POSTED BY MATT STAGGS
I’d like to direct your attention to a very active conversation that is currently going on over at my blog regarding the “essentials” of literary fantasy. I’ve asked my readers to recommend five titles that come to mind when they think of the term literary fantasy, and so far the response has been outstanding in both sheer volume and diversity. Most interesting is the side-conversation that has developed about the nature of fantasy and whether both authorial intent and the social context of the work should be deciding factors in genre classification. Here are some excerpts thus so far:
For me the definition of big-ell Literary Fantasy comes to this: while solidly-written Fantasy has the capacity to *move* me, Literary Fantasy has the capacity to *change* me.
Itâ€™s really not about conventions, or world-building, or even the tendency of some literary works to require a thesaurus be kept close at hand (Gene Wolfe. New Sun. Oh! the words!) Instead, by one means or another these books, these authors, have stuffed my head with Big Ideas. Through their words and their worlds they have changed my perspective, and fundamentally altered how I look at my *own* world.
This has been a question popping up all over blogs recently (OF Blog of the Fallen recently posted a poll concerning â€˜whenâ€™ fantasy literature should be dated back to).
The notion, I think, neglects issues of intention, orientation, and meaning as the time frame expands beyond recent centuries and beyond certain geographical boundaries. Gilgamesh, Paradise Lost, The Dvine Comedy, all seem to orient themselves differently than later, â€˜modernâ€™ fantastic literature. Certainly, it is easy for many to dismiss the religious, ontological and epistemic meanings in such writings as only fantastical, as a disease of language (as the grandfather of religious studies, F. Max Mueller defined myth) but this too me seems unfair. The Lord of the Rings and the Consolation of Philosophy differ along the same lines: Tolkien wrote for intellectual gratification, and he is read for entertainment (by most), while The Consolation, Beowulf, etc, yes may have indeed been entertainments, popular, and the like, but that does not negate their inherently religious, mythological quality, which places them in, I think, a category distinct from fantastic literature.