To say that I was less than impressed with Armitt’s text would probably be an understatement. I think she tried to do too much with not nearly enough space and came out severely lacking in both depth and context. Her desire to drag as many forms of literature into the genre of fantasy felt rushed and uninspired and she seemed to enjoy tweaking traditional definitions of other forms of literature, rather than eliminating them from her book and working with understood and accepted fantasy novels. My own knowledge of fantasy literature was limited before opening this text and, rather than having that knowledge enhanced, I’m left feeling both confused and disappointed.
I’m speaking primarily of her flaky examination of magic realism as merely having a “fascination for ghosts” (174).and her lack of insight in either its history or relevance. Speaking from a (learning) writer’s perspective whose spent a lot of time reading magical realism I can say that, while there are ghost stories that fall within the label, by no means are they in the majority. By providing such a cloudy example it places her own validity as a researcher under question. She should have devoted more time to back up her claim or dropped it entirely from her text. What does the reader gain from her analysis other than a confused and vague (mis)understanding of a topic that, if he had no other background of the subject, would probably take a face value without even thinking to question?
Yes there are elements of the fantastic within magical realism—of course there are—however I don’t think I would ever call it fantasy, or even try to squeeze it into that genre. The magic realist story is usually written from a realistic approach with a tweak of the fantastic that should disrupt the world subtly. Any more than that and it is no longer magic realism. There have been stories about ghosts within magic realism but certainly that can’t be all there is to it, and regardless of where it got its start, Armitt should have examined what it’s doing today. I wonder how much she actually read before setting down such a lukewarm template.
Does Armitt need to be an expert on every topic related to fantastic fiction? No, but she should be informed on the elements of the genre that she is exploring. Her biggest failure is trying to do too much with too little. Her goal in this book seems to entail a huge reworking of the genre itself by legitimizing it—trying to make people see that there’s more to fantasy than meets the eye which is great, but what we’re given is a sloppily concocted mishmash of misinformation that points more to her own flaws as a researcher than to her perceived flaws of the topic she is writing on. Rather than attempting to rework fantasy from the ground up by eliminating the majority of actual fantasy writers, she should have tried providing insight into what is already considered fantasy. There are hundreds of things she could have chosen to examine, but she limits herself almost entirely to Tolkein and Rowling and other, murkier examples that shouldn’t have even been mentioned, such as magical realism.