Friday, July 8, 2016

Guccifer 2.0 and SF

Fans of everything from Orson Scott Card's Ender series to Ken MacLeod's The Execution Channel to Cory Doctorow's SF should be following the Guccifer 2.0 story, but, as I pointed out last night at a few of my blogs, simple google searches on the subject are yielding weird results.  How is it possible that posts of mine that haven't even received 35 page views in their first 12 hours of existence are showing up higher on standard google searches than any of the many, much more interesting posts on the subject by Studio Dongo?  Just how is it that my completely neglected, always lo-traffic blogs show up at all while his don't show up unless you're explicitly looking for them?

This sounds like an SF scenario, right?  I can understand corporate media being interested in selling only a few narratives about Guccifer 2.0, but I used to be able to count on google to help me find alternatives.  But there's not even any interestingly crazy conspiracy theorizing showing up.  In that vacuum, it's easy for my posts to stand out, I suppose.  But, by that logic, wouldn't anybody else's, too?  If so, why are they so hard to find?

I don't have anything but questions at this point.  Anyone have any answers?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Fredonia's Got Talent!

My students in Fantasy Fiction and Novels and Tales did some amazing work throughout the semester, and particularly at the end.  Unfortunately, most of them chose not to do web authoring projects, so I can't share their work here.  Fortunately, a good number did; here are links to their work:
Please check 'em out while you're waiting for me to finish grading and get back to posting student essays that respond to the questions my students generated at the start of the semester!

[cross-posted at Mostly Harmless and Citizen of Somewhere Else]

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Do Readers Need a History Lesson?

Do Readers Need A History Lesson?
            When we think of fantasy fiction, we usually think of exotically detailed worlds, filled with developed cultures and unique customs. If you’re anything like me, the idea of writing a book in the fantasy genre is overwhelming, not only because of the detail needed to create a world like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, but also in how to present that world to the reader. In reading fantasy novels there are always the books that utilize the first fifty to one hundred pages introducing the world (like Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring), but is that the norm? Is an in-depth introduction even necessary? If we look at Pullman’s The Golden Compass, it would seem that there is more than one way of introducing a world, and not all of them give the reader a flashback to their high school history class.
             “Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen” is Pullman’s first sentence in The Golden Compass, and drops readers right into Lyra’s Oxford, with no clue as to what a daemon is or what this world is like (3). In fact, readers do not learn anything more about daemons until later on in the book; and even then only small bits of information. This seems strange, considering the turmoil in Lyra’s Oxford seems to center upon daemons and children, yet it’s not entirely clear what the daemons are. This could have been risky on Pullman’s part, yet from the very beginning the novel progresses at a swift pace. The reader is submerged in his world, even without it being fully explained. So, how does this work for Pullman?
            First, our protagonist is a young girl who has lived in this world her entire life. Our view of the world is also Lyra’s view of the world. We are only exposed to the things in the world that involve and interact with Lyra. We also understand what she understands, which leads to a very basic knowledge of the religion, government, and customs of this strange Oxford. A great example of this is in the first chapter, where we are introduced to the mysterious Dust. Pullman writes, “ ‘It’s coming down,’ said Lord Asriel, ‘but it isn’t light. It’s Dust.’ Something in the way he said it made Lyra imagine dust with a capital letter, as if this wasn’t ordinary dust. The reaction of the Scholars confirmed her feeling,” is the first exposure to the reason for the kidnapping of poor children (19). There is no further explanation to this Dust until Lyra overhears it, or someone tells her—and by association, us. This method of introducing the world seems authentic, much like how we discovered our own worlds as children. Our eyes and our ears are Lyra and the way she perceives the world, so it fits that we only know what she knows, and only see the world as she does. As Lyra learns we also learn, keeping us on the edge of our seats exploring a fictional universe where parallel worlds exist, and armored polar bears talk.
            A second reason this seems to work for Pullman is that when he drops us into his world it feels fully formed from the beginning. “[Lyra] had lived most of her life in the College, but had never seen the Retiring Room before: only Scholars and their guests were allowed in here, and never females” describes Pullman, introducing us to Jordan College (4). By giving us rules for the use of the Retiring Room, we are left with a sense of history, and an idea that this institution has been around for a long time. It also appears to give us an idea of the way people are viewed in Lyra’s Oxford, with esteemed positions being only for men. Instead of giving readers an entire history of this world, he inserts descriptions that let us know the way this world works. Because of that description from Lyra’s eyes, we can see that this world is patriarchal and bound by tradition (which makes sense, when we realize that their world is ruled by the Magisterium- the church).
            After looking at only three quotes from the text (which are all from the first nineteen pages), we have learned two major aspects of Lyra’s world, daemons and that the world is patriarchal. This seems fairly impressive, considering we did not have to read fifty-plus pages setting up the world we have just stepped into. It seems as though it was not necessary for Pullman to give readers an in-depth introduction into his world, since he needed to also give Lyra the information, as well. It may be that this is only crucial for a work like Pullman’s, where the protagonist needs to learn about their own world in order to grow. If you have read Eragon by Christopher Paolini, the same type of world building is seen in that series. Eragon, the protagonist, creates the world for the reader through his journeys. Even though a map is provided in the beginning of the book, the readers knowledge of the world only expands as Eragon’s knowledge about his world expands.
            Literature of all types pose questions that deal with craft; questions such as, what makes a text work, and what are techniques used to make a world? Concerning the world of fantasy fiction, the question here is if it is necessary to give an in-depth introduction to the created world. Pullman seems to have created a world that the reader does not need to be given a history lesson. And yet there might be a certain type of wisdom that other fantasy writers have internalized: sometimes, it really is necessary to learn to be able to understand a topic fully. Which method of revealing the world to the reader works better? 

                                                  Happy Reading!! -Ashley Weinheimer

                                                            Work Cited

Pullman, Philip. The Golden Compass. New York: Random House Children’s Books, 1995. Print.

“Fantasy” Might Become True through Cultural Awareness

Chikako Takano
ENGL 217
Bruce Simon
Response Essay
2014/10/19, revised 2014/11/06

“Fantasy” Might Become True through Cultural Awareness

So far, I have read many kinds of books and stories. What the most fascinating genre was the books about fantasy. There are huge numbers of “fantasy fiction” stories all over the world. They have attracted many people that the books and stories make readers dream and enable anything to come true. When I look into the world of fantasy literatures, I face to one broad question: how do people categorize specific books into "fantasy fiction"? Where is the entrance of the fantasy world in those kinds of books or stories?

To answer my question, I searched the definition of the word “fantasy” in a dictionary at first. It said that “The faculty or activity of imagining impossible or improbable things.” In other words, the things that happen farther from our real world would be called “fantasy.” Until today, I have read some fantasy novels in the class, and all of them are fiction that no identification with actual persons, places, buildings and products is intended. However, I assume that we still have a small possibility to jump into the world full of “fantasy” in which we would experience uncommon things. In my case, studying and making my living abroad would be called “fantasy” by people in my country because I am doing completely different things from my ordinary life in Japan right now fortunately. Most Japanese might dream of living in foreign countries at least once, and hardly comes true. Here I stand in Fredonia, I cannot talk to people with my first language, and I have to write my essay in foreign language. There are some cultural differences that my common sense raised in my country for a long time rarely makes any sense.

Those of my experiences have some similarities with protagonists in any fantasy fiction novels. Like Alice in Alice in Wonderland, she becomes smaller or bigger body easily and dramatically by eating or drinking. All non-humankinds like animals or flowers are speaking and singing English fluently, and it makes sense even they talking in crazy ways in the wonderland. In the text of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, readers will meet witches, wizards, and many characters that are able to speak though they are not humankinds as well as in the wonderland. Also, considering to the differences of our national characters, Japanese people think it is totally improbable to lose our houses by strong wind although it might be happened when we get a huge earthquake or tsunami. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is also full of weird things that September meets, creatures that we are not able to find in our society like a wyvern or a marid. If I were that girl and asked suddenly to save the fairyland with those kinds of creatures, I would go into fits.

In the first place, every protagonist in the fantasy novel has their ordinary life, but they jump into extraordinary events or worlds all of a sudden. Bilbo in The Hobbit changes his peaceful life into the full of adventure by meeting the wizard and seeking the ring. Four children in the book of Narnia who evacuated from the world war to the countryside find the entrance of the magic world of Narnia. This might be effect reader that how many people did try to find it by exploring their closets or wardrobes. Like them, my life has totally changed once I received the first letter from SUNY Fredonia. It was my key to enter the new world to see and hear unfamiliar things.

Our humankinds have longed to the creation of fairy-tales and Disney movies when we are young. There can be some adults including me still dreaming of it so hard in this society. As well as the protagonists in the fantasy novels, many troubles and trials are waiting for people who are experiencing unordinary things in different environment like me. Nevertheless, they will obtain significant knowledge and dearest companies that they would not able to do it in their ordinary life. Everything depends on your way of thinking; our lives will totally change into fantasy by various occasions. How we reach the ending of our story would depend on how we seek for new things and enjoy our entire lives.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Hobbit: Movie & Book Changes

Michael Limoncelli
Professor Simon
ENGL 217
The Hobbit: Movie & Book Changes
            In class there were multiple questions brought up when discussing our novels, specifically The Hobbit and the changes between the movie and book. As someone who has read the book, and seen both currently released movies, there are some extremely significant changes from the book that severely alter the characters and actions of the movie. While I’m not saying these changes are bad, because they do add more action among other things to the movie, they simply make you question why? Why were these changes made or what caused the filmmakers think such a change was necessary?
            Firstly, there are two major changes that stick out to me very much and their names are Legolas and Tauriel. In the book there is literally no character called Tauriel and similarly Legolas is not a character from The Hobbit either, only The Lord of the Rings. The question as to why these characters were created and used in this movie instead of Tolkien’s original cast can be seen in a few ways. There’s the generic answer that the writers thought it would be cool to include a fan favorite character like Legolas in another movie, or the more factual answer of Peter Jackson stating “He’s [elven king] Thranduil’s son, and Thranduil is one of the characters in ‘The Hobbit,’ and because elves are immortal, it makes sense Legolas would be part of the sequence in the Woodland Realm” (Moore) and from a logical standpoint that makes absolute sense.
            While Peter Jackson stated his reasoning, I still have my opinion that since there is a major lack of empowered female characters in Tolkien’s writings, let alone The Hobbit, they felt the need to add a strong female character into the mix. Just like most Hollywood movies though, if there’s a female character, there must be a love interest or conflict somewhere in the story. This can be seen with the character Kili who’s the love interest of Tauriel as she hunts him down to save and or see him again in the movie, which turns out saved Kili’s life from his injury; Kili’s injury was also not in the book. Now with Legolas being a fan favorite and the inclusion of Tauriel, there of course has to be a love triangle created to add some mild drama and incite motivation for Legolas to go out on an Orc killing rampage while he tracks or assists Tauriel, which is an obvious fan service part of the movie.
            Now there was the statement that changing Tolkien’s story is a disservice to him and was a ploy to make it more action based and increase movie revenue. This is not wrong, the book itself, in my opinion, seemed fairly slow paced and lacked major action sequences and if converted entirely to the big screen as is, it would be lacking in the desired content expected by fans. Hollywood is known for changing movie adaptions to a point that it’s unrecognizable, movies such as Ender’s Game can be an example of this. Given that these changes only amplified the intensity and awesomeness of the entire adventure it can only be seen as an improvement instead of disservice to Tolkien’s works. These changes made the story more epic and modern in a sense. I say modern in the terms of what viewers, readers and fans in general expect from either a movie or book in our contemporary world. This can be seen with Michael Bay movies where things just explode and there’s violence everywhere, viewers love it. Adding a relevant version of that into The Hobbit to draw in more audiences and make it more exciting to watch can only be seen as a positive. The only people that would have an issue with these changes, since they mostly improved the story, are the purist fans that will call it a bastardized version and want nothing but the original content.
            While there were many significant changes to the novel and some minor ones that floated by, they were fairly necessary and improved the overall story of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The characters of Tauriel and Legolas being added in were a necessary plot device to bring more action into the movie, which in my opinion, was done smoothly and flowed nicely into the rest of the story. Overall the changes that the movie made were positive and did not drag the movie down in any sense other than being an unexpected surprise. Peter Jackson did a wonderful job adding some of his own vision into the movie adaption and I couldn’t see it being any other way now.

Works Cited
Moore, Ben. "First Look at Legolas in ‘The Hobbit: There and Back Again’." Screen Rant. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. .

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966. Print.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Response Essay - What is it about magic that is so appealing?

Just as there are many forms and uses of magic, there are many reasons why magic is so appealing to readers of Fantasy Fiction. I believe the main reason that magic is so appealing is because it’s so entertaining, so unlike anything we know as readers. But on a deeper and arguably more important level, magic is so appealing because it is such an exciting and extraordinary allegorical means of tackling real world issues. After a while issues like morality, politics, power, love, art, and other important issues can become dry. By dry I mean that these issues seem to be the same over and over again, and there seems to be only one way to perceive these matters. But through magic readers are able to reconsider and reevaluate these issues through a completely new perspective. And readers can become so caught up in the exciting and extraordinary nature of magic that they might not even realize they’re looking at real world issues. Magic is not just a distraction; it isn’t just a fun element of fiction. Magic helps us as humans reconsider and reevaluate the people we are, the issues we care about, and the world we live in.
            An excellent example of magic’s appeal can be found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. My examples will include one of the best works included in this Fantasy Fiction course—The Hobbit—and will extend the appeal of Tolkien’s magic to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The most important example of magic in Middle-Earth is the Ring, the Ring that Bilbo Baggins acquires in The Hobbit, the same Ring which the Fellowship sets out to destroy in The Lord of the Rings. Initially the Ring seems to be solely a helpful magical artifact. It helps Bilbo escape Gollum, helps him save the dwarves from the spiders in Mirkwood, free the dwarves from the elves, burgle his way into the Lonely Mountain, give the Arkenstone to Bard and the elves in order to minimize the inevitable fighting, survive the Battle of the Five Armies, etc. There seems to be nothing malevolent about the Ring in The Hobbit. In this work, readers definitely perceive the Ring as good magic, its ability to turn the wearer invisible an exciting and extraordinary prospect. There are no hints of the Ring’s malevolence in The Hobbit, except perhaps for Gollum’s twisted nature. However, in The Lord of the Rings, the Ring proves to be an evil object that creates violence, betrayal, and corruption.
            So what does this shift in the Ring’s magic say about larger real world issues? In The Hobbit, the Ring can be an allegory for furthering self-confidence through appropriate use of power. Before acquiring the Ring, Bilbo is really struggling in his journey with Thorin’s company. Thorin and the dwarves make him feel bad about how he’s doing in the journey, and Bilbo also feels bad about himself. He’s certainly lacking in self-confidence, and feeling very out of place in the dangerous journey in the big world so far from the comfort of his home in the Shire. But the Ring, this source of magic, proves to be a turning point for Bilbo. Through the magic of the Ring, Bilbo is able to become a skilled burglar, and a heroic and valuable member of Thorin’s company. He comes to respect himself more, and so do the dwarves. The appeal of magic helps us as readers ponder this shift. Does this shift in Bilbo’s character occur simply because he acquires magic, or is it something more? I believe it’s not just the magic he acquires, but how he uses the magic. Bilbo uses the Ring’s magic appropriately. He only uses it to do what is best, to save himself and the dwarves and help in their quest, or to try and achieve peace. Bilbo’s use of the Ring can therefore be seen through the allegorical lens of furthering self-confidence through appropriate use of power. Magic is almost always power in Fantasy Fiction, and the Ring’s magic is certainly powerful. Bilbo thus acquires power and through appropriate use the power is used for good, for helping himself and helping others. This furthers his self- confidence because he becomes a more valuable and skilled and benevolent individual. And we as readers can learn a lesson about power, that one gains more self-confidence and helps good things happen not by just acquiring power, but by using power wisely once acquired. With the same object of magic we see how unwise and inappropriate use of power can kill, injure, betray, and corrupt, all of which the Ring causes in The Lord of the Rings. Thus, magic entertains and helps us as readers reconsider important issues, particularly the issue of power.
            Another excellent example of how magic’s appeal helps readers reconsider and reevaluate the real world is magic in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. In this classic work the extraordinary nature of magic leads readers to examine the issue of faith and law. When Aslan survives despite being killed upon the Stone Table by the White Witch and her minions, he returns and tells Susan and Lucy the secret of his survival:
Though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward. (Lewis 178-179)
Magic that defies death is certainly intriguing. Aslan’s reasons for why this magic defies death are even more intriguing. In short, the magic that saves Aslan is about the power of sacrifice and faith, and adhering to such laws. The magic Lewis presents makes readers consider the power of faith, the good that can come out of a victim willingly sacrificing his or her self for a greater cause. Furthermore, such faith during sacrifice can allow evil to be triumphed. Through these exciting possibilities depicted in the magic of Narnia, readers can look at faith and sacrifice through a new lens. Readers who scoff at their religious faith may reconsider their feelings toward their faith. I’m not saying reading this will make an atheist or agnostic suddenly believe in God and start attending church or synagogue or any other place of religious worship, but it does make readers reexamine the issue of faith. And it’s not necessarily religious faith; it can help readers reevaluate the value of having faith in anything, even faith in one’s self or other people or certain causes and so forth.
Not only does the magic of Aslan’s resurrection speak to the issue of faith, but it also speaks to laws. Aslan triumphs because he knows the ancient laws of magic and adheres to them. He lives because he knows and manipulates the system. The White Witch thinks she triumphs because she thinks she can cheat the system but it turns out she doesn’t know the system as well as she thinks. Magic can thus be used an allegory for law. To thrive and survive one needs to know the law, adhere to the law, and use the law wisely. If you’re going to manipulate the law, you better know it in and out, and know how to use and manipulate the law effectively.
            Issues like power, self-confidence, faith, sacrifice, and law can seem dry and simple. But the highly entertaining and astonishing nature of magic helps us as readers willingly think of these issues, and think of them in new ways. Power and self-confidence are more intrinsically fascinating and appealing to analyze through the Ring. In the same way faith, sacrifice, and law are more intrinsically fascinating and appealing to analyze through the magic behind Aslan’s resurrection. These are just a few of countless examples in which magic helps us better understand and assess the real world. And by offering new perspectives and by triggering critical thinking about such important issues, magic does not draw readers further from the real world as many argue magic and Fantasy Fiction do. Magic helps readers live in and better understand the real world.
Works Cited

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. New York: Harper Collins, 1950. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fantasy Fiction: Are you willing to believe?

A Willing Suspension of Disbelief- 
 Are you willing to believe?

Many of the questions posted to the class Fantasy Fiction blog talk about differences between the “real” world and the fantasy worlds. Some of these questions include:

“Do the best works of fantasy need their own universes or can great works take place in the world we know?” 

This then brings us to ask the questions of whether these fantasy worlds are “just literary devices, or whether they are intended to be believed as truth”.
Then we must ask if these works of fantasy should even be “read and analyzed for their symbolism and literary devices”.

If one decides to read works of fantasy fiction and apply lenses, devices, symbolism and analogies to them one must then as if these works should be read with the fantasy worlds as a “commentary on the real world”, and if the time period and culture in which the author wrote these stories in needs to be taken into account.

The answers to these questions are going to rely on individual and very personal readings of each text. Who are we as readers to decide what is real or what the author’s intentions were? One of the greatest aspects of fantasy fiction to many readers is the ability to escape from the “real” world and travel into the fantasy world. What is important to notice however is that this escapism doesn’t make the fantasy worlds any less "real" than the real world. What does matter is that there is a base of a real world from which to escape from

In Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making September leaves the very real land of Omaha and enters Fairyland without even a glance back at first. In the many Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling Harry must return to the “Muggle” (real) world every year. In C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia the very entrance to Narnia is through a wardrobe in a house that is in the real world. Whether or not the worlds of Fairyland, Narnia or Hogwarts are real the adventures within them and the stories they create would not exist without a real world to escape from and come back to. One cannot always decide whether or not these fantasy worlds are to be taken as truth, but it is certain that the real world is what allows them to exist. 

As for reading works of fantasy to draw parallels and make connections to the real world that is very subjective, but no matter what one chooses to believe, the fantasy world does not need to be taken as truth or even be taken as a work to make commentary on the real world in order to have meaning. The witches in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making point out strong lessons in the world that are neither symbolic nor allusive, but are merely just true, no matter what world one applies them to. The witches inform September that “The future is a messy, motley business” and that they “have to dress well, or the future will not take us seriously” (Valente 31). This is true whether or not one chooses to believe in fantasy worlds.

As for the time period and direct correlations between the real worlds and the fantasy worlds, that decision is left more to the reader. It does not matter if the author intended any of these novels to draw parallels between the wars during which they were written. What matters is whether or not the reader is going to dive into the stories with a willing suspension of disbelief. 

For readers who read to escape, the answer is simple. I’m going to cross through the wardrobe into Narnia to hang out with my animal friends and do good for the world, and I still believe that my mother intercepted my owl and burned my acceptance letter from Hogwarts. Fantasy fiction reading isn’t so much about whether these fantasy worlds actually exist or whether or not they are supposed to represent the real world. Fantasy fiction depends on whether or not you are willing to believe.

Works Cited
Lewis, C. S. The Chronicals of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Hollywood, CA: Walt Disney Studios and Walden Media, 2006. Print.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone Harry Potter. NY: Listening Library, 1999. Print.
Valente, Catherynne M. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2011. Print.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Questions about A Wizard of Earthsea, Fall 2014

More questions from my ENGL 217 students, this time on Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea!


  • Why so much emphasis on all the names (of people and places) in the book?  Do they have importance later on?
  • How powerful is the concept of a true name?  What are its limits in shaping the lives of the characters?
  • What is a deciding factor in who is magical and who is not?
  • Why do wizards always learn in secret?
  • By adding a number of different wizard-like figures in the novel, does the magic of Earthsea become more structured--or more chaotic and complex?
  • Why is Earthsea made to be so complicated that we as readers cannot define most of the concepts/map out the world ourselves?
  • As an introduction to a long series does A Wizard of Earthsea do the world justice?

  • Gender and differing magic roles?  Evil magic=female?  Lack of female magicians and powerful females in general throughout multiple series?
  • Why do characters' names have to be changed, and why can't they tell anybody their real name?  What is the significance?
  • I felt that the writing style/plot of this novel was too obvious (at least so far).  The "fork in the road" moments are almost cut and dry decisions.  When Ged chooses to go to school, it was almost too easy to guess where he was going to end up.  Is this supposed to be a commentary on how hindsight is 20/20 or is it just poorly written?
  • What would books be without a main conflict?
  • Why did the author decide to have only men be wizards?
  • Is the sexism presented purposely done as a foreshadowing or is it just sexism?
  • Do you think getting feminist attention was part of Le Guin's intention?
  • Vetch is described as dark-skinned, gluttonous, and sort of a comic relief.  This novel was written around the '60s; it was very common in this time for black characters in books and other sources of media to be seen in this light.  Was it groundbreaking that Le Guin incorporated a powerful wizard who is black or just being stereotypical?
  • Is good versus evil what makes the story more interesting for the reader?
  • What is the significance of a person's identity?
  • A Wizard of Earthsea is clearly the most Tolkien-esque book we've read, outside, of course, The Hobbit.  The emphasis is on the world.  I couldn't bring myself to care about what was going on because the story wasn't that unique and the author seems to care precious little about the actual writing side of the book.  The narration is very passive and flat...I don't want to be mean, but I couldn't understand the appeal of this one...but I don't think I'm much of a fantasy fan in general...?
  • Did this book get a lot of feminist attention?
  • Was this book the first popular one of its kind to involve a wizard/magic academy?
  • Why is there a focus on names in fantasy fiction?  What is the power of names/naming?
  • In T.H. White's The Once and Future King,  ordinary Wart becomes legendary Arthur when he pulls Excalibur out of the Stone.  Does this name/identity change have any influence on the change from Duny to Ged?  What is the significance of name changes in fantasy?
  • Is good/evil a common theme in fantasy fiction writing?  What about other genres?  I'm beginning to question if this is a theme in all books.
  • It seems like the further along in time we get, the less pure the protagonist is, and the less black and white good and evil are.  I like that he is a victim to things like ambition and pride  because it makes him more believable and more likable.  Compared to fantasy novels of the past, has there been a definite shift in the moral standing of the character the reader is meant to see as the hero in more recent books?  Is what I noticed a real trend, or just a coincidence?
  • In most of the novels we've read. the main character has been orphaned in some way and in A Wizard of Earthsea it's no different.  Why is this a recurring aspect of fantasy fiction?  What effect does this give the story that the authors are trying to achieve?
  • I watched the movie version of Earthsea directed by Goro Miyazaki and I realized that Ged's personality is the movie was so much different than in the book.  What made this so?
  • Women's magic seems to be scorned in Earthsea whereas a sorcerer would be respected.  The same goes for The Hobbit:  how many female sorcerers or magic users are there? And when there is a female magic user (Galadriel), is she respected or fared? Why the lack of female protagonists in fantasy fiction about magic users?
  • Most stories we've read make animals very important (eagles, Narnians, daemons); in this novel, Ged has a connection to birds and adopts a flying squirrel.  Does this lead to a bigger connection in the end, or are animals used more or less as an example of his magical ability?

Questions about The Hobbit, Fall 2014

Continuing my Fantasy Fiction course's strategy of focusing on my students' questions, here are some they wrote about Tolkien's The Hobbit late last month (plus a few on Peter Jackson's movie trilogy).

  • How long did the quest take?  How much time had passed when Bilbo returns to The Shire?  About a year or so?
  • Why is it in every fantasy story they have to cross the continent to the farthest geographical point possible?
  • Why is Middle Earth the staple for fantasy?
  • Why did Bilbo take the Arkenstone?
  • How long was Bilbo knocked out when he gets hit in the head by the rock (after the eagles)?
  • Why does Bilbo take so long to share with his friends about the ring? What did he think was going to happen if he told people when he first got it?
  • After Bilbo's encounter with Gollum in the cave, asking riddles in the dark, why did he not tell Gandalf about where he was after he reunited with the group?  Is it because the ring compelled him not to?
  • Why is Bilbo unharmed by the ring's usage?  Why does Sauron not send for him?  And, furthermore, how is Bilbo not weakened and maddened by the ring as many other characters in Middle Earth are?
  • Why is the Ring portrayed so much more positively in The Hobbit than in The Lord of the Rings?
  • Bilbo Baggins never seems to be heroic on purpose; everything that happens to him seems to happen on accident, at least early in the novel:  is this because fate is just playing out, meaning Bilbo really was destined to be on this journey, as Gandalf said, or because Bilbo is not a hero?
  • Why was Bilbo so content with going home and "not being in great danger ever again"?  The adventure was the greatest experience he would ever be a part of, so why not go with Gandalf and adventure more?  Seems so much better than staying at home.
  • What drives Bilbo's sense of adventure and his ability to face such danger he is so unaccustomed to?
  • How do Bilbo's internal emotions relate to the other characters within the story?
  • Do we see characters switching roles throughout the story, and how so?
  • What is the significance of the characters switching roles?
  • To what degree can a family heritage affect the quests of Tolkien's characters?
  • In the second half of The Hobbit, a good amount of action occurs, but the small amount of Smaug is honestly surprising to me.  As one of the main anti-heroes of the story you would expect to see a lot more of him or at least of his story.  So my question is, was Smaug the true villain of the story?  I don't believe so.  I believe "the darkness" is what is evil, whether it be the dark forests and spiders or the Necromancer.
  • Who is the Necromancer?  Is he a Witch King?  Is he the main antagonist?  Or is that Smaug?
  • Why did wizard stuff take place off-stage?
  • Why are necromancers so underrated?
  • What idiot told the Goblins Smaug was dead?
  • Why did the Lake Men destroy the bridge when their foe was in the sky?
  • Why didn't they just take the eagles?
  • I question the use of the upbeat, cheerful narrator that we talked about last time.  Why choose to do this?  Why not a darker narrator?
  • Why did the narrator change perspectives so many times?
  • Why didn't Tolkien give each dwarf their own identity and distinguish them from one another?
  • Why would the author choose to use 13 dwarves?  It seems like they are not all necessary to the story.
  • In a world full of so many epic tales (the Kinslaying, the Fall of Beleriand, the wars against Morgoth, the fall of Numenor, etc.) why did J.R.R. Tolkien write The Hobbit as his first publication of Middle Earth?
  • In the novel, during the epic battle scene (Battle of the Five Armies), Tolkien leaves out many of the details and decides to retell them after the war.  Why does he follow Bilbo's perspective instead of a general and large-scaled view?  And why does he knock Bilbo out?
  • Was The Hobbit an extension of Tolkien's mythology for Britain?
  • How far had the story of The Lord of the Rings been developed when Tolkien was writing The Hobbit?
  • In The Hobbit the one ring isn't really implied to be evil.  It seems to just be a cool magic item to set Bilbo apart.  It doesn't seem to corrupt Bilbo like it does in later stories.  So how much of the world/plot of the Lord of the Rings trilogy do you think Tolkien had planned when he wrote The Hobbit?  Do you think that he knew the significance of Bilbo's ring when he wrote The Hobbit, or was this something he added to the trilogy, to tie it into something from the original story?
  • One question I had was about the Necromancer plot point.  Did it really get solved off-screen, with no help from Bilbo?  Was Tolkien just trying to tie up loose ends or was it really that simple to introduce then complete a plot-point off-screen?
  • After seeing how quickly Thorin is accepted by the humans in River Town, it became clear to me that birthright and names go a long way in Middle Earth.  This is reinforced by the power of the Took name affecting Bilbo.  In Tolkien's timeline and history of Middle Earth, does he have an established family tree of sorts for these prestigious names?
  • People often suggest that The Lord of the Rings is an allegory for something (WW I or WW II, for example), even though Tolkien hated allegory.  I wonder, then, what The Hobbit's allegory could be?
  • Why does Tolkien neglect any diversity in gender in his characters?
  • Why do they change the movie so much from the book?  I know that action movies make more money, but it seems like a disservice to Tolkien and the novel.
  • Why did the movie director create the movie?  What point of view was he attracted to?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Questions about Fantasy Fiction, Fall 2014

My students in my Fantasy Fiction course have generated questions about fantasy fiction that they are interested in trying to answer this semester.  Feel free to compare them to the questions and answers my students from Fall 2010 generated.  I'll post this semester's answers here as I receive them, so be sure to check back over the next few months.

General Questions About Fantasy Fiction

  • What is the most important element in a work of fantasy?
  • Does fantasy fiction take longer to set up because you have to explain the world, the characters, etc.?
  • How does the story move along?
  • Is the phrase "No book is original" from How to Read Literature Like a Professor actually true or not?
  • What actually makes something fantasy fiction?
  • What are some of the structures and conventions of fantasy fiction?
  • Where do many of the concepts and ideas of fantasy fiction come from?
  • What are the most important elements that define a work of fantasy fiction?
  • Can a story be considered fantasy if it does not include magic?
  • Are heroes and villains necessary for a story to be considered fantasy?
  • How do the main characters in fantasy novels relate to each other?  What makes some of these characters heroes?
  • If all fantasy novels were compared using the hero formula (separation/initiation/return), would they all relate?
  • Is there a difference between male and female heroes?
  • What novels outside of the class could be considered fantasy fiction?
  • Can short stories be considered fantasy fiction?
  • Are there fantasy plays and poems, or are they all novels, tales, and prose?
  • Does there have to be a form of "magic" to make it a fantasy?
  • Do fantasy books tend to stay within the confines of "old earth but with magic and monsters"?  Is that part of what fantasy is?
  • What "types" of fantasy fiction are there?
  • What types of fantasy worlds (portal/secondary/alternate history) have been invented?
  • Do the best works of fantasy need their own universes (Wonderland, Middle Earth, Fairyland, Oz, Westeros and Essos, Narnia, etc.) or do/can great works of fantasy take place in the world we know?  Does good fantasy require world-building?
  • What is the range of fantasy fiction?
  • What are the limitations of fantasy fiction?
  • Is fantasy fiction limited to only specific conventions, tropes, and other stereotypical scenarios?
  • How widespread is fantasy fiction and what makes it so different from the rest of the world?
  • Is there a distinction between fantasy and broader unrealistic fiction?
  • Is there any work or subgenre that could be argued as realistic fantasy fiction?
  • What makes fantasy fiction different from other forms of fiction?  What dictates it to be fantasy?
  • Where is the line between fairy tales and fantasy fiction?
  • Where is the line drawn between fantasy fiction and science fiction?
  • How well can fantasy fiction and science fiction mesh together?  Must they reject each other?
  • Could magical realism and fantasy ever be combined or connected?
  • Can't all genre fiction fit into the fantasy fiction genre?
  • Is there such a thing as mainstream fantasy (e.g., Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter) and, if so, how is it different from non-mainstream fantasy?
  • Does fantasy translate better from book to film than any other literary genre? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • How progressive can fantasy fiction be?
Reader-Response/Cultural Studies
  • Why haven't I received my Hogwarts letter yet?
  • What is it about magic that is so appealing?
  • Will we learn a lot from the readings, both intellectually and emotionally?
  • It is said that any fantasy stories are good for children's education--what aspects of these stories affect them or appeal to them?
  • How does fantasy fiction keep the reader interested?
  • While reading should one take into account the time and culture during which the piece was written, even if one is supposed to be engulfed in "the fantasy"?
  • What do you expect of a fantasy novel to consider it "good"?
  • Do I truly enjoy fantasy fiction or are Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings just the best out there?
  • Should these works be taken on their own merit or must we analyze what symbolism and other devices are used to make commentary on the real world?  Does this analysis ruin the magic?
  • How far detached from "real life" is it safe to become while reading these works?
  • How can we compare the worlds of fantasy with the worlds of religions?  More specifically, how readers and followers truly believe that maybe someday they will get a Hogwarts letter, or that if they worship a certain god, they'll achieve a paradise after life?
  • Why do some people prefer fantasy fiction over science fiction, and vice versa?
  • Why is fantasy socially acceptable?
  • The resurgence of fantasy (books, tv shows, movies) in popular culture is due to what, exactly (economic issues, social issues, etc.)?
  • Is it fair to say that fantasy is the most popular literary genre today? If so, why?
  • Does escapism have anything to do with the current wave of fantasy fiction fans?
  • Would fantasy fiction be as popular or socially acceptable if most of these books weren't adapted to successful motion pictures/television series?
  • How does censorship and pop culture come into how fantasy books are adapted into film?
  • Some fantasy novels or series have been adapted into films that are either less adult (Eragon) or more adult (The Hobbit) than the audiences for which they were originally written.  Why?
  • How have fantasy fiction affected audiences all over the world?
  • Why are so many people involved in reading fantasy fiction?
  • Where do you believe fantasy fiction is headed?
Mimesis/Representation/Reality/The World/Truth
  • How do the expectations of society impact the fantasy genre?
  • Where do many of the concepts and ideas of fantasy fiction come from?
  • How can fantasy fiction apply to the real world?
  • How do characters in fantasy relate to us in real life?
  • Can fantasy fiction really be considered plausible?
  • Literature can be read as a whole bunch of allusions/symbols meaning something different that the literal text, so are fantasy "worlds" literary devices or meant to be believed as truth?
  • Can fantasy still have morals and points?  Do all fantasy works have them?
  • Does fantasy always examine morality?
  • Does good fantasy always need to tackle moral issues?
  • Does religion play a huge role in these novels, and why?
  • How progressive can fantasy fiction be?
  • Why is there such a male dominance as role characters in fantasy fiction?  (Even though there is a slight rise in female lead characters, it still seems the male protagonist is the dominating role.)
  • Why different worlds?
  • Dreams vs. reality vs. magic realms:  what defines the difference between them? is it subjective?
  • What do dreams tell about a dreamer?  Do they have meaning?
  • What is life?  Is it real, or an invention of someone?
  • What is real?
  • Why do fantasy fiction authors use their initials in their names?
  • Would all the authors of the works we're going to be reading consider their writing fantasy fiction?
  • Where do many of the concepts and ideas of fantasy fiction come from?
  • Is "escaping" a popular reason why fantasy fiction is continually being written?
  • How do authors refine a story from ideas of monsters and magic into fantasy fiction?
  • How do authors make up a world?  Is it all imagination or influences from other stories, real life, etc.?
  • Do fantasy writers translate what is happening in their world into their novels?
  • In a lot of fantasy fiction there is this battle of good vs. evil that tends to repeat itself, so does the time period influence the writer into setting the storyline in a war-immersed setting?  (For example, Tolkien influenced by WW I...)
  • Are there any great fantasy fictions influenced by the colonial era?
  • What is the history of fantasy fiction?
  • How old is fantasy fiction?  How did it begin?
  • Is fantasy just a continuation of mythology?
  • Were the origins of fantasy based more in medieval times or that of fairy tales?
  • Why is fantasy fiction more often based in the medieval era instead of modern times?
  • Does fantasy fiction share elements of Enlightenment, Romantic, and/or Victorian fiction?
  • When did fantasy fiction become mainstream?  Which books/series started the fad for fantasy films?
  • When was the transition when fantasy fiction became pop culture?
  • Do you think the large focus on fantasy has to do with the rise of gaming and video games in the last 30-40 years?
  • How does fantasy fiction evolve between writers?
  • What have various fantasy writers done to make their work stand out/expand upon the fantasy genre?
  • How progressive can fantasy fiction be?
  • What has Disney done to the original stories that now seem to be forgotten compared to their Disney movie versions?
  • J.R.R. Tolkien has been referred to as the "father of fantasy"--is this a fair statement, and if so, why?
  • How have other authors responded to C.S. Lewis's works?
  • What were some of the biggest influences on the most prominent of recent fantasy writers (J.K. Rowling, George R.R. Martin, etc.)?
  • How visible is George R.R. Martin's science fiction background in Game of Thrones?
  • Can you combine science fiction and fantasy fiction?
  • How does one go about writing fantasy fiction?

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass Questions
  • How is a raven like a writing desk?
  • The baby turned into a piglet?  Why?  How?
  • Is Wonderland a different view of our world or a new world?
  • Was all of Wonderland just a dream or actually real because Alice believed it to be?
  • How does Wonderland work?  What are the rules of its universe?  Can you even have a world when the laws of existence seem fluid at best and everyone is a raving lunatic?  Can you ever have meaningful change without consistency?  Is Wonderland just forever stagnant and repetitive?  Are all the characters stuck in this mad loop forever?  Are they all so mad as to stay on their one-track moebius strips?
  • Wonderland is obviously a legitimate fantasy world--why else would it have a name?  (I guess I'm just intrigued by the logistics of a fantasy world that is fundamentally nonsensical.)
  • How does Wonderland relate to other fictional realms/worlds/universes? Particularly with respect to concepts of time...?
  • After Wonderland, it will be interesting to see how different novel "universes" respond to rules/chaos--more or less structured?  How does it matter to each plot?  Defining factors of each?
  • Do each of the characters control time through their own perception?
  • Does the food chain apply in Wonderland?  Is there any kind of animal hierarchy?
  • Why do all the problems that occur in Wonderland seem to get solved almost instantaneously?
  • Is this really a dream?  Whose dream?  Is everything a dream?
  • What would great thinkers like Plato think about Alice?
  • How old is Alice supposed to be?
  • What is actually happening to Alice in Through the Looking-Glass?  Is she wandering through her estate, talking to flowers?
  • Doesn't it seem strange how quickly Alice abandons her life in the real world?
  • Did Alice have some kind of disorder?  Or is she just an imaginative child?  If she does have a personality disorder, how can she recognize, as a child, differences between her and people in her life?  Was this child a very imaginative and open-minded person, or does she suffer from any disorders such as multiple personality, schizophrenia, or depression that allows her to accept her fates?
  • Is Alice's main issue with identity or growing up?
  • What made Alice have this wild dream—the book her sister was reading, her imagination, or what?
  • How does Alice perceive reality if she keeps living and learning in dreams?  What is Alice's reality?
  • How is Alice so smart and resourceful for a child?  Is she an important person's daughter to be so educated and opinionated?
  • Was there any inconsistency with her cleverness and lack of it?
  • Would you classify Alice as a heroine or a ditzy child?
  • Do you think Alice is strange or does she act the way a typical child does?
  • Alice never really freaks out about the fact that she's in another dimension and hardly questions the talking animals or disappearing cats with grins.  Does her acceptance make her more delightful or somehow frustrating?
  • Why is Alice an effective character, one who experiences such bizarre circumstances with mostly comfort and ease?
  • Why does Alice focus so much on being crazy?  Is she questioning her own sanity?  Or everyone else's?
  • Is Alice actually mad or does being in Wonderland make her mad?
  • How is Alice choosing who/what to believe in Wonderland?
  • Why does Alice start to forget things (rhymes, things she's learned in school, etc.)?
  • If I were Alice the story would not go smoothly because I have no courage to walk forward.  What characteristics made Alice get through Wonderland?
  • I feel like Alice should have been scared, especially around the queen.  But her fear was mild, and that was disconcerting.  To her, in the space of time, everything that happened was real.  Was she not afraid of being stuck there?
  • Why does Alice spend most of her time avoiding drama?
  • Were the characters simply there to get Alice thinking?
  • Was Alice supposed to have learned a lesson from all the events that happened in Wonderland?
  • Do things going on in the magical world have something to do with her real life?
  • Were Alice's sister's similar experiences of Wonderland while sleeping significant at all?
  • Does the story have any meaning?  (It seems to have no direction.)  How do you find any significance in a book like this?  What is the point of the novel?  (It all seems like nonsense to me.)
  • Why does the story go around in circles?
  • Is the narrator unreliable?  Can you have an unreliable narrator?
  • Was Alice in Wonderland a political allegory or satire?
  • Who/what is Alice supposed to represent?
  • Does Alice's view of the world represent that of a young girl or does it refer to an ignorant, unchanging adult?
  • Is Alice's adventure of going down the rabbit-hole a metaphor for something else?
  • When Alice is "drowning in her own tears," could it be a metaphor for depression?
  • Do some of these characters directly correlate to an aspect of Alice's life/struggles?  Do they function as metaphors or personifications?  What do they represent or symbolize?  Are the characters symbolic of pure nonsense?
  • Was there any sort of significance as to why Alice kept changing sizes?
  • What metaphors are there to real life/society in the novels, if any, and how can we identify them?
  • Is there any allegory for the focus on playing cards and chess?
  • Why do all the characters seem to have such an absurd attitude?  What was the significance of all these odd characters?  What did they symbolize?
  • Are there antagonists?  (The Queen is likely the best example, but when it comes to those giving Alice a hard time, there is certainly no shortage.)
  • Are the animals used as a form of symbolism?  Why are they all small animals?
  • Could the animals represent the adults in Alice's life?
  • What is the significance of it being a rabbit that Alice follows, the creature that leads Alice to Wonderland?
  • What can birds represent in the novel?  Is Alice's experience with the birds supposed to be an analogy of sorts for multiculturalism and stepping into an unfamiliar culture?
  • Why does the caterpillar smoke if this is a children's book?  Does this start controversy?
  • Because the novel ends with Alice discovering it was all a dream, do you believe it made her entire journey of shrinking and growing, arguing, and such irrelevant?
  • What happens after?!
  • Do the novels actually have nothing to do with the real world or logic?  Is it simply meant to be a dream-like sequence?  Can it be as much about daydreaming, making believe, and pretending as dreaming?
  • Is there a real-world connection?
  • What does this book reveal about its time and our time?
  • Is there a connection to morality or reason?
  • What defines nonsense?  What is real if you are gifted with an imagination?
  • What is madness?  Is it anything that strays from conventional logic?  Is it an objective state, or dependent on the person?
  • What if this were how children actually feel and think of things in their everyday life?  How can we say it's madness when children can't accurately convey how they feel and think?
  • Who controls language?  Decides what is acceptable?
  • Does any part of the story have something to do with what was going on in Lewis Carroll's world at the time he wrote it?
  • Is this a statement of her individual self-realization or a statement on Victorian society?
  • Is the story tackling more than one issue, or is it more of an overview of the Victorian era? (cf. caucus race, potions and cakes, executions...)
  • Are these works an exception to the rule that rules/laws and consistent, logical, structured world-building are necessary to create really good fantasy fiction?  Why do the Alice stories work with so few rules/laws, but Game of Thrones and Harry Potter need so many to flourish?
  • Was the book considered fast-paced for its time?
  • Who was the target audience of Alice in Wonderland?  Is this supposed to be geared for children or adults?  Or trying to entertain both at the same time?
  • What prompted Carroll to write these novels?  What was his motivation?  Why did he set out to write such a dream-like, non-sensical story?  Was it intended to be an allegory at all?
  • Should Carroll's relationship with Alice define the books?
  • How did Carroll get inspiration for the scenes in the novels?
  • With the education scenes with the Gryphon and Mock Turtle, was Carroll making fun of a specific educational system?
  • Could Carroll have been using nonsense to attack some math ideas, challenging the validity of ideas by testing its premises and taking them to their logical extremes?
  • Why Wonderland?  Why involve a little girl in a world of talking animals and nonsense?  Is it to contrast with conventional education?  To challenge traditional logic and deduction?  Why does Alice become a voice of reason to many characters?
  • Is the use of nonsense a way to bring back the confusion of childhood, or a manner of questioning reality and the universe?
  • Does Carroll understand the use of a transition?  How can he expect flow?
  • Besides the beginning and end I felt like the middle didn't have an inherent order and scenes changed sort of rapidly.  Was this on purpose?  Did the author have a reason for having events play out in the way they did?
  • Did Carroll think of Alice as a sympathetic character?
  • Why did the author constantly manipulate Alice's knowledge?
  • What drugs was Carroll on?
  • Why is this story still so popular?
  • How did Carroll leave readers with such a lasting impression of characters after introducing most only once or twice in a seemingly orderless universe?  Is it their pure creative nature that is memorable, or perhaps the unique personality of each and how they antagonize Alice? 
  • If you were in Wonderland, which character would you trust most and why?
  • What can/should we as readers do with the themes of dreaming and reality in Carroll's novels?
  • Is Wonderland supposed to make the reader mad?
  • How do we relate Alice in Wonderland to our lives?
  • Wonderland makes us think a child's favorite question:  why?
  • Do the black-and-white drawings add anything to the book?
  • Why are the film adaptations so morbid for a book that, I felt, was entirely light-hearted and whimsical?
  • Why does Tim Burton's film adaptation include so much lead-up to Alice following the rabbit to Wonderland?