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Rhetorics of Fantasy

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Transcending arguments over the definition of fantasy literature, Rhetorics of Fantasy introduces a provocative new system of classification for the genre. Utilizing nearly two hundred examples of modern fantasy, author Farah Mendlesohn uses this system to explore how fiction writers construct their fantastic worlds. Mendlesohn posits four categories of Transcending arguments over the definition of fantasy literature, Rhetorics of Fantasy introduces a provocative new system of classification for the genre. Utilizing nearly two hundred examples of modern fantasy, author Farah Mendlesohn uses this system to explore how fiction writers construct their fantastic worlds. Mendlesohn posits four categories of fantasy--portal-quest, immersive, intrusion, and liminal--that arise out of the relationship of the protagonist to the fantasy world. Using these sets, Mendlesohn argues that the author's stylistic decisions are then shaped by the inescapably political demands of the category in which they choose to write. Each chapter covers at least twenty books in detail, ranging from nineteenth-century fantasy and horror to extensive coverage of some of the best books in the contemporary field. Offering a wide-ranging discussion and penetrating comparative analysis, Rhetorics of Fantasy will excite fans and provide a wealth of material for scholarly and classroom discussion. Includes discussion of works by over 100 authors, including Lloyd Alexander, Peter Beagle, Marion Zimmer Bradley, John Crowley, Stephen R. Donaldson, Stephen King, C. S. Lewis, Gregory Maguire, Robin McKinley, China Mieville, Suniti Namjoshi, Philip Pullman, J. K. Rowling, Sheri S. Tepper, J. R. R. Tolkien, Tad Williams


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Transcending arguments over the definition of fantasy literature, Rhetorics of Fantasy introduces a provocative new system of classification for the genre. Utilizing nearly two hundred examples of modern fantasy, author Farah Mendlesohn uses this system to explore how fiction writers construct their fantastic worlds. Mendlesohn posits four categories of Transcending arguments over the definition of fantasy literature, Rhetorics of Fantasy introduces a provocative new system of classification for the genre. Utilizing nearly two hundred examples of modern fantasy, author Farah Mendlesohn uses this system to explore how fiction writers construct their fantastic worlds. Mendlesohn posits four categories of fantasy--portal-quest, immersive, intrusion, and liminal--that arise out of the relationship of the protagonist to the fantasy world. Using these sets, Mendlesohn argues that the author's stylistic decisions are then shaped by the inescapably political demands of the category in which they choose to write. Each chapter covers at least twenty books in detail, ranging from nineteenth-century fantasy and horror to extensive coverage of some of the best books in the contemporary field. Offering a wide-ranging discussion and penetrating comparative analysis, Rhetorics of Fantasy will excite fans and provide a wealth of material for scholarly and classroom discussion. Includes discussion of works by over 100 authors, including Lloyd Alexander, Peter Beagle, Marion Zimmer Bradley, John Crowley, Stephen R. Donaldson, Stephen King, C. S. Lewis, Gregory Maguire, Robin McKinley, China Mieville, Suniti Namjoshi, Philip Pullman, J. K. Rowling, Sheri S. Tepper, J. R. R. Tolkien, Tad Williams

30 review for Rhetorics of Fantasy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ellie

    I was extraordinarily disappointed with this book. Mendlesohn's earlier treatment of Diana Wynne Jones, in which she employs her categories, was groundbreaking and illuminating. It also fully convinced me that her taxonomy was correct, at least as an interpretive suprastructure. Unfortunately, Rhetorics of Fantasy falls far short of her previous book. There are several problems with the book, the biggest being that the central taxonomical project is inherently flawed (and yes, I read the "health I was extraordinarily disappointed with this book. Mendlesohn's earlier treatment of Diana Wynne Jones, in which she employs her categories, was groundbreaking and illuminating. It also fully convinced me that her taxonomy was correct, at least as an interpretive suprastructure. Unfortunately, Rhetorics of Fantasy falls far short of her previous book. There are several problems with the book, the biggest being that the central taxonomical project is inherently flawed (and yes, I read the "health note"), but it is also plagued by bad writing and bad argumentation marked by sloppy thinking. The central problem is that Mendlesohn is trying to make an argument for rhetorical technique derived from her classification system. However this system, as she herself admits (see the "Health Note"), is an arbitrary one that is impossible to apply to the vast majority of fantasy books due to their adeptness at swimming between the boundaries. As she admits throughout, Mendlesohn had trouble deciding how to categorize even the books she examines within each chapter, sometimes moving them to a different chapter, or mentioning that a book would easily fit into another category, then bracketing any discussion of this fact. In each chapter she has to argue that the other categories could indeed be present within the current category she is treating. Ironically, this entire problem could have been avoided had she approached the problem from the other direction. Rather than seeing fantasy as inherently divided into categories which are then reified by rhetoric (doubly ironically, a position I don't think Mendlesohn actually holds), she should have argued that specific rhetorical strategies create fantasies that can be categorized across her taxonomy. Rather than creating a taxonomy of fantasy, she needed to create a taxonomy of rhetoric. The benefit of this is would have been that that she could group rhetorical strategies together, rather than texts together. This would obviate the need to continually point out that one text can be seen as occupying multiple categories at once. Instead, one author employs rhetoric in multiple ways within one text, weaving, for example, immersive and intrusive rhetorics together to create a polyvalent whole. This is further compounded by the fact that the categorizations that she does make are not themselves argued for. In every chapter she selects books that she considers representative of the type of fantasy she is investigating. However, she makes no attempt to explain or justify any of her choices, no matter how controversial or off the wall they seem. This is especially problematic when she includes books which would not widely be considered fantasy, or which in fact aren't fantasy at all (Pilgrim's Progress), without making more than token efforts to justify these inclusions. These range from books whose inclusion seems bizarre but acceptable (Holes) to books whose inclusion literally flies in the face of the critical tradition (Pilgrim's Progress or the short story "The Pit and the Pendulum"). There are two essential problems with this. One more pretentious issue is that it raises questions about her own engagement with the broader world of literary criticism (there are serious problems with her treatment of the Gothic, the dream vision/allegory tradition, etc.). Is Mendlesohn trying to engage with critics while still writing an accessible book about fantasy? If she is she did not do her homework, so to speak. The other problem is that there is so much slippage between genres, traditions, etc. that what Mendlesohn defines as fantasy or within the fantastic tradition is totally called into question. She spends close to twenty pages on Gothic literature, much of it on the less fantastic edges of the gothic, only to declare Fairy Tale part of Fancy and therefore not relevant. She of course moves on without explaining this bizarre decision, leaving a gaping hole in her discussion of Intrusion Fantasy. But this is to be expected, and is only more indicative of her sloppy writing and arguing. I was also really bothered by Mendlesohn's poor argumentation throughout the book. She constantly makes pronouncements which she does not or cannot defend, introduces important points without thinking through their implications for her broader argument, and even makes points that are so facile they offend the reader. At the same time, because she is so flippant with the points she makes, she packs so much into each chapter that it is impossible to follow the major argumentative thread. This turns all of her chapters into loosely organized musings that sometimes feel like a slog. Just to follow two related points along these lines: One of Mendlesohn's observations about Portal/Quest fantasy is that the category is given to imperialist readings. In her work on Diana Wynne Jones this was a brilliant insight, and lead her to a brilliant critique of Jones's Dark Lord of Derkholm and me to a breakthrough in understanding the paradoxically great yet racist Damar books by Robin McKinley. In Rhetorics, however, Mendlesohn does not work out this insight. Instead, early on, she asserts that "This kind of Fantasy is essentially imperialist," and then goes on to analyze most of the books in the Portal-Quest chapter without even the slightest nod to her insight. This becomes extremely distressing when we reach the core of her chapter, where she analyzes The Lord of the Rings a book widely considered by critics to be strongly and notably anti-imperialist. Yet The Lord of the Rings, she informs us, created the framework of the Portal-Quest as we now know it. It "codified much of how the quest fantasy deals with landscape, with character, with the isolation of the protagonists into the club-story narrative and with reader positioning." She does nothing to either argue against other critics who see LotR as anti-imperialist, or to explain how the book is in fact anti-imperialist in contradiction to her previous assertion. In fact, the latter discussion would have supported her overall argument and her overall treatment of LotR as a portal-quest fantasy, so it is distressing to me that she didn't follow that path. It is one of many that she ignores. The other point, Mendlesohn asserts in her Intrusive fantasy chapter that those seduced by the fantastic (even to their deaths) are in fact like rapists, trotting out "the old rape justification of "it made me do it! It seduced me! It was asking for it!" She quotes Nalo Hopkinson (who originated that quote) as support for her assertions, and then continues to return to Hopkinson everytime she makes this argument. Unfortunately, I think she and Hopkinson are deeply mis-appropriating narratives of rape to make this point, at a level that feels almost dangerous to me. Viewed in either direction, they are essentially victim blaming. In Mythago Wood, the book she relies on most to make this point, those (men) seduced by the fantastic are indeed seduced and ultimately killed by the wood. If we carry on the violence against women analogy, they are more like battered women, seduced by an abuser. If we keep strictly with the rape analogy, then she is calling the men who are legitimately seduced by the wood rapists. In other words, the rapist's excuse is true, and the object of rape was in fact a seductress. This is not a path that should be tread down with anything other than a great deal of clarifying and supporting argumentation, but Mendlesohn delivers none, a serious failing and highly indicative of her sloppy, surface level argumentation throughout. I will skip a critique of her writing in general, suffice it to say that she is verbose where concision would be better and that her paragraphs are poorly structured. There were also dozens of grammatical and proofreading errors, to the point that I was noticing one every other page. I normally would not point out the one or two understandable grammar errors in a book, however these were so commonplace, and really so unacceptable in an academic work, that they seem almost indicative of the carelessness that went into the book. All of this said, I still suggest that serious readers of fantasy literature read this book, especially those interested in the critical perspective. It is frustrating, but Mendlesohn's observations about fantasy, albeit obfuscated by her incompetence here, are truly groundbreaking.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emma Sea

    I liked it, but like this reviewer, I think Mendlesohn has got the cart before the horse. Attempt to classify fantasy novels is like herding cats. They are slippery creatures, leaping and diving through taxonomy at will. Categorizing the different narrative techniques and discussing how different novels make use of (a mix of) these techniques would have, to me, made more sense. Her argument isn't helped by a lack of clarity in her writing. The chapter on the portal fantasy is easily the best. In I liked it, but like this reviewer, I think Mendlesohn has got the cart before the horse. Attempt to classify fantasy novels is like herding cats. They are slippery creatures, leaping and diving through taxonomy at will. Categorizing the different narrative techniques and discussing how different novels make use of (a mix of) these techniques would have, to me, made more sense. Her argument isn't helped by a lack of clarity in her writing. The chapter on the portal fantasy is easily the best. In other sections at times Mendlesohn relies more heavily on a synopsis of the books she discusses than on a clear articulation of her classification structure. Glad I read it, though: some interesting points to think about and Mendlesohn shows a great understanding of, and love for, the genre.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    Ms. Mendlesohn's book is based on a question: What happens if we consider fantasy from the way the fantastic enters the text? From this question, and a plethora of reading, she formulates an answer based on several other questions: What is the structure of types of fantasy? Where is the reader positioned? How do we meet the fantastic? How does this affect the choice of language? ect. She makes it very clear that it's not the answer, but rather what she sees from what she has studied in the Ms. Mendlesohn's book is based on a question: What happens if we consider fantasy from the way the fantastic enters the text? From this question, and a plethora of reading, she formulates an answer based on several other questions: What is the structure of types of fantasy? Where is the reader positioned? How do we meet the fantastic? How does this affect the choice of language? ect. She makes it very clear that it's not the answer, but rather what she sees from what she has studied in the genre. It's not supposed to be a template on how to write a certain kind of fantasy. But it does bring up good points to think about when writing fantasy. Fantasy, she says, can be broken into four categories: Portal/Quest fantasies Immersive fantasies Intrusion fantasies Liminal fantasies She also points out a few novels that fall outside of these categories (as is to be expected, since genre is not rubric, it's dialectic). Portal/Quest fantasies are really two similar types of fantasy that end up following the same rhetorical structures. The Portal fantasy is one where the protagonist is transported out of their "real" world into a "magical" one. The most obvious example of this is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Quest fantasies are similar in that the protagonist leaves the known world (which is often far removed from magic, even if there is magic in the world) and travels into the unknown on, well, a quest. The most obvious example of this is The Lord of the Rings (despite it's immersive qualities). The reader is positioned as a companion/audience and we're tied to the protagonist for our understanding and decoding of the world. We accept the narrative of the protagonist. What he/she learns (from others) in traveling is the truth. The rhetoric is one of denying what should be taken for granted. It positions the reader and the protagonist as naive (which makes some sense, given the preponderance of children/naive, unlearned people who end up becoming the heroes of these kinds of tales). The tales often deal with the thinning of the land and end with the restoration of the land, the return to the grandeur of old. There is also, many times, there is an association with the King and the well-being of the Land (very Arthurian). Portal/quest fantasies are closed narratives. The information we learned is not questioned. History is fixed. When Gandalf speaks of elder times, we know it to be true. While the world of a portal/quest novel can be immersive, it is not the world, but the journey that matters, and what of the world we see, we see as a tourist on that journey, not as a native of the land. In LoTR, Frodo is only ever native to the Shire at the beginning of the novel. There we are not tourists, but rather immersed in Frodo's everyday life. Once we pass beyond the boundries of the Shire, we, like Frodo, are in unfamiliar territory. We, like Frodo (or the children in LWW), are astonished at it, wonder and marvel at the sights (or quiver). In contrast, the Immersive fantasy assumes the reader is as much a part of the world as the protagonist. The world must be complete and fully formed. We must share the assumptions of the world just as we would if we were reading about another period in history or place in our own, very real, world. We sit in the heads of the protagonist and interpret the world based on what they do and do not notice (i.e., we are not told, the world is described). There is no astonishment when it comes to the fantastic... it is taken for granted by the protagonist, and therefore must also be by the reader. Immersive fantasies are not so much about restoration as they are about entropy, watching the world decline. It not about building back up. The protagonist is engaged in a struggle with the world, must challenge what is known. History is not always reliable. Mendlesohn points to Perdido Street Station as an immersive fantasy... which brings up an interesting point. Some immersive fantasies are nearly indistinguishable from science fiction. Another immersive fantasy would be the Silmarilian. It's a good contrast to use between the immersive qualities of LoTR and the true immersion of the reader in the world. Much of what we learn in the Silmarillion is through characters fully living in their world, rather than through the eyes of a character who is on a journey through it. Immersive fantasies tend to take place (though not always) in cities. I would personally say that many of the Urban fantasies are immersive. Intrusion fantasies are fantasies where the fantastic intrudes on the "real" word. In an intrusion fantasy, the world is ruptured by the intrusion. It disrupts normality and must either be sent back to whence it came, or negotiated and normalized. But the normalization is not restoration. The world or the protagonist is fundamentally changed by the intrusion. An interesting rhetorical device of the intrusion fantasy is that the protagonist relies on senses over over what is known. There's an inherent distrust built up around what is known and in inherent trust in the senses. What is felt is true. What is known is circumspect. The protagonist moves from denial of the fantastic to the acceptance, during which there is a kind of push/pull between what is known and what is sensed with the senses winning out into what is true. There are times when the senses are couched in pseudo-scientific terms, but still end up as feelings clothed in faux-analysis. (See also Lovecraft.) Quite often the intruder renders the fantasy world more real than the mundane world of the character. The protagonist is sliced from the world, but also does not view themselves as entirely part of their world (or of the common man). It moves between latency and expectation, building until the end. Quite often the ending is somewhat of a let-down... it is the tension of the impending intrusion, the fantastic breathing on the back of the protagonists neck, that often is the heart of the tale. Intrusion fantasy is about entropy and the resistance to entropy. I'm going to stop here and state that I'm not sure I fully understand the next category, the liminal Fantasy. Mendlesohn originally conceived it as a form of fantasy that estranges the reader from the fantastic as it is seen and described by the protagonist. In the end, I think she comes to define liminal fantasy as fantasy which presents two worlds, two "truths" but which denies choosing between them. They are written in such a way that the mundane is described as fantastic (using the descriptive and baroque language fantasy readers are used to) and the fantastic is rendered more mundane or real, but no indication is given as to which is really "real." It is a form that plays on the expectation of the fantasy reader. It depends on the knowingness of the reader, the tendency to suspend disbelief and the knowledge the reader has about how these kinds of stories usually play out. Then it turns it on its head and the reader is left wondering just where the fantasy is, and just which of the truths presented is true. They deny the reader coded interpretation. They are not closed stories and much, at the end, is left open for the reader to decide. Mendlesohn then talks about some of the texts that don't neatly fit into her taxonomy, usually by shifting seamlessly between her different types of fantasy. I found this section the hardest to follow, and I think it requires a better understanding of the text she sights in the chapter. This is a dense book. Part of that density comes from the detail the author provides about the novels she read. Many of them are summarized in detail and excerpted heavily. There were times when I started to skim the retelling of the books Mendlesohn referred to, simply because I wanted to read about what she concluded from her, not get a summary of a novel. It was useful to know about the details of the novels, to a point, but there were times when I felt like the point was being dragged over and over again. In the end, it was a useful read, and an interesting one.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Beatriz

    I can finally say I have read this book in its entirety. The missing star is due to my personal disagreement with some of her placements and the obvious issues such an enormous endeavour would stir up. Overall, Mendlesohn takes home the gold when she defines exceptions to her own taxonomy which, to me, made her argument much more reasonable.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nathaniel

    I went from uninterested in this (because I don’t really care about narratology) to cautiously optimistic (after reading some stuff published after it that referenced it favorably) to just disappointed. for starters, Mendlesohn clearly hates “portal-quest” fantasy, and while she says in the intro that she took steps to mitigate her personal biases...it didn’t work, lol, and it leads her to the conclusion that the form as a whole is inherently ideologically or epistemologically...bad? evil? I went from uninterested in this (because I don’t really care about narratology) to cautiously optimistic (after reading some stuff published after it that referenced it favorably) to just disappointed. for starters, Mendlesohn clearly hates “portal-quest” fantasy, and while she says in the intro that she took steps to mitigate her personal biases...it didn’t work, lol, and it leads her to the conclusion that the form as a whole is inherently ideologically or epistemologically...bad? evil? immoral? I don’t know, something stronger than “bad” but weaker than “evil”. she also seemed to pretty much just be bored with intrusion fantasies, and as a result the chapter on them was boring, too. but mostly the whole book just suffers from being, well, kind of boring. the methodological notes in the introduction notwithstanding, this is mostly taxonomic, and so I feel kind of cheated — I got neither a useful formalism nor, really, the kind of careful attention to the particular language of fantasy that Samuel Delany gave us for science fiction. instead, as other reviewers have noted, the book is mostly a flood of examples without enough argument to pull them together. that the back cover notes that each chapter discusses “at least twenty books in detail” points to its rushedness rather than its actual comprehensiveness.

  6. 4 out of 5

    T.O. Munro

    This quite a rigorous but thorough analysis of a large number of fantasy books. Mendlesohn proposes a 4 part taxonomy of fantasy (portal/quest, immersive, intrusive and liminal) and then draws on examples to illustrate this. She also sets out to offer some ideas about what would constitute effective writing for each type. I found the book most accessible where Mendlesohn draws on examples I already knew. It is not an easy read (I made lots of use of the built in kindle dictionary). However, it This quite a rigorous but thorough analysis of a large number of fantasy books. Mendlesohn proposes a 4 part taxonomy of fantasy (portal/quest, immersive, intrusive and liminal) and then draws on examples to illustrate this. She also sets out to offer some ideas about what would constitute effective writing for each type. I found the book most accessible where Mendlesohn draws on examples I already knew. It is not an easy read (I made lots of use of the built in kindle dictionary). However, it did certainly get me thinking about how these categories might be applied to other books I have read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Meghan

    Decidedly mixed. I like Mendlesohn's proposed taxonomic schema (with one, rather significant, caveat, below), and her own rhetorics, often couched in provisional statements rather than authoritative pronouncements, combined with her liberal citations of personal conversations and emails with fantasy authors, conjures up the atmosphere of a cozy if one-sided seminar. The chapter on the Portal-Quest Fantasy is probably the strongest, and was a good choice to lead with, as it is recognizably a Thing Decidedly mixed. I like Mendlesohn's proposed taxonomic schema (with one, rather significant, caveat, below), and her own rhetorics, often couched in provisional statements rather than authoritative pronouncements, combined with her liberal citations of personal conversations and emails with fantasy authors, conjures up the atmosphere of a cozy if one-sided seminar. The chapter on the Portal-Quest Fantasy is probably the strongest, and was a good choice to lead with, as it is recognizably a Thing with a familiar sequence and set of themes that play out in many books that you will have read. The Immersion Fantasy (where the fantastic is known to and accepted by the characters) and the Intrusion Fantasy (where the characters must come to terms with the fantastic in what they previously considered to be the ordinary universe) are also useful categories, although the chapter on the Intrusion Fantasy takes a hard left turn into horror and barely considers what i would consider to be works of fantasy at all. I find Mendlesohn's fourth category, the Liminal Fantasy, completely incoherent and useless. Having read her definition ("that form of fantasy which estranges the reader from the fantastic as seen and described by the protagonist") and her examples, which are primarily a single short story by Joan Aiken ("Yes, But Today Is Tuesday") but also include Lud-in-the-Mist, Wizard of the Pigeons, Tiger's Railway, Little, Big, Holes, Lost Boy Lost Girl, and The Separation, I am further from knowing what she means by this category than ever, except that these are all books that I either have zero desire to read or books that, having read, I barely recognized as they were discussed here. Frankly, if I were to travel back in time, I would advise myself to skip this chapter altogether, along with the final chapter on books that cut across her proposed taxonomy, since they all seem to involve a crossover with the Liminal Fantasy. Still, I find the first three categories useful! One star for each of them!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Robert Wood

    Mendlesohn's book is an exploration of those corridors of fantasy literature effectively left out of the narrative by both Todorov and Jackson, deemed to be properly understood as the marvelous by the former, and not of sufficient subversion by the latter, while engaging with the gothic fiction that fascinates both of them. In doing so, she sets out four fuzzy genres sets, drawing on, critically engaging with, and expanding on the work of Attebury and Clute, while engaging a huge swath of Mendlesohn's book is an exploration of those corridors of fantasy literature effectively left out of the narrative by both Todorov and Jackson, deemed to be properly understood as the marvelous by the former, and not of sufficient subversion by the latter, while engaging with the gothic fiction that fascinates both of them. In doing so, she sets out four fuzzy genres sets, drawing on, critically engaging with, and expanding on the work of Attebury and Clute, while engaging a huge swath of literature and criticism. I have some minor quibbles of her representation of a couple books, but for the most part, her readings of the texts and her categories are worthwhile. The engagement with the first three categories, Portal, Immersive, and Intrusion fantasies was the most interesting, although her reading of the first category seemed to be the 'bad' fantasy category, despite her desire to avoid such a category. I found myself wanting to both engage in the texts she discusses, and to engage with her categories, as well. Well worth the read.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Saara

    Interesting viewpoint, ultimately disappointing. Mendlesohn’s goal is to categorize works of fantasy fiction using rhetorical analysis. Ostensibly not interested in creating a taxonomy of genres and subgenres based on formal analysis, she nevertheless ends up suggesting hierachies and boxes. A big oversight - that of many scholars interested in SFF, in my experience - is taking the exceptionality of fantastic fiction as given, and drawing from a limited pool of previous theory, mostly other Interesting viewpoint, ultimately disappointing. Mendlesohn’s goal is to categorize works of fantasy fiction using rhetorical analysis. Ostensibly not interested in creating a taxonomy of genres and subgenres based on formal analysis, she nevertheless ends up suggesting hierachies and boxes. A big oversight - that of many scholars interested in SFF, in my experience - is taking the exceptionality of fantastic fiction as given, and drawing from a limited pool of previous theory, mostly other SFF-related work. A lot of what is presented as qualities of fantasy literature is just as well found in realist literature, and theorized on by earlier scholars. A broader POV might have yielded better results. There are some inspired readings of individual works, but there’s not much theoretical heft to this book. On a metalevel, though, a good example of SFF being the ”most typical literature in the world” in that it reveals the structures and potential of any kind of literature, and is thus fruitful and attractive material for any theorist.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Seth

    This is a very (possibly over-) wordy book trying to turn art (writing fantasy lit) into a science. After the first chapter, I pretty much skimmed. This is a great book for budding authors/writers who are interested in the genre and want to know more about it. It could have been called "a taxonomy of fantasy" rather than "rhetorics," but it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that this book is very dry but does have information/answers/questions about the fantasy genre, as well as This is a very (possibly over-) wordy book trying to turn art (writing fantasy lit) into a science. After the first chapter, I pretty much skimmed. This is a great book for budding authors/writers who are interested in the genre and want to know more about it. It could have been called "a taxonomy of fantasy" rather than "rhetorics," but it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that this book is very dry but does have information/answers/questions about the fantasy genre, as well as examples of some of the best fantasy novels and series out there (C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, Frank Baum, etc.) It can be helpful, and I enjoyed and was informed by the read. Still, I doubt the everyday Joe will find this interesting in the slightest, and it takes a patient reader to study it to the end.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bethany

    Two stars for obvious biases, terms that get thrown around casually but never defined, and a somewhat random selection of stories. Four stars for a fascinating concept, the number of new fantasy books it inspired me to check out, and the fact that there is just not enough scholarship on fantasy out there. I enjoyed reading this book, even when I was baffled by the unexplained terms or annoyed by some of the blanket-assumptions it made.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dan'l Danehy-oakes

    I must begin by admitting a not-very-deep acquaintance, and somewhat deeper admiration for, Farah Mendlesohn, by way of the Intartoobz. The thesis of this - I guess you'd call it a monograph? - is that fantasy can be usefully (if not monosemically) characterized by the way the fantastic enters the text; or, alternatively, the way the fantastic is introduced to the (hypothetical/ideal) reader. Using this rubric, Mendlesohn identifies four major groups of fantasies: 1) The portal-quest fantasy. This I must begin by admitting a not-very-deep acquaintance, and somewhat deeper admiration for, Farah Mendlesohn, by way of the Intartoobz. The thesis of this - I guess you'd call it a monograph? - is that fantasy can be usefully (if not monosemically) characterized by the way the fantastic enters the text; or, alternatively, the way the fantastic is introduced to the (hypothetical/ideal) reader. Using this rubric, Mendlesohn identifies four major groups of fantasies: 1) The portal-quest fantasy. This is the story where a protagonist is taken from her familiar surroundings and put into the fantasy world. A good type case for this is C.S. Lewis's _Chronicles of Narnia_, where children from our world are constantly traversing to Narnia to take part in adventures. But the case is made that Tolkien's _Hobbit_ and _The Lord of the Rings_ also qualify, in that the hobbits are taken from their comfortable/familiar lives in the Shire and placed in the Big World Outside. 2) The immersive fantasy. A type case here might be Tolkien's _Silmarillion_; a story set in a fantasy world with no meaningful connection to ours. (Arguments that _The Silmarillion_ is set in "our past" will be cheerfully ignored.) Other good examples are Alexander's _Chronicles of Prydain_ and most of Pratchett's Discworld novels. 3) The intrusive fantasy. A story in which something from "outside" enters the "normal" world. A type case here is Hodgson's _The House on the Borderlands_. Charles Williams's novels are largely of this nature, as is most fantastic horror. Some Discworld novels, such as _Lords and Ladies_ and _Moving Pictures_, fit here also, as the received world of the Disc is invaded by forces from "outside." 4) The liminal fantasy. This is the hardest to define; it is, strictly speaking, a story on the borderlines of the fantastic. It's hard to set a type case for such a category, but Lindholm's _Wizard of the Pigeons_ fits. Williams's _All Hallows' Eve_ seems to fit pretty well here, as does Christopher Priest's _The Separation_; but also Peake's _Gormenghast_ books. There is a fifth grouping, of fantastic stories that don't fit comfortably into any of these categories. If there is a type case for this, it might be Roderick Townley's _The Great Good Thing_ (which I shall have to find and read). Some of them combine strategies of multiple types; others don't even fit that comfortably. The thing is, that "thesis" isn't really what the book is _about_. What it's really about is the rhetorical (textual) strategies fantasists use in creating these stories, ranging from point of view to various forms of irony and equipose, and everything in between. Mendlesohn illustrates her points with (occasionally lengthy) excerpts from a variety of texts. I began with an admission; I will end with another. Following Mendlesohn's arguments takes effort, and occasionally reached the edges of my qualification to read such things. But I got a great deal of pleasure from following them, and will return to some of these texts - and approach new ones - with a new set of tools for understanding what the writer is doing.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    The review to read is by my friend Michael Swanwick, who liked it a lot: http://michaelswanwick.com/nonfic/rhe... "So I'm sitting in a bar with a chemist named Jane and a guy who says his name is Tom Nobody, though naturally I have my doubts. Jane is delicately picking the cashews out of the bowl of mixed nuts and eating them one at a time. Tom's positioned himself so he can keep one eye on the door. And I'm talking about how Kevin Maroney hit me up to write this essay. "I told him I couldn't The review to read is by my friend Michael Swanwick, who liked it a lot: http://michaelswanwick.com/nonfic/rhe... "So I'm sitting in a bar with a chemist named Jane and a guy who says his name is Tom Nobody, though naturally I have my doubts. Jane is delicately picking the cashews out of the bowl of mixed nuts and eating them one at a time. Tom's positioned himself so he can keep one eye on the door. And I'm talking about how Kevin Maroney hit me up to write this essay. "I told him I couldn't possibly review Rhetorics of Fantasy," I say. "My mind just doesn't work that way. That's not what I'm for. I don't even read critical works properly — I dive in and out of them at random. If I get bored, I skim. I don't take notes, and I skip most of the footnotes. My reading is disorganized and scattershot." "So what did Maroney say?" Jane asks. "He told me to make a virtue out of it. He said I should write something impressionistic. Something scattershot and episodic." . . . . . . the dark ambiguities of liminal fantasy as illuminated by the fire sermon "For those of us previously aware of Farah Mendlesohn's criticism — and who else would spend $27.95 for the Wesleyan University Press trade paperback? — the greatest interest lies in the section on liminal fantasy, a form which she herself defined, and which therefore possesses all the sexiness of the new. Until the form is commonly understood and internalized by the rest of us, there is no way to argue with Mendlesohn's conclusions. . . . "Slightly over four pages are dedicated to discussion of my fantasy novel, The Iron Dragon's Daughter. I wish it were more; four pages is far from enough to satisfy the inner egomaniac. But Rhetorics of Fantasy is not about the specific books discussed therein but, rather, uses those books to demonstrate various critical insights. That being so, I include this disclaimer not in order to reveal any potential conflict of interest, but to avoid the trap that Isaac Asimov fell into when he blurbed "It is an incredibly wonderful book" for Alexei and Cory Panshin's The World Beyond the Hill, a critical work which concluded that early modern science fiction all led up to and culminated in — Isaac Asimov himself. I do not delight in Rhetorics of Fantasy because I am in it. I delight in being in it because it is an incredibly wonderful book."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kristina

    Very much enjoyed and provided many insights into the kinds of fantasy I tend to prefer and why as well as providing the opportunity for rigorous reading. I was mostly not familiar with the texts she analyzed, which is partly why this is 4 and not 5 stars. I'm not sure I completely agree with her taxonomy, and I feel that while the divisions may work well for the texts she chose, that many of the books I've read over the last decade don't fit easily into one of her categories. I see many more Very much enjoyed and provided many insights into the kinds of fantasy I tend to prefer and why as well as providing the opportunity for rigorous reading. I was mostly not familiar with the texts she analyzed, which is partly why this is 4 and not 5 stars. I'm not sure I completely agree with her taxonomy, and I feel that while the divisions may work well for the texts she chose, that many of the books I've read over the last decade don't fit easily into one of her categories. I see many more exceptions to her "rules" - which could be authors actively subverting earlier forms and tropes or could be a flaw or gap in the taxonomy. It is an interesting structure within which to assess and enjoy texts on a rhetorical level, so I will doubtless find it intriguing to ponder when reading in future.

  15. 4 out of 5

    A.

    On the whole, I thought this would be more illuminating than it was.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mjhancock

    Mendlesohn proposes that fantasy literature can be thought of in terms of four rhetorical strategies, based on how fantasy enters the story. In the portal quest story, a protagonist travels from the ordinary into the fantasy and gains some mastery over it, and we the readers go with them. In an immersive fantasy, the reader is thrust into a fantasy world all characters are already familiar with, and we're left to catch up as we go along. In an intrusion fantasy, the fantasy intrudes upon the Mendlesohn proposes that fantasy literature can be thought of in terms of four rhetorical strategies, based on how fantasy enters the story. In the portal quest story, a protagonist travels from the ordinary into the fantasy and gains some mastery over it, and we the readers go with them. In an immersive fantasy, the reader is thrust into a fantasy world all characters are already familiar with, and we're left to catch up as we go along. In an intrusion fantasy, the fantasy intrudes upon the ordinary world, and must usually be driven off. And in liminal fantasy, the magic hovers at the corners, treated by the book's characters as perfectly ordinary. For me at least, it's an immensely useful set of tools, one that can be applied to fantasy across a number of mediums. The book is divided into five chapters, and each chapter addresses a different type of fantasy, with the final chapter addressing hybrid forms. As others have noted, beyond this basic structure, there's something of a looseness to the book, as Mendlesohn has a tendency to weave in and out with her argument and jump from point to point. Consequently, I, for one, would be hard pressed to say exactly what the rhetorics associated with each fantasy type *are*, beyond the basic association she provides. It's a little hard to tell when she's talking specifically at the book at hand, and when she's referring to what she thinks of as the type as a whole. And while this may be my personal preferences--my own fantasy readings tend towards the portal-quest and the immersive--the book seemed to get a little looser towards the end in particular. But all in all, even if all Mendlesohn did was present the four types, that would have been useful enough; that she went through several examples of each makes the book that much more worth reading. As any good portal-quest, the path may be winding, but the destination is worth travelling to.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Whyte

    "http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1223512.html[return][return]In Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn identifies four different ways in which fantasy writers engage with their book (and their readers). First is the portal / quest fantasy, where the hero leaves his or her normality to enter a fantasy world on a heroic journey. Second, the immersive fantasy, which is entirely set within an imagined world. Third, the intrusive fantasy, where the abnormal intrudes into the characters' reality. And "http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1223512.html[return][return]In Rhetorics of Fantasy, Farah Mendlesohn identifies four different ways in which fantasy writers engage with their book (and their readers). First is the portal / quest fantasy, where the hero leaves his or her normality to enter a fantasy world on a heroic journey. Second, the immersive fantasy, which is entirely set within an imagined world. Third, the intrusive fantasy, where the abnormal intrudes into the characters' reality. And fourth, the liminal fantasy, where we are not certain which is which. [return][return]These are not absolutes; many books combine writing in more than one of these rhetorical modes (eg The Lord of the Rings begins as a quest and becomes immersive, and I would say even intrusive in the closing section in the Shire; Perdido Street Station is an immersive fantasy into which there is also an intrusion from elsewhere). But Mendlesohn is convincing on the basic point that these are four very different ways of writing the fantastic, which call on writers (and readers) to approach the texts in specific ways. Four long chapters give specific examples for each of the four rhetorical modes; a fifth looks at exceptions to them.[return][return]I'm not acquainted with literary theory, and my academic training is in the rather different fields of hard science and history (where the words 'polysemic' and 'phatic' are not often used), so when I read books like this I am not really looking to participate in the intellectual debate that the author may want to have. I am looking for i) a better understanding of books I have already read and ii) for suggestions of books I might read in the future which may appeal to me, and Rhetorics of Fantasy supplied me with plenty of material on both counts (and I'm brewing a livejournal poll based on my reading of it)."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Boze Herrington

    worth reading just for the chapter on intrusion fantasies, their structure, and why we love them.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Candy Wood

    Much to think about in Mendlesohn's proposed categories of fantasy: portal-quest, immersive, intrusion, and liminal, with a final chapter for texts that don't quite fit anywhere else. I'm not sure I agree with her classifications of some of the books I've read, but she doesn't insist on agreement anyway--it's all part of a conversation. I do realize that her tastes and mine are quite different. Some of her key examples are books I've read but don't remember very well (but would expect to if I Much to think about in Mendlesohn's proposed categories of fantasy: portal-quest, immersive, intrusion, and liminal, with a final chapter for texts that don't quite fit anywhere else. I'm not sure I agree with her classifications of some of the books I've read, but she doesn't insist on agreement anyway--it's all part of a conversation. I do realize that her tastes and mine are quite different. Some of her key examples are books I've read but don't remember very well (but would expect to if I had thought they did all that she claims for them--Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, for example, or Townley's The Great Good Thing). And many I've never read or heard of (intrusion fantasies seem to be mostly horror, a genre I avoid). But we both like Diana Wynne Jones, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett--and now I'll pay more attention to such matters as rhetoric, trajectories, and latency as I read fantasy.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Welton

    Literary theory sometimes feels, to me, like vivisection: the process of dissection might give us information, but only by killing the subject matter. No so for this book. Mendlesohn's explorations of "how the fantastic enters the text" made me more excited about reading, writing, and writing about the fantastic. I can tell that I'm going to be returning to this book for years: it's a reading list, an argument, and a doorway into new ways of thinking about stories. This book raises more questions Literary theory sometimes feels, to me, like vivisection: the process of dissection might give us information, but only by killing the subject matter. No so for this book. Mendlesohn's explorations of "how the fantastic enters the text" made me more excited about reading, writing, and writing about the fantastic. I can tell that I'm going to be returning to this book for years: it's a reading list, an argument, and a doorway into new ways of thinking about stories. This book raises more questions than it answers-- and that's exactly what makes it valuable to me.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Wm

    When it comes to literary criticism, especially any type that tries to structure, define or describe groupings of texts, what matters most is if the approach put forth allows one to say interesting things about the texts and come up with interesting connections across texts. While Mendelsohn's four types of fantasy may not be some sort of universal key to apply to fantastic fiction, what I like about this book is that it dives deep into how the fantastic enters into/shows up in fiction (mostly When it comes to literary criticism, especially any type that tries to structure, define or describe groupings of texts, what matters most is if the approach put forth allows one to say interesting things about the texts and come up with interesting connections across texts. While Mendelsohn's four types of fantasy may not be some sort of universal key to apply to fantastic fiction, what I like about this book is that it dives deep into how the fantastic enters into/shows up in fiction (mostly novels).

  22. 5 out of 5

    Leif

    Loves it. Mendlesohn breaks important ground in the discussion of forms of fantasy. Her four loose categories based on Clute's idea of "fuzzy sets", while seeming vaguely superficial, is actually a very workable disctinction. Look for a better review from me later, after this degree, when I have time to sit down and really go through Rhetorics of Fantasy. I have no doubts but that it will be a rewarding read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Steen Ledet

    Fascinating and insightful work on fantasy literature, that I just don't agree with. I find myself entirely convinced by the ideology of quest fantasies' form and this argument represents one of the best regarding the mode of fantasy I have ever seen. However, the other divisions and forms seem off to me, although many of Mendlesohn's arguments remain important.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kyla Ward

    It is the insistence on being a resource rather than a rulebook, a explication of fuzzy sets and negotiations, that makes this a truly useful guide to the contemporary fantastic in literature. The author's sly isolation of the various sets of rules does more than most fantasies to crack the boundaries of perception.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Heather Faye

    I disagree with some of the classifications but in general found her arguments useful in my writing. Not an utter waste of time but not a go to book for me either. I can't imagine recommending this to anyone I know with the exception perhaps of Amy if she decides to write fantasy.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Randi Kennedy

    Excellent for the theory, but the application was confusing, largely because I haven't read many of the books she used as examples. Recommended for fans of fantasy who are interested in how fantasy worlds are created.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Pete

    An articulate author with lots of insights into the genre of fantasy.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Hoare

    I'm learning more about the styles and . . . yes, rhetorics . . . of fantasy than I ever knew existed.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Possibly further thoughts to come, although literary theory isn't my thing

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    An excellent exploration of the rhetorical (and political) implications of various flavors in fantasy. Does make me want to try to subvert the patterns Mendlesohn identifies, of course.

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