Speculating Fantasy

Speculating FantasyBy Derek Newman-Stille
Fantasy fiction is frequently viewed as an escapist form of fiction, one whose sole purpose is to provide a retreat from reality. Even people who advocate for the importance of fantasy tend to treat it as being important solely for its ability to provide an escape from reality. However, fantasy, like any genre fiction, is produced and created through the social lens of the author who writes it. Authors draw on the events, anxieties, uncertainties, ideas, developments, and issues of the world that they belong to when writing fantasy, converting these contemporary thoughts into symbolic form and writing them onto the canvas of a different world. 
Fantasy is unselfcritically defined in opposition to realism, not seeking to pretend to be based on the real world and therefore it has leeway for addressing issues that are “too real” for realist fiction by converting them into symbolic media, transforming them from issues into ideas. By defining itself as “untruth” – as fantasy – the genre does not lay claim to any single truth or single interpretation, but, instead presents a series of dream-like images. Dreams have symbolic power and blend images together in a way that requires the mind to be actively involved in translating them. 
Fantasy provides a lens for us to examine our own world in abstraction, slightly removed from reality. It is as much a journey as it is a genre, pulling the reader between the pages with an intensity that makes him/her come back to the everyday with a form of culture shock, suddenly viewing the “normal” anew and asking questions about the taken-for-granted qualities of the “real” world. 
In saying that fantasy has the power of reflection (though a distorted mirror) embedded into itself, I am not suggesting that fantasy is without problems. The genre has been based on extreme ethnocentrism, colonial ideologies, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and ableism. But, fantasy still contains that seed of change, that embedded potential that allows for engagement with mythic themes, fairy tale ideas, and the power of imaginative new possibilities. Fantasy could invite questions about the normative gaze, that socially embedded structure that reifies the world into Us and Them, Self and Other by providing a more distant Other, an Otherworldly set of encounters that invite questions about the Self, about what we consider the easy-to-define norms. 
Fantasy operates through the power of estrangement, inviting readers to accept unfamiliar universal rules (planes where magic exists alongside technology, where orcs and elves and goblins are possible, and where it is possible to confront the monsters that lurk in the shadows) and through this process of exploring the unfamiliar, fantasy has the ability to question the familiar, to invite questions about why we accept certain ‘rules’ as universal and instead open the world up to the question “what could be true?” and “what is possible?” 
We return from the adventure of fantasy with quest items that are really questions, speculations that invite us to wonder at the world we return to like our epic heroes/heroines, who once they return, discover that they have been permanently changed by their experience.

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“Solitude can be a good thing sometimes, when you require quiet time to catch up on your thoughts and sort them, like sugar being sifted through a sieve. There’s a difference between solitude and being lonely though. The first one depicts self-sufficiency as you set out along your own path without company. The other denotes a variety of emotions, all of them bordering on insecurity, pain, unease, perhaps even fear.”

-Lorena Foreman and Carol Weekes – The Lonely Place (Canadian Tales of the Fantastic)

Quote – Solitude Versus Loneliness

A Face of Shifting Leaves

A review of Urban Green Man Edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine (Edge, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Have you ever looked into the woods and seen a face looking back at you made up of branches and leaves? These are the moments that can’t be caught on film but can be evoked through tales, through our own folklore.

Turning the pages of the Urban Green Man collection is like opening a window from a stagnant urban environment into a verdant treescape filled with life, reflection, and the potential for change. These are transformative tales, tales of growth that evoke fertile thoughts and development in the reader as she or he touches these pages that used to be trees themselves. These pages are trees with stories written upon them, inked with potential. Each page sings its papery roots.

Like growing things, like the forest itself, characters in these tales change and reach toward illumination, shifting with new potential. The stories in this collection explore the lighter and darker shades of green, bringing the reader both into the dark places of the forest where fear and danger evoke speculation and to the treetops where flights of fancy free him or her from their bounds. The authors explore the complexity of human interactions with the natural world and the interconnectedness of humanity and our green spaces.

Urban Green Man writes a mythic modernity, a set of tales to help us explore the world around us and our own impact on that world. It is a reminder of the hollowness of human nature without… well, nature. The Green Man’s face is so reminiscent of our own and yet so different, evoking our connection to the world and our simultaneous estrangement from it. His face is uncovered through the leaves of these pages.

To read reviews of some of the short stories in this collection, see:

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/10/19/clear-cut-future/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/rabbi-sherlock-holmes-and-the-case-of-the-excessive-greenery/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/tweets-in-the-woods-that-arent-from-birds/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2013/11/11/post-apocalyptic-green/

To find out more about the Urban Green Man collection, visit their website at http://www.urbangreenman.com/

“When we break up with a lover, watch the death of a loved one, or find ourselves suddenly without a job to pay the mortgage, we seek that lonely place to try to gather our thoughts. It is in such places, where our fears reign paramount; where we speak and pray aloud; where we ask ‘why’ and seek answers, that we discover ourselves. Our strengths, our weaknesses.”

-Lorena Foreman and Carol Weekes – The Lonely Place (Canadian Tales of the Fantastic)

Quote – the Lonely Place to Ask ‘Why’ and Discover Ourselves