Saturday, October 19, 2013

Defining Fantasy According to TermiteWriter

Ki'shto'ba and the Companions confront
"Trojan" Warriors in the marches of Thel'or'ei.
       I always have difficulty pigeonholing my books as to their genre. Are they science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, or a blend of the three?  The Termite Queen certainly is science fiction.  It has most of the characteristics associated with that genre: it's laid in a future period, it has space travel, extraterrestrials of several types, an off-world adventure, some real science (mostly softer sciences, like entomology and other biological sciences, psychology, anthropology, and linguistics), and some fictional physics.  It laps over into literary fiction with its love story, which could have been recast in a contemporary setting without the trappings of science fiction.
       But then it has giant termites and their conculture, which includes their religious beliefs and practices.  Should that be called fantasy?  The question becomes more pertinent in my series The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, in which I retell Earth myths in the context of my termite conculture.  This series incorporates only minimal elements of science fiction (it's laid in the same century as The Termite Queen, the tales are edited by one of the characters in The Termite Queen, and there are frequent references to events that occurred in that earlier story).
       So let's examine the meaning of the term "fantasy."  To some people, it implies a particular and rather narrow literary genre, of which Tolkien's LotR is the prime example.  It incorporates a constructed world in which magic rather than science is the motivational force.  That, however, is hardly the only meaning of the word "fantasy."
       Here is the definition of the noun from :
1. imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.
2. the forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualizing.
3. a mental image, especially when unreal or fantastic; vision: a nightmare fantasy. 
4. Psychology. an imagined or conjured up sequence fulfilling a psychological need; daydream.
5. a hallucination.
       Please note that the definition of it as a particular literary genre isn't even given.
       If you Google "fantasy definition," you get similar explanations with the addition of the following:
"a genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure, esp. in a setting other than the real world."
      If you Google "epic fantasy definition" you get referred to Wikipedia,.  The following is worth considering:
       "High fantasy (also referred to as epic fantasy) is a sub-genre of fantasy fiction, defined either by its taking place in an imaginary world distinct from our own or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot. Quintessential works of high fantasy, such as A Song of Ice and Fire, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and The Belgariad, have both of these attributes. Accordingly, works where the fantasy world impinges on our world, or where the characters are concerned only with adventure or personal goals (as in sword and sorcery fiction) are less likely to be classed as high fantasy."
       I don't want to get bogged down in a discussion of the subgenres of fantasy (we also have paranormal fantasy, urban fantasy, and all sorts of horror fantasy).   I only want to call attention to the fact that all forms of fantasy derive from "imagination" or "imaginative conceptualizing" and only one type of fantasy depends on the presence or absence of "magic" as a motivating force.  I started out writing "high fantasy," but I was never very comfortable with the magic element and always tended to base my plots on character.  In an early attempt to publish the novel that built on my free Smashwords book "The Blessing of Krozem," I was told that it had merit but didn't have enough magic.  Yet you can't deny it's a fantasy, with its race of spirit beings and presence of gods on that world.

     To return to epic fantasy, note that it is "defined either by its taking place in an imaginary world distinct from our own or by the epic stature of its characters, themes and plot."  By that light, The Labors of Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head has to be called epic fantasy.  Even though it's laid in a "real" extraterrestrial world governed by scientific laws, it has gods and Seers (which certainly fall in the general category of "imaginative conceptualizing"), it takes place in an imaginary (constructed) world, and its characters, themes, and plots have epic stature.  The only reason you might say they don't have epic stature would be if you felt the following Earth myths lack epic stature:  the events in the life of Hercules, the Trojan War, Beowulf, The Song of Roland, or myths to be included in later volumes (the story of Atalanta, Meleager, and the Calydonian boar; and Hercules, Chiron, and the Erymanthian boar).  And of course I mustn't omit the Golden Fleece!  Could anything be more epic than Jason's voyage to recover that lost item?  (Parenthetically, I previously wrote a couple of posts about the characteristics of the epic form.)
       In The Termite Queen, the termite conworld and the events that take place there also contain elements of epic fantasy:  war, single combat, a goddess who meddles and who speaks to the Seer (I maintain all gods are products of the imagination because their existence can't be proved, but that's a different topic).  Therefore, while the book is basically science fiction, it undeniably contains fantasy elements.
       And that brings me to my idea that all significant books have an element of fantasy in them.  My latest venture into that idea was in my analysis of The Great Gatsby over on my other blog.  Gatsby may not have magic, but it definitely has "imaginative conceptualization." 
       I really like that phrase! 

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