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Publisher Description

THE central theme of the twentieth-century genre fantasy novel epitomised by J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is frequently described simply as the conflict between Evil and Good. In The Comedy of the Fantastic: Ecological Perspectives on the Fantasy Novel, however, Don D. Elgin suggests that genre fantasy does not in fact deal with "evil" and "good," at least as abstract moral concepts. Rather, it uses the discrete theatre of the Secondary World as a site for the exploration, comparison and judgement of two opposing and mutually exclusive paradigms of imaginative response to the environment within which human beings exist: one which constructs that environment as limiting and attempts to transcend its limits by gaining power over it, and one which attempts to adapt to existence within the limitations the environment imposes and thus to ensure survival. The Harry Potter series of children's/young adults' novels by J. K. Rowling is not genre high fantasy. It belongs to a sub-genre of fantasy which John Clute in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy labels "wainscot" fantasy; its precursors are texts such as Mary Norton's Borrowers tetralogy, Terry Pratchett's The Carpet People and Diana Wynne Jones' Power of Three. Within the wainscot landscape of her series, however, Rowling constructs a complete genre fantasy scenario. The Harry Potter series features a conflict with a long history. It includes an antagonist (Lord Voldemort) making a second bid for power. He is opposed by a marginalised protagonist (Harry Potter), who is aided by a group of secondary heroes (Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley). A third party (Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Harry's school) to some extent stage-manages the conflict between antagonist and protagonist(s) to achieve his own--positive--ends. The series' major narrative strand represents the closing movement of the long conflict. (1) As well as adding a complexity not often seen in wainscot fantasy to the narrative of the Harry Potter series, and tying it firmly to its generic roots, the location of this high fantasy scenario within the structure of a wainscot fantasy allows Rowling to expand the genre fantasy's abstract exploration of imaginative paradigms into a more complex examination of the positions those paradigms hold in modern Western cultures.

Professional & Technical
22 June
Mythopoeic Society

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