The Infernal Riddle of Historical Fantasy

Wednesday 24 November, 6 pm GMT

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

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

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

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

Book your free ticket here.

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


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

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

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

Fantasy Horror Reading Group Halloween Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Themes and Contributors

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

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

Book your free online ticket here.

Exploring Cyberpunk Culture


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

Click here to book your free ticket via Eventbrite.

CFP: Dissenting Beliefs: Heresy and Heterodoxy in Fantasy

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

Deadline for Submissions: 7th September 2021

Organising Committee:

Dr Taylor Driggers
Lucinda Holdsworth
Meg MacDonald
Luise Rössel

Contact Email: Dissenting.Beliefs@gmail.com

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

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

Keynote

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

Call for Papers

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Spare Oom to War Drobe: A report from our Journey to Narnia with Katherine Langrish

Thank you to so many of you who joined us for our journey to Narnia with Katherine Langrish last week! We are delighted to share a report on this event by School of Education PhD student Anita Lawrence. Anita tweets at @lawrea.

Sometimes when we are engrossed in the study of literature, especially that written for children, it’s easy to forget who the target audience is. Sometimes we need to step back from the application of reading theories, from the search for authorial intent and read a book again through the eyes of our childhood selves. And that’s exactly what the children’s author, Katherine Langrish has done with her evocative new book, From Spare Oom to War Drobe. Her journey through Narnia as an adult reader in conversation with her nine year old self was the topic of her talk for the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic – a journey along with which the international audience was whisked away at breathtaking speed as we revisited the books which have had such a profound impact on children’s reading, and children’s literature over the last 70 years.

Katherine described how her book came about following a series of blogs on fantasy, fairytales and folklore (steelthistles.blogspot.com) when, upon sharing the Narnian Chronicles with her own children, she found they weren’t as keen on them as she remembered herself being. Harry Potter, it seems, had taken over from the world of Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter. In order to try and find out why, Katherine revisited the books to see how they had changed when reading with an adult eye. What did she remember of them from her childhood, and what new revelations would they hold for the grown up reader?

Exposure to Narnia evokes strong memories in many readers – Katherine spoke of the tangible recall of “bristly armchairs” when reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. My memory of my first encounter with Narnia is listening to my mum reading it aloud to me – the books lend themselves to reading aloud beautifully and I know exactly where I was sitting and how it felt during those precious read-aloud times. I’ve read the books aloud to countless classes since then, even holding whole school story sessions to read The Magician’s Nephew to children aged 4 to 11 and I hope they remember not only the story but also the visceral sensations of the hall floor, and the swoosh of local traffic and the smells coming from the canteen as we shared the magic of the book together. Because the thing about Narnia is that we desperately want it to be real. For the nine year old Katherine, there was no option for it not to be real. “You’re meant to feel that way,” explained her mum, when the young reader expressed her belief that Narnia had to exist.

The books are explored not in order of their publication, but according to their ‘internal chronology’. Katherine explained how this approach helped to create a coherent approach. It isn’t without its problems, however, as she explained – Lewis’s eclectic take on events leaves gaps which the adult reader on revisiting can see clearly, where events and characters don’t always relate to the subsequent back story. But reading them in order of how the story unfolds made narrative sense.

Katherine talked about Lewis’s distinctive voice, explaining how his voice remains the same regardless of his audience, be they child, literary critic or Christian apologist. She suggested that he read with a child’s directness and that this influenced the way in which he wrote – was he an ardent reader of children’s books as an adult, she mused? – and compared his directness of approach to that of the medieval writer. Medieval literature, she suggested, has the same candour. It can be subtle and nuanced, but at its heart, it aims to tell a story with colour. Narnia is like that, she said.

The specialness of Narnia as a place was apparent throughout Katherine’s talk. She described the sense of longing for Narnia which forms a thread through all the books, even though the reader knows little of the history of the land at all. Lewis provides glimpses of a great and long history but little in the way of detail. And when Narnia is restored, the children are sent away leaving the land as something almost too slippery to grasp. Narnia remains on the edge of our understanding and experience; a place to be visited and to be desired, but, perhaps, not to be known. And that brings us to Aslan. The terrifying, beautiful, all-knowing, all-seeing lion who frightens us with his roars and his fearsome power, and yet into whose mane every reader wants to snuggle as Lucy and Susan did before his sacrifice at the Stone Table. Katherine talked about how Aslan’s character changes throughout the Chronicles – the lion incarnate in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe; remote in The Horse and His Boy; his late appearance in Prince Caspian as a faith character; his manifestation as the incarnation of the Holy Spirit in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader; as remote, good but absent lawgiver and redeemer in The Silver Chair; and finally, in The Last Battle appearing only at the very end on the Day of Judgement. Katherine explained how she wished she could have spent more time exploring the changing character of Aslan in her book. But would the nine year old Katherine have seen Aslan changing? Perhaps not. Perhaps for a child, Aslan will always be the soft, protective, frightening but just creature that you want to hold and stroke and feel. Perhaps for the grown up, Aslan is necessarily more remote.

In exploring Lewis’s inspiration, Katherine spoke about his childhood in Ireland and the Irish imagery and scenery that comes through in the stories. There are clear influences from numerous classic texts, not least of which include Spenser’s Faerie Queene and the stories of St. Brendan. His Irish roots are reflected through the storytelling, and the sense of longing which is apparent throughout the Chronicles. But there are well-documented problems with the books – the racist undertones and the accusation that his stories are sexist amongst them. Katherine refuted the latter, describing feisty girls who hold their own just as much as the boys, and suggesting that writers envisaged their readers as either boys or girls and that the reader mentally shifted gender in the reading and read as a boy or a girl accordingly. The mental gymnastics of the child reader, accepting and internalising worlds and stories and realities which, as boring, rational adults we sometimes struggle with, are celebrated and, I would suggest, yearned for, in Katherine’s work.

The many questions from participants about influences, television and film adaptations, maps, food and imagery (there’s a whole blog to be written on the architectural aspect of the books with their passageways, attics, labyrinths and doorways!) showed just how ingrained the Chronicles of Narnia are in our rememberings of childhood readings of fantasy. As adults, we still yearn to explore all those aspects of Narnia which entranced us as children. Perhaps, suggested Katherine, writers for children are particularly skilled at preserving the child within? And whilst she acknowledged that we don’t get more than a fraction of the story on first reading of Narnia, somehow Lewis has managed to create a world which enables us as adults to return to its Chronicles and find new things which resonate not only with our adult selves but the child we preserve within. In wrapping up the session, Katherine suggested she would find it easy to go on talking about Narnia into the night. I suspect many of the audience would have willingly continued with her.

It’s impossible to put into a short blog the entire world of Narnia. Katherine has made an exceptional job of re-exploring that world in her book. What would the child Katherine make of the book, asked one audience member? She would definitely disagree with some bits, admitted Katherine! And therein lies Narnia’s, and Lewis’s power. We come at the books and the world of Narnia in multiple different ways as we grow older, as experiences change us and our view of our world. For my children, aspiring to be Harry Potter has coloured and influenced their world view – I’m sure my youngest still expects a letter to arrive from Hogwarts at any moment apologising for the delay in summoning him to school. For my children, being magical like Harry has been something to aspire to, to yearn for throughout their childhoods. For me, growing up with Narnia, it was the very fact that Lucy and her siblings were so utterly normal that made me want to be with them. Magical things happened to them – and so maybe they could happen to me as well. It’s been many years, but I remain hopeful. As Katherine explained, Lewis built on the Platonic view that, if you desire and believe in something enough, it must exist. And with that in mind, I’m off to explore the back of the wardrobe in the attic.

Anita Lawrence

If you missed this event, you can catch up with the video recording here:

More information about the book here.

You can access Katherine Langrish’s website here.

To join the Centre’s mailing list to receive newsletters about our events, activities, and opportunities, please click here.

From Spare Oom to War Drobe: A Journey to Narnia with Katherine Langrish

Join us for a journey to Narnia! In her just-published book From Spare Oom to War Drobe: Travels in Narnia with my Nine-Year-Old Self, celebrated children’s and young adult fantasy author Katherine Langrish has revisited her childhood reading of C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series to explore what enchanted her in the books as a young reader, and ask whether they still have the power to do so. Hand in hand with her nine year-old self, Katherine traces many paths through Lewis’s thick forest of allusions not only to Christianity, but to Plato, fairy tales, myths, legends, medieval romances, renaissance poetry and indeed to other children’s books. She juxtaposes two very different ways of reading the Narnia stories: the adult, informed, rational way and the passionate childish way.

Join Katherine and the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic co-directors Dr Robert Maslen and Dr Dimitra Fimi, on Thursday 17th June at 5pm BST via Zoom webinar. Rob and Dimitra will interview Katherine about the book and all things Narnia, before giving attendees the opportunity to participate in a Q&A with Katherine.

Click here to book your free ticket via Eventbrite.

More information about the book here.

You can access Katherine Langrish’s website here.

To join the Centre’s mailing list to receive newsletters about our events, activities, and opportunities, please click here.

Tolkien Reading Day – Reading from The Silmarillion

To celebrate this year’s Tolkien Reading Day theme of ‘Hope and Courage’, the Tolkien Society and the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow are excited to release the second of three extracts from Tolkien’s writings. In this extract, which comes from The Silmarillion, Lúthien dares to enchant Morgoth himself. Accompanying the extract are a collection of readings in a diverse range of languages that have been lovingly created by members of the Society and Centre.

We are grateful to the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins for permission to share this extract and videos. The videos will remain live until just after the end of Tolkien Reading Day (25th March 2021). We are also immensely grateful to our amazing volunteers: Tolkien Society members, as well as students and staff from the Centre, who took the time to record our chosen extracts in French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese! Keep an eye on this blog for the extract from The Lord of the Rings tomorrow (Wednesday 24th), and you can also check yesterday’s extract and readings from The Hobbit here.

On Tolkien Reading Day itself (Thursday 25th March), don’t forget to join us and our special guests for one of our three live webinars, to share your own reading from Tolkien and discuss how his work inspires hope and courage! Here are the links to book:

Register for the Morning Session 

Register for the Midday Session 

Register for the Evening Session 

Meanwhile, the Society and the Centre will be posting about this extract on their social media profiles and you can join in by visiting the Society’s on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, or the Centre’s FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, and share your reactions to the extracts using the hashtag #TolkienReadingDay2021.

The Silmarillion ‘Hope and Courage’ Extract and Readings

Download and read the extract from The Silmarillion here:

Silmarillion Extract (Word document)

Silmarillion Extract (PDF document)

[These extracts are no longer available to download because the permission from the Tolkien Estate has now expired]

Below are the readings that you can watch and listen to at your own pleasure.

[These video recordings are no longer available to watch because the permission from the Tolkien Estate has now expired]

Tolkien Reading Day – Reading from The Hobbit

To celebrate this year’s Tolkien Reading Day theme of ‘Hope and Courage’, the Tolkien Society and the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow are excited to release the first of three extracts from Tolkien’s writings. This extract comes from The Hobbit and follows Bilbo Baggins as he musters his courage to enter Smaug’s lair alone. Accompanying the extract are a collection of readings in a diverse range of languages that have been lovingly created by members of the Society and Centre.

We are grateful to the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins for permission to share this extract and videos. The videos will remain live until just after the end of Tolkien Reading Day (25th March 2021). We are also immensely grateful to our amazing volunteers: Tolkien Society members, as well as students and staff from the Centre, who took the time to record our chosen extracts in French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese! Keep an eye on this blog for extracts from The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings tomorrow (Tuesday 23rd) and the day after (Wednesday 24th).

On Tolkien Reading Day itself (25th March), don’t forget to join us and our special guests for one of our three live webinars, to share your own reading from Tolkien and discuss how his work inspires hope and courage! Here are the links to book:

Register for the Morning Session 

Register for the Midday Session 

Register for the Evening Session 

Meanwhile, the Society and the Centre will be posting about this extract on their social media profiles and you can join in by visiting the Society’s on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, or the Centre’s FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, and share your reactions to the extracts using the hashtag #TolkienReadingDay2021.

The Hobbit ‘Hope and Courage’ Extract and Readings

Download and read the extract from The Hobbit here:

Hobbit Extract (Word document)

Hobbit Extract (PDF document)

[These extracts are no longer available to download because the permission from the Tolkien Estate has now expired]

Below are the readings that you can watch and listen to at your own pleasure.

[These video recordings are no longer available to watch because the permission from the Tolkien Estate has now expired]

Tolkien Reading Day 2021 – Guest Speakers

We have enjoyed working with the Tolkien Society to co-host this year’s Tolkien Reading Day on 25th March 2021. Many thanks to everyone who has been engaging with our joint interactive social media campaign, and have been responding to the weekly prompts. If you want to catch up with all the action so far, search for hashtag #TolkienReadingDay2021.

As the actual day itself draws near, we’re proud to announce guest speakers for each of our live events on the 25th of March:

Scholar in Residence

Dr Dimitra Fimi, co-director of the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, author of Tolkien, Race, and Cultural History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), co-editor of A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages, and twice winner of Tolkien Society awards for her work on Tolkien, will participate in all three events as Scholar in Residence. She is looking forward to interacting with everyone and celebrating Tolkien’s work!

Morning Meeting (book your place here)

We will be joined by Dr Anna Vaninskaya (University of Edinburgh), author of Fantasies of Time and Death: Dunsany, Eddison, Tolkien (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020); and Marcel Aubron-Bülles, independent scholar and author of The Tolkienist blog.

Afternoon Meeting (book your place here)

We look forward to welcoming Dr Kristine Larsen (Central Connecticut University), who has written extensively about astronomy and science in Tolkien’s works; and James Tauber, who runs the Digital Tolkien Project.

Evening Meeting (book your place here)

In our last meeting of the day we will host Dr Andrew Higgins, co-editor of the extended edition of Tolkien’s A Secret Vice, and an expert on Tolkien’s invented languages; and Dr Una McCormack, New York Times bestselling author, broadcaster, academic.

Join us on the 25th of March and share your own favourite parts of Tolkien’s rich and multi-layered work and world! Here are the links to book again:

Register for the Morning Session 

Register for the Midday Session 

Register for the Evening Session 

Also, keep an eye on our blog – next week we will be releasing videos of Tolkien fans and scholars reading selected extracts that showcase hope and courage in Tolkien’s works in many different languages!