October 26th, 2012


Friday Follow-ups

I have a number of follow-ups to recent topics.

First, there was an interesting story in the news this week that tied into my reality concerns involving the premise of the movie Easy A. There was apparently a "fantasy slut league" at a California high school in which male students "drafted" female students and earned points for real-life sex with them, and many of the female students knew about it and participated willingly or because of peer pressure. I'd say that the fact that the peer pressure was to participate proves that it would be unlikely for a girl to become the subject of a rumor mill for supposedly having sex once -- unless she was something like the president of the purity club or something else that would make her out to be a huge hypocrite.

Second, the discussion about the portal books continues in writing and publishing circles. The Publishers Weekly "Genreville" blog about fantasy and science fiction recently had a post about this trend and a possible sense of "exhaustion" in the genre -- if we're living in the future, has our world become the "other" world so that we're no longer interested in other worlds? It does seem like a lot of the fantasy published today (including my books) takes place in our world rather than in the "other" world that's traditionally been the setting for fantasy. That's interesting to think about. I tend to go in cycles. I love the juxtaposition of the normal and the abnormal, that sense that maybe this time you'll round the corner and find that things are different. But then sometimes I just want to escape.

I also read that one of the issues with the portal fantasy is that not only is the idea that an ordinary person in our world becomes the Destined, Chosen One With Magical Specialness dangerously close to Mary Sue wish fulfillment, but if you look at it through politically correct goggles, it becomes a metaphor for colonialism, with the ignorant savages needing the more sophisticated outsider to come in and solve all their problems for them, and that makes a lot of editors uncomfortable. Never mind that all these other worlds seem to be very white and European-based.

But that got me started thinking: Why do most of these "other" worlds that people visit through portals seem to be quasi-medieval and European? I suspect to some extent it has to do with the fact that for a very long time, the standard fantasy setting was quasi-medieval and European -- swords, knights, castles and the like, with bonus wizards. Therefore, if you were going to travel from our world to a fantasy world, it had to be what a fantasy world was supposed to look like.

But then if you think about it, some of the earlier portal fantasies didn't involve medieval worlds. Alice's Wonderland was more or less Victorian, made different from the "real" world by whimsical touches like talking animals and playing cards. I'm not sure it really even mapped to a particular time period, aside from a few things like the tea party and the croquet game. Likewise with Neverland, which seemed to be an amalgamation of everything that seemed like a good fit for a place where you could have adventures -- pirates, Indians, mermaids, and the like. Even in the original illustrations, Hook looks vaguely early 18th century, but otherwise, it would be hard to time-stamp Neverland. It's been ages since I read The Wizard of Oz, but a quick skim of the description of the Emerald City doesn't strike me as the typical medieval fantasy world. It seems more like a city contemporary to the time of the writing, only better (there's specific mention of no horses, which would imply it's a lot cleaner). Actually, it would be really hard to map Oz to any particular time in earth's history. Oz is Oz.

And, really, why would a fantasy world have to follow earth's history so exactly that you could figure out what time period you're in? I remember the Internet outcry over the fact that there were hay bales mentioned in the Wheel of Time books because those wouldn't have existed in that time period. What time period? This is another world! Ditto with SCA complaints about fantasy, unless the story is specifically set in our history.

Now that fantasy has broadened beyond the medieval European setting, I wonder if there's room for portal worlds that are, say, Victorian or Regency (assuming there's room for portal worlds at all). Or get wild and crazy and pull an Oz, so that your portal world is itself and not anything you can map against earth. It might be full of seeming anachronisms because technology may have developed in different ways and at different rates. The clothes might be different not only because of technology but because societies with different religions and moral codes might not have the same taboos of what parts of the body can be shown. The existence of magic might stall the development of technology or lead into entirely new technologies. They might not have internal combustion engines, but they might have the equivalent of flying cars, because if magic allows you to fly, why bother building roads?

And now I think I've fed my subconscious a little too much, considering I have work to do, especially since I plan to plant myself on the couch tonight. It's nice and cool, so I can huddle under the blankets and watch Grimm and Haven's Halloween episodes.