Monday, October 31, 2011
Friday, October 28, 2011
In partial response to Mike’s most recent post, I find the underlying question of familial relationships, especially the relationship between a character and their parents, and the role of those types of relationships in urban fantasy very interesting. I definitely think that these relationships often (though not always) play an emphasized role in urban fantasy. As Mike points out, both Pete from Street Magic and Rachel from Dead Witch Walking attempt to forge an identity while often referring back to their relationship with their father. We will definitely see this in Magic Bites, and I think it is almost a (sub)genre-wide trend. While I definitely connect the correlation between identity discovery and parental relationships to identity discovery (or perhaps, re-discovery) and “the city,” I wonder if the father plays an especially unique role (over that of the mother) as a result of “the city.” Thoughts?
Also, as a side note, I came across this article, “Should Vampires Sparkle? A brief look at the history of vampires in literature.” It is a short article about the evolution of the vampire in literature that reminded me of Wei’s post not too long ago.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
The following passage is an excerpt from an article I am working on at the moment. The article relates to George Orwell's 1984 which I see as reaffirming the place of the Child in literature and society (a reaction to the isolation and familial death that is common to Modernist fiction).
Much of Victorian fiction relies on the introduction and development of the orphan—this statement is not meant to over stereotype or diminish the scope of Victorian fiction, but rather, it reflects on a common plot theme and choice of protagonist—Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Great Expectations and George Eliot’s Middlemarch are examples of this tradition. The opening to Dickens’ Great Expectations sets the stage for the further development of the novel around the Child: “I give Pirrip as my father’s family name, on the authority of his tombstone and my sister—Mrs Joey Gargery, who married the blacksmith. As I never saw my father or my mother, and never saw any likeness of either of them . . . my first fancies regarding what they were like, were unreasonably derived from their tombstones” (Dickens 35). Through this passage Dickens establishes the scenario whereby the development of the novel and, by extension, the development of society and the nation depends on the rearing of Pip. Dickens first connects Pip to his parents through naming and imaginary exploration. Pip is then provided a home, care and a benefactor, Magwitch, who calls himself “[his] second father” (337), which will allow him to grow and develop.
In this manner, Dickens establishes a template for English society. Pip is simultaneously no one’s child and every child. His childish mispronunciation of his last name is both an effort to stake claim to a familial line as it is a means of forging an individual identity. Dickens’ use of Pip as a main protagonist serves as a means to evoke sympathy in his audience such that his social advice is more easily accepted. Pip’s story becomes an affirmation of what a responsible society can do to ensure the future of the nation state, for Britain was plagued by “thousands of orphans and other unparented children [who] existed on the fringes of society, where they were at once more pathetic and more of a threat to social stability than children in even the poorest of families” (Banerjee). Great Expectations, borrowing from Banerjee’s formulation, functions as a conservative political piece, in which “guiding them [the Child] safely into the social fold was a brilliant way to reaffirm Christian, family and national values.” Thus the implicit value system of Dickens’ novel reaffirms the responsibility and duty inherent in a society with designs toward the future. The future is placed in the hands of the Child. Those that attempt to thwart the Child—Miss Havisham’s desire to separate Pip from Estella and therefore the biological implications of their union—threaten the stability of future meaning. Dickens craftily demonstrates what should become of those that interfere with the Child when Miss Havisham sorrowfully atones for her actions, and in doing so he cautiously warns others who choose to similarly interfere.
The orphan theme in urban fantasy appears to both follow, extend, and subvert the aesthetic that pervades Victorian and Orwellian fiction. We see Richard interested in destroying signification by reentering London Below; both Rachel and Pete possess a desire to forge an identity that is simultaneously drawn through a social lens that compares these figures to their fathers. Should we read urban fantasy as hodge-podge, willing to cull from literary archetypes all the while bending these types to make statements about the nature of identity and futurity? Are the removal of parents and society from working as a parent conditions that are in turn desirable within the scope of these works? Or are these works, in showing what happens to the orphan, expressing a more conservative value system?
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Rather than a definition for Urban Fantasy, I’ve been thinking about a different term which, though it may broaden the criteria, would help encapsulate all of the odds and ends that exist between books like Neverwhere and The Devil You Know, and even City of
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Someone like Cthulhu.
Many complaints have been put forth at the idea of a love story with a Lovecraftian monster. Overall, I've found they boil into three primary objections to the character:
(1) It is a being of immeasurable malevolence: feared intrinsically at the level of the human subconscious, the subject of worship to cults across the globe, and operating on a cosmic scale by which human works are ultimately insignificant.
(2) It is trapped at the bottom of the ocean.
(3) It has tentacles for a face.
Points 2 and 3 are hard to view as anything but an attempt to dodge addressing the proposal in any serious capacity. 2 is merely a matter of location--it isn't an obstacle so much as the opening for a plot device. True love has survived a long drop into the sea before. (SEE: Titanic.) By comparison, 3 is even more easily dealt with. If a love interest can't grow to look past a little thing like physical appearance--well, there's always manifestation via an attractive human vessel. This has its precedents in urban fantasy as well. ("The Demon's Surrender" and "The Devil Inside", though by different authors, are both popular urban fantasy novels featuring love interests who have taken spiritual possession of bodies not their own and successfully engage in emotional connections nonetheless.) It even presents the opportunity to discuss another reigning theme in urban fantasy as well as paranormal romance--one's presentation versus one's true nature.
Of course, there is the natural concern that, by entangling Cthulhu in a romance, one would go against the central theme in Lovecraft's work, which is generally interpreted as one of cosmic indifference to humanity and encompassing a mystery beyond mortal knowledge. But this in itself isn't far from a central theme in urban fantasy: that the world is greater and its dangers sharper than mundane life might suggest. The idea that eldritch beings are waging war beyond human sensing would hardly be a new theme in the genre. Slotting in an existentialist philosophy to fit this perspective seems even less out of the question.
Humanising Cthulhu is understandably more difficult to swallow, particularly for older fans. Much of the impact of its character, after all, exists in its ability to provoke fear. It's worth noting, however, that urban fantasy has a long-term ongoing cycle for the reclaimation and redemption of monsters, ranging--as seen in the introductory lists--from half-human monsters to divine ones. With darkness gradually coming to steep the genre--courtesy in part of mainstream publishing's constant desire to up the stakes--Ctlhulhu as a significant figure with a built-in fanbase must stand very much in line as a possibility for consideration regardless of its origins. Its nature is scarcely any more a deterrent--much of its malevolence reflects on its incomprehensibility rather than directed malice. Unlike vampires, Cthulhu doesn't possess the tension of regarding humans as actual prey. Frankly, it comes down to a very simple logical process. If it has desires and intellect, it has a mind. If it has a mind, it has a personality. If it has a personality, it may be understood--and loved, however slender its chance. Isn't that gamble the pinnacle of romance?
Let nothing stand in the way of true love. It's what the genre conventions would want, after all.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
I went there to work, and (no surprise) I found a lot of urban fantasy there.
I think it's amazing how urban fantasy has slowly taken over these conventions, because i've been going to popular culture conventions since i was 9 years old. It used to be strictly comics, a little anime, maybe a dash of movies...urban fantasy and it's authors only started getting presence in the last 5 years or so, and all of a sudden i can't get away from it!
Authors, premieres, movies, toys...you name it, an urban fantasy series is probably involved now. Neil Gaiman has a huge presence at these conventions, if not in person then by his novels.
To bring my family's publishing company into this...Hermes Press is publishing an "urban fantasy" (and i stretch it to fit that) series of comics based on the TV show Dark Shadows. We spent so much effort promoting this over our other titles, and it's an example of how urban fantasy has permeated the convention world.
Kim Harrison was there, so that ties into our class...Signing her newest book. The crowd for that was huge. Same for Patricia Briggs, Gaiman, and basically any novelist in the vampire/werewolf/urban fantasy genre.
For further information on my opinion of the NYCC, check out my article in The Observer's on the con that will be out this Friday!
This runs exactly at odds with urban fantasy's usual core theme: our secret world brings all the champions to the yard, and damn right, it's better than yours.
We saw it with Richard, who at the end of his journey returned to his own world only to walk through a door to Elsewhere. We've seen it with Rachel "More Magic Is Okay Magic As Long As I Pay It All Back Eventually, Right, Guys? ... Guys...?" Morgan. In a lot of ways, the offer the fantasy world makes is a pretty convincing one. It can provide intrigue, novelty, danger cloaked in beautiful guises. More often than not, the protagonist is needed there--special in ways that they, perhaps, aren't in their own lives. It's a gorgeous temptation. No surprise that protagonist after protagonist sinks deeper into the magic until they eventually find their lives populated with elves and werewolves and not a single human or brick house in sight. It's an understandable answer to a temptation no small chunk of the population would probably jump if they had the chance.
But a better question is: why must they choose at all?
In regular fantasies, the answer would be pretty obvious: nobody can live with one foot in Narnia and one foot in the real world. (They have names for people trapped in closets. Possibly medical terms, too.) But we're talking about urban fantasy. The point of the genre is the mingling of worlds--the blurring of the real with the fantastic. So why not invite the adults into Narnia? They're halfway there as it is. Why does the secret world have to stay secret?
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
This is in all capital letters because of how i formatted it in Word. Sorry.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Squirrels: messengers? Conspiracy? Akin to the rats of Neverwhere? That seems a little cliché... SPIES: they’re spies for someone. Yeah. An EVIL someone.
- Underground tunnels
- The medical block
- Humans vs. Zombies
“What started out as just a game...”
- The windmill?
Geography: the Campus, plus an underground tunnel system and the rooftops
Mythos: zombies (the brainless, cannibalistic kind, I think), with an HvZ twist (you can actually kill them with nerf guns, à la Bad Monkeys)
History: This has never happened before... but why now? Maybe something to do with Halloween? Experiments in the medical buildings! Frankenstein-esque experiments.
Toxin’s in the food, perhaps? Leutner food is where the virus originated, perhaps, in some bad meat. Or a recycled dessert (those things are so sad once you see them for what they are...)
This seems a little more sci fi than fantasy...
Maybe one of the English professors is actually a vampire.
Or a demon.
A squirrel-controlling demon.
Maybe a prof is getting revenge on slackers in intro classes...
Random idea: magical crosswords in the Observer! Maybe a clue or secret message is passed through the Observer.
The Spartan/Denny’s is actually a portal to Hell (à la Reaper)
Zombie hunters and vampire hunters join forces?
The statues are actually magical relics, and their energy can be channeled.
All right, that's all for now. Not very cohesive, but whatever.
I know it's not really urban fantasy like the other things we've read, but it does techincally take place in an urban environment, and there are elements of the fantastic (well, or something... not normal). And now I'm convinced that it is an urban fantasy, but just a liminal fantasy, unlike the intrusion and immerseive fantasies we've read thus far. Liminal meaning that the fantastic isn't really explored. It's present, but it's not a central part of the story, nor is it questioned by the characters. It's really difficult to explain, actually.
"When the fantastic appears, it should be intrusive, disruptive of expectation, but instead while the events themselves might be noteworthy and they may cause chaos, their magical origins barely raise an eyebrow. We are disoriented. The enclosed nature of the immersive fantasy is absent: the hints and cues are missing, but as in immersive fantasy, the protagonist demonstrates no surprise." - Mendelsohn
This very accurately describes Scott Pilgrim, I think. I mean, the evil exes are never questioned (or at least, the fact that Scott has to fight them isn't really), nor is the fact that they explode into change when they die, or the subspace highway through Scott's dreams. These things just happen, are unexplained, throw you off, and then we move on. As Mendelsohn says, it's probably the weirdest, most difficult kind of fantasy to pull off.
As far as it being urban fantasy or not, the book takes a really different kind of fantasy, which I could generically describe as arcade-game style fantasy. Which we probably don't think of as a fantasy, but what else could it be? Science fiction? I think not.
This kind of fantasy actually really reminds me of Bad Monkeys, by Matt Ruff, which is like a... I don't even know. A fantasy that takes mundane things and makes them fantastic: toy guns that can stun or kill people, hallucinogenic drugs that give you superpowers, payphones that you use to communicate with secret organizations. That particular book isn't liminal fantasy, but it is this weird ultra-modern fantasy. Some people would just call it sci fi, but they lack the kind of scientific explanation that scifi has. Or really any kind of scientific inventions or anything.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Scott Pilgrim, it's really difficult to describe. I would suggest just going out and reading it, because a) you'll actually understand, and b) it's SUCH a great work, and really novel and groundbreaking in so many ways. Seriously, I could write a book about it. READ IT.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
A fantasy where there is some sort of “urban mentality” (i.e., there is some kind of community with an inward drawing force, a central hub that draws lots of attention), with creatures or elements drawn from folklore and mythology that we have some familiarity with, and most importantly a combination of the fantastic and the mundane. Generally urban fantasy makes the fantastic mundane, although in some cases the mundane is made fantastic.
But really, I think it would be completely legitimate to call something an urban fantasy even if it took place in a completely different world. As long as it was recognizable as this "urban mentality", then we can accept it as urban fantasy. I mean, Blade Runner is on an Earth so distorted and different that I wouldn't consider it "modern" or "contemporary" or a "real city", but if it had had fantastic elements instead of sci fi, I would consider that an urban fantasy.
So yeah, I think it's just important that the fantasy have that kind of mindset. Of course defining the "mindset" is much more difficult than defining a "real city". But I think that Mendelsohn starts to get the idea, with her description of it being a kind of "inward force". I think someone in discussion also was right in saying it has to do with advanced society (technology is one such manifestation, but I think that any kind of advanced tools/problem solving), and some kind of internal system of rules or hierarchy that only exists inside the city-like area (whether it's The Hollows, the mining town, or The Market).
Friday, October 14, 2011
The humans of course have to save the day somehow, but I haven't thought of how to do that just yet. Maybe the thugs who live just outside of campus will turn out to be the heroes. who knows.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Urban fantasies are modern myths or a re-presentation of myths and or monsters taking place in an urban setting that elicits a specific effect as a result of taking place in an urban setting, and which (intentionally or unintentionally) uses the fantastic to inform the reader of some underlying moral, social, political, or cultural issue(s).
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
During class on Friday, we were discussing the differences between Dead Witch Walking and The Devil You Know regarding each book’s population of “fantastic” creatures. I will admit that when I began reading Dead Witch Walking, the sheer number of different species, from witches to leprechauns to pixies and so forth was a little overwhelming. Within the first few pages all of these different creature types are thrown at the reader and I found myself seriously hesitating to emerge myself in the story and world that
After reading the last post by Wei, I was really interested in this "evolution" of monters and their "purpose" in fiction. This brought me back to a reading I had last semester about the origins and role of monsters in myth.
"Myths and monsters have been interspliced since the earliest extant poetry from Sumer: the one often features the other. The word 'myth', from the Greek, means a form of speech, while the word 'monster' is derived, in the opinion of one Latin grammarian, from monstrum, via moneo, and encloses the notions of advising, of reminding, above all of warning. But moneo, in the word monstrum has come under the influence of Latin monstrare, to show, and the combination neatly characterises the form of speech myth often takes: a myth shows something, it's a story spoken to a purpose, it issues a warning, it gives an account which advises and tells often by bringing into play showing of fantastical shape and invention - monsters. Myths define enemies and aliens and in conjuring them up they say who we are and what we want, they tell stories to impose structure and order. Like fiction, they can tell the truth even while they're making it all up." (Warner, Six Myths of Our Time 1995).
I really enjoy this type of analysis of monsters, and I think it's a shame that it is not applied as often to contemporary fantastic fiction. Why is it that while we place such importance and value to the myths and monsters of ancient cultures, we constantly undervalue the relevance of modern monsters and myth? As Warner also comments, "we're living in a new age of faith of sorts, of myth-making, of monsters, of chimaeras. And these chimaeras define human identity." Leaving aside the note about human identity for now, I think it is certainly evident that the popularity of monsters in pop-culture is unlike anything that we've seen before (at least in any of our lifetimes). And yet, modern myth-making is often abject, sentenced to live on the shelves of the "Young Adult" or "Romance" sections in bookstores. Why?
I think urban fantasy and other fantasy genres have much to show us, to advise us, and many things to warn us of. I do not necessarily believe that modern monters have lost the essence that has made them horrific. In the Twilight series, for example, though they do shine, I would say that James (I think that is his name), and his girlfriend (don't remember her name), were pretty scary. Why is it, despite the paranormal romance aspects of the series, so many readers (even those most cognizant of the lessons of fantasy and their monsters), do we dismiss books like these? Even now, I feel the need to share that none of the Twilight series books makes my top-anything favorites.
More relevant to the current reading, something I really appreciate about Dead Witch Walking is that it seems much more "mythological" than novels like Neverwhere, and allows the monsters to show and advise the reader of our modern mythological lessons.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
About thirty years ago, vampires confessed to their misdeeds, their intentions and their un-lives. We called them tragic.
Twice-three years ago (why not keep the pattern of citation?), they threw off their tragic cloaks and started to sparkle.
Apparently that's sexy these days.
Let's set down a baseline: urban fantasy and paranormal romance aren't the same genre. There's the occasional overlap--sometimes a protagonist needs to make out with a monster to make their quota on emotional conflict, okay?--but the emphasis to each story is different. Urban fantasy is, at its heart, about the city transformed: whether subtly--in alleyways and shadowed corners--or outright, with wolves stalking daylight. Sometimes people fall in love in its course, but love isn't the point. Meanwhile, paranormal romance may incorporate the same elements, but ultimately the story isn't about the setting. The magical city backdrop is only a backdrop for the protagonists to stand on as they consider if and how much they do love each other. And sometimes they shoot monsters while they do it--but that isn't the point either.
So what is the point? Why--the monsters, of course. (We'll use monsters as a general term for all the scary beings who frequent a supernatural story.) It takes a very specific kind of narrative to lure a protagonist into love with his/her worst fear, and paranormal romance usually isn't it. The spotlight in the genre isn't on the twisted workings of the main character's mind and the horror of how they could possibly fall for such a creature. It's on the inherent tragedy of the (often outcast) 'monster' who can only be restored to some modicum of self-worth through love. Sometimes they want it, sometimes they don't, and to be fair, love-as-panacea is a cornerstone of the romance genre anyway. You could make the argument that paranormal romance isn't much worse than the rest when they use it.
Except the key to monsterhood is fear. That makes all the difference.
Take vampires again, for example. (They're probably used to it by now.) They were horrifying, long ago--and they still ought to be horrifying in concept. These are creatures whose (pardon the vitalist phrasing) life-goal is to stab their sharp, hollow teeth into your arteries and drain your blood in order to preserve and animate their corpses. They stalk the dark; they prefer the helpless. That is not reassuring in any way. But paranormal romance's approach isn't to stake the suckers; it's to date them and show them that they're deserving of true joy. Past crimes are often elided entirely in favor of, "well, you've changed--you're different now."
While that's certainly horrifying in a different way, and while we can argue all sorts of things about the point of a monster who engenders no fear--well, you can't really call those real monsters, can you? Not anymore. They're just your typical bad boy with bigger teeth. And so, most of the time, paranormal romance is just regular romance with slightly flashier effects.
The monsters aren't real there. They haven't been in a while.