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Lecture 1

ENG239H1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Worldbuilding, Defamiliarization

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Mike Johnstone

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Lecture 1
Why fantasy?
“Fantasy” as a mode/tradition vs. marketing category/commodity
“To many thinkers, fantasy has seemed a silly self-indulgence, even a perversion” - Hume
Childish -> turning away from being a proper, productive adult
Nothing useful in reading fantasy/fiction in general -> it’s just a distraction (ties in
escapism -> coping, perspective-taking)
Perversion of what?
Tropes are dangerous/threatening to what some may consider to be a practical, normal
Troubling b/c it’s not a representation of the real world, doesn’t deal w/ real world
“[…] the notion of fantasy comes ready-tainted w/ implications of unworthiness, of a
failure of some alleged duty of the human mind to concentrate on the realities of
existence” - Stableford
Real-world applicability comes through in close reading
Not merely escapism -> there are lessons to be learned that are applicable in everyday
life (e.g., themes of building an identity w/ Bilbo)
Why does fantasy have a wall of stigma?
Success of LOTR lead to reprinting of older fantasy works -> this whole process lead to
attitude that fantasy is inferior to mimetic/realistic fiction
Gaiman: reviewers/editors don’t “speak fantasy” -> they are uncomfortable w/ it, lack of
willingness to engage w/ fantastic language
Perhaps a matter of familiarity (due to world-building?)
Rehashing LOTR by less talented writers (imitators) -> became definitive of the genre, but
there are other forms of fantasy that don’t fall into that paradigm that are worthy of being
recognized as part of the genre (reviewers/editors don’t recognize this, according to
Why choose this particular mode of representing the human experience as opposed to
other modes/representations of fiction?
When Alice falls down the rabbit hole
Metaphor of what happens when we read fantasy -> we have to go through the process
of understanding what
How do we meet the fantastic & how does that affect: narrative, choice of language
Where are we asked to stand in relation to the fantastic?
Analysis of Alice in Wonderland -> excerpt when she sees the Rabbit
Capitalization of the word rabbit dignifies it -> not just any rabbit (de-familiarization)
Importance of she “ought to have wondered” about the Rabbit being able to speak
Reflects her age/state of the mind (sunny day, feels sleepy)
Is this Alice dreaming or her imagination?
Not in the mindset of being able to appreciate the weirdness of an animal speaking
Magic coming over her?
Where is this parenthetical comment coming from (“afterword”)? When she’s an adult?
Could this be a reflection of imagination during childhood vs. adulthood?
Importance of “burning w/ curiosity”
Will lead us further into the unusual world of Wonderland -> eagerness to pursue
W/out that curiosity, she might not experience change (maturation)
Child’s perspective
She’s not afraid, only curious
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