, 2022, pp. 304–22.
Lothian, Alexis, and Mel Stanfill. ‘An Archive of Whose Own? White Feminism and Racial Justice in Fan Fiction’s Digital Infrastructure’. Transformative Works and Cultures, vol. 36, Sept. 2021.
Suzanne R Black is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh. With a background in English Literature, she combines humanities approaches with digital methods, and has worked across a range of projects involving data and the creative industries. Her research interests lie in digital literary culture and the development of data-led approaches to contemporary fiction and fanfiction. She has published work in Transformative Works and Cultures, FORUM, The American Reader, The Journal of Fandom Studies and Queer Studies in Media & Popular Culture (forthcoming).
Flower of Knights, Knight of Flowers: Transgression of Gendered Boundaries in Retellings of the Tale of Peredur
Peredur, or Perceval, has been a figure associated with the transgression of gendered boundaries since his early appearances in Monmouth and The Mabinogion. Peredur, Son of Efrawg, raised in seclusion by his mother, had trouble integrating into the masculine world of chivalry. His tale in The Mabinogion explores this through medieval Welsh understandings of masculinity, with traits such as facial hair and honour explicitly linked. His treatment of women, too, is outside the boundary of what is expected of him as a man and as a knight, and there is what can be interpreted as a queer homosocial relationship between Peredur and Gwalchmei (or Gawain), further transgressing the boundaries of hegemonic masculinity. More modern reinterpretations of the character, in Philip Reeve’s Here Lies Arthur (2007) and Nicola Griffith’s Spear (2022), draw on these notes of gendered dissonance and cast the character as a trans woman in post-Roman Britain (Reeve) and as a butch woman who is ambivalent to gender (Griffith). I am particularly interested in examining how Reeve perhaps inadvertently sets up a dialogue between biologically essentialist views of gender and cultural views of gender. His Peredur, or Peri for short, is born a boy, raised as a girl, lives as a man among Arthur’s warband, then ends the novel living as a woman. Both Reeve and Griffith use what has historically been a mode of storytelling associated with masculinity and particularly chivalric masculinity to explore femininity and gender fluidity, and both use the fantastical in their stories as a lens through which to examine gendered boundaries.
This paper will argue that queerness and gendered transgression are threaded through even the earliest parts of the Arthurian canon, and will trace these roots into modern retellings to examine what they’ve grown into.
Tam Moules has an MLitt in Fantasy Literature from the University of Glasgow and a BA (Hons) in English Literature from Anglia Ruskin University. Their research is currently focused on queerness in Arthuriana, and they have previously presented papers at the 2019 Fantastika and Fabled Coast Conferences, Glasgow’s GifCon in 2018 and 2019, and Open Graves Open Minds 2021, as well as co-hosted writing workshops at the LSFRC’s Productive Futures conference and Cymera Festival.
Unicorn Variations: Continuity and Change in the Many Versions of The Last Unicorn
Over the past fifty years and more since its first publication, Peter S. Beagle’s 1968 novel The Last Unicorn has led a far from marginal life in fantasy, nestled firmly near the center of any conception of the genre as a “fuzzy set” despite its metafictional dimensions. If the novel most diverges from the Tolkienian model of fantasy in its use of both humor and metafiction, Beagle ultimately offers a theory of fantasy of his own via that very metafiction, and a theory of fantasy that arrives at many of the same conclusions as Tolkien’s “On Fairy-Stories” by other means. The novel’s many adaptations, abridgements, and even abortive early drafts have received far less attention, however, and lurked more furtively on the edges of fantasy and indeed Beagle’s own long career. This paper will therefore emphasize how these threads of metafiction and self-reflexive commentary on fantasy run through and become refracted across not only the 1982 animated adaptation of The Last Unicorn, but also the more recent graphic novel version; Beagle’s other unicorn stories (inside and outside the same universe); and the earlier fragmentary draft of the novel later published as “The Lost Version.” Across these variations on and responses to the original narrative, we find an emergent concern with change itself connected to the novel’s ruminations on the desire for immortality and the inability to change associated with its villainous figures.
Timothy S. Miller teaches both medieval literature and modern speculative fiction as Assistant Professor of English at Florida Atlantic University, where he contributes to the department’s MA degree concentration in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Recent graduate course titles include “Theorizing the Fantastic” and “Artificial Intelligence in Literature and Film.” He has written on both later Middle English literature and various contemporary authors of fantasy and science fiction, and his book Ursula K. Le Guin’s ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’: A Critical Companion will be published in March of 2023. His current major project explores representations of plants and modes of plant being in literature and culture.
The Porous House: Investigating the House as a Space of the Fantastic in Neil Gaiman’s Coraline
In Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (2002) the house is a significant element in the story which propels the narrative forward. In this paper, I seek to investigate the house as not just a space which hosts the fantastic element, but also as a fantastic entity in its own right. At the physical level, a house consists of a network of several thresholds – windows, doors and corridors. These boundaries act as reference points which provide a stable and coherent sense of reality. Our understanding of inside and outside, far and near depends on the inherent stability of these boundaries.
In Coraline however, these boundaries become strangely porous. The door-in-the-wall which opens up to a dark-hallway, the ever-changing primal tunnel, are some instances when the threshold becomes unreliable. When Coraline crosses the tunnel and enters the other-house, she finds herself in another room. She leaves an inside and emerges at ‘another’ inside. The spatial dichotomy of in/out becomes obsolete: since ‘inside’ does not exist anymore for her, ‘outside’ loses its meaning as well. This paper argues that the boundaries in the house do not just function as a border between the real and fantastic terrain, in face they themselves become the agent of transgression. And in doing so they threaten to make the objective reality unstable too.
Furthermore, if the self and space are interdependent entities, what happens to the former when it is deprived of objective boundaries. Does the distinction between the two collapse utterly? Coraline can interact with non-human entities in the other house. Does it suggest that the boundaries between the human and non-human have dissolved? How do we define the human then? Ultimately this paper through the work of select scholars investigates the house as an interstitial entity that defies any easy categorisation.
Vaibhav Dwivedi is an Assistant Professor of English at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University. His research interests include Cartography in Literature, Film Studies and Fantasy Literature.
Boundary Between the Human and the Inhuman in Arthur C. Clarke’s and Liu Cixin’s Science Fiction
This paper will examine the boundary between the human and the inhuman in the science fiction novels by Arthur C. Clarke, a representative figure of Golden Age science fiction, and Liu Cixin, a prominent contemporary Chinese science fiction writer. The two authors are especially worth comparing because of Liu Cixin’s self-proclaimed admiration for and imitation of Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction. Both Clarke and Liu see humanity’s relocation from Earth to space as the catalyst for the fundamental transformation of the human into the inhuman, where humanity becomes equally, if not more alien than extraterrestrial intelligence. Clarke and Liu start from some common premises when dealing with this subject: they are both concerned with the theme of childhood, which establishes “the human” as a stage of civilisational childhood or adolescence to be outgrown when the human transforms into the inhuman; and they both believe in the inherent adaptability and malleability of human nature that makes the transformation into the inhuman possible. However, Clarke envisions human metamorphosis into the inhuman as evolutionary progress, whereas Liu depicts humans in space discarding their humanity as an inevitable sacrifice and moral degradation. This discrepancy in their characterisation of the inhuman is predicated on the fact that Clarke mainly treats “human” as a biological concept, in the sense that the transformation into the inhuman is characterised by liberation from human biological limitations, but Liu treats “human” as a moral concept and defines human nature by the moral values that the human race upholds. I will explore the social, historical, and literary factors that contribute to the discrepancies in Clarke’s and Liu’s understanding of the boundary between the human and the inhuman and the transgression of such boundary.
Xiuqi Huang is a fourth-year PhD student in comparative literature at the University of Edinburgh. Her work focuses on transhumanism, non-human sentience and extraterrestrial life in Chinese and Anglophone science fiction. She is keen on exploring the boundary between the human and the inhuman, in the hope of shedding more light on the ever changing perception of what it is to be human against the imagination of the inhuman.
Re/discovering Women in Chinese Taoist Myth: New Gods: Yang Jian
In this paper, I analyse New Gods: Yang Jian (2022), a Chinese animation film that retells Taoist myth in a post-Ragnarök-alike background. The film is adapted from The Investiture of the Gods (Fengshen Yanyi, 封神榜), a 16th-century Chinese novel that contains Taoist folklore, fantasy and myth. In this paper, I examine the relationship between the protagonist Yang Jian, a central deity member in Taoist myth, with his nephew Chen Xiang. Specifically, I focus on Yang’s gendered role as a maternal uncle to take care of and guild his nephew to rescue female family members whereas father characters in the Yang family are completely dismissed.
In doing so, I delineate the matriarchal familial relation of the Yang family in the film and how such a structure distinguishes from that of The Investiture of the Gods. Unlike the original story, the Yangs becomes one of the leading forces to build a matriarchal god order against the current patriarchal one, which explicates the fall of the deity in the film. By re-interpreting The Investiture of the Gods, the film production team tries to re-represent traditional myths with new gender relationships in the 21st century China.
Furthermore, I contextualise the film in the history of the film adaption of The Investiture of the Gods, beginning in 1999. By historicising the film, I argue the film director re/discovers ancient Chinese imagination of a celestial matriarchy buried in The Investiture of the Gods. More importantly, however, the film speaks for current film producers’ ambitions to go beyond Anglo-American fantasy-film paradigm and re-create a Chinese deity/superhero. Unlike their forerunners in the 1990s, the young generation of filmmakers intends to build a new superhero cinematic universe where the Chinese deity/superheroes, unlike those by Marvel and D.C Studios, are inherently anti-patriarchal.
Yimin Xu is a Ph.D. student in the School of Humanities and Languages at University of New South Wales, Australia, supervised by A/Prof. Zheng Yi, Emeritus Professor Louise Edwards and Dr. Wang Ping. Her research interest is gender in Chinese science fiction, Chinese fantastical literature and modern Chinese popular culture. Her current PhD project focuses on the concept of Chinese modernity reflected from gender representations in contemporary Chinese fantastical literature. Moreover, she examines national memories of China’s semi-colonisation history in the late 19th century embedded in current Chinese fantastical literature writing.