Rhetoric of fantasy: portal, immersive, invasive.

Discussion in 'Fantasy' started by GiovanniDeFeo, Feb 14, 2017.

  1. GiovanniDeFeo

    GiovanniDeFeo Firsthanded the newest Caine adventure

    I am reading this book called Rhetoric of fantasy.
    Its author argues there are three (actually four) kind of fantasy from how the fantasytic is accessed by the reader.

    Portal, when the main character travels to the fantastic.
    Immersive, when the main character is immersed in the fantastic.
    Invasive, when the fantastic leaks in into the 'real' world.

    Shockingly enough, she argues that LoTR is a portal fantasy, or at least it has its structure, as it starts from a mundane world that slowly opens up to the fantastic. As opposed to Steve Erickson's work, where the reader has to figure out all by himself...

    Have you read it? Would you? If you did, what do you think?
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
  2. Tanniel

    Tanniel Ran bridges next to Kaladin

    I was very much in doubt about whether I have read this or not, but I don't think I have; I'm thinking of another book with a similar title. I would be interested in reading this one, though; (good) critical theory dealing specifically with fantasy is hard to come by, and the one example you mention of how LotR can be construed as portal fantasy is an intriguing prospect. My own division of fantasy in subgenres is not far from the three presented here, but mine is simpler, almost crude, probably.
  3. GiovanniDeFeo

    GiovanniDeFeo Firsthanded the newest Caine adventure

    I agree, but this one is actually really good. The best after Todorov's, and that was special.
    The thing he says about Tolkien is more subtle than it appears... it is all about how the reader is lead to encounter the fantastic...
  4. kenubrion

    kenubrion Journeyed there and back again

    Enters the portal which leads to the fantastic that has leaked in from the real world the end. The Waking Fire sounds better.
  5. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    I think what it means is that the story story starts with the shire, a mundane rural agrarian society, where magic doesn't exist and people don't even care about the fantastic things around them.

    I'm not sure if this is completely accurate, it make sense but ignores gandalf periodically stopping by with magic displays, a history that acknowledges magic and embraces it, regular dwarf visitors to bag end , and a town nearby so used to hobbits exiting to explore that they have hobbit sized alternatives of everything to accommodate.
  6. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    I like this, I will add it to my queue. I think there is something to lit theory that wants us to categorize it. This is both right, and wrong. There isn't a one categorization to rule them all, and they all have flaws and uses.

    Maybe a fourth category for hybrid books, or just acknowledging that some books don't neatly fit into any one category.
  7. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    I LOVE trying to categorize things, so this sounds right up my alley. Yet those categories sound a little... simple I guess. It's almost like saying "All fantasy either takes place on land, sea, or air."

    Interesting point about LOTR being portal fantasy because of leaving the shire for a wilder world where magic exists. But if that's the case then all farm boy chosen ones would fall into this category.
  8. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    I have a neat one.

    Scholarly: centered around a theme of thought. Be it university/school (rincewind based discworld novels, Harry Plopper) temple/church/monastery (I know I've read some, can't remember) or some bureaucratic institution. (A thieves guild can be seen as fitting)

    Militarily or high combat. Self explanatory mostly focusing on wars and battles. Like turtledove

    High society ( I'm thinking Anna karenina or pride and prejudice, with magic.. sure somewhere there a book like this) Edit ohh, Jonathan Strang and Mr Norrel

    Adventure/journey (LOTR, Narnia, those like it, and most Sword and sorcery )

    Mystery, like dresden files.

    Hybrid, GoT is military, but has strong scholarly aspects.

    Edit, I also think most in the mystery category will end up being hybrids, maybe I can sweep mystery into one of the other categories title by title

    EDIT, I Think this is more thematic rather than rhetoric, therefore does not apply with respect to OPs book.

    Apologies, I will leave it up though
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
  9. Tanniel

    Tanniel Ran bridges next to Kaladin

    Yes, it sounds simple enough when you think about it; we start in a location that is easily recognisable and then only move further and further into the fantastical. It's a Columbus egg, I suppose; obvious enough once someone points it out to you. At any rate, I would be curious to read the book to see if there is more to the theory to give food for thought.

    Which I think is also a fair assessment. One of the reasons that the farm boy trope is so popular, is that it starts the story in simple surroundings and gives a reader surrogate to whom the fantastic elements of the world can be explained. Makes good sense to me to lump these together under this categorisation system.
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  10. GiovanniDeFeo

    GiovanniDeFeo Firsthanded the newest Caine adventure

    She wrote almost 300 pages on that, trust me, it's not that simple. What the author is interested in is the rhetoric devices you build to make the reader experience the 'fantastic'. So even if the TLoR is an immersive fantasy, in theory, in practice you discover the magic elements along with the Hobbits. And this is the most simple aspect of it...

    The only thing that I dislike, so far, is that she implies that portal fantasies are an inferior, simpler form.
    Well, The Divina Commedia is a portal fantasy: really not inferior to most literature world-wide, and not that simple either.
  11. GiovanniDeFeo

    GiovanniDeFeo Firsthanded the newest Caine adventure

    An example of rhetoric devices:

    The Journey that solves the Quest (as she noted, almost all portal fantasy have it).
    The Sage-Guide that knows it all (Gandalf).
    The Reverie in which the character reflects (sometimes for no apparent reas0n) about how she came to be where she is..

    And so on...
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2017
  12. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    Glad to know it's not that simple or reductionist. Actually, it sounds like a fascinating book.
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  13. GiovanniDeFeo

    GiovanniDeFeo Firsthanded the newest Caine adventure

    I d0n't agree on everything she says, but it is!
  14. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    Is this the book by Mendelssohn?. If so are there examples given for Liminal Fantasy?
  15. Matticus Primal

    Matticus Primal Journeyed there and back again

    Yeah, I call that device the proxy protagonist, which is the best means for the author to hold the audience by the hand and show them exactly what they want to see.

    It's funny, but this sort of reminds me of why superheros started having kid sidekicks show up in their comics way back. Because their audience was mostly pre-teen males, so the writers wanted to give the audience a means to imagine themselves hanging out with Batman or running alongside the Flash. It was an obvious ploy that has fallen out of favor these days, but proved a cornerstone to the superhero genre for decades.
  16. GiovanniDeFeo

    GiovanniDeFeo Firsthanded the newest Caine adventure

    It is! I'm not there yet....
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  17. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Hired Nicomo Cosca, famed soldier of fortune

    What better way than to invite and trap any mortal reader into a fantastic, magical story? Reading is tantamount to escapism and fantasizing as much as happy cooking is sharing tasty food with good friends.
    If an author can bring me on board of a story and let me join the adventure, well, do I need anything else? Not really, not much more...

    Sorry! couldn't help myself...;)

    Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
    Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
    One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
    In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
    One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
    One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
    In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie."
  18. Bierschneeman

    Bierschneeman Journeyed there and back again

    No sorrys, the paraphrase was intentional
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  19. GiovanniDeFeo

    GiovanniDeFeo Firsthanded the newest Caine adventure

    Well, I think that the entrance to the fantastic is a fascinating topic.
    By reading the book I came to understand that the genre I'm least interested in –usually, but there are exceptions– is the immersive fantasy.
    That is because I want fantasy book be about wonder, in a form or another. Immersive fantasy are about estrangement, sometimes irony, but seldom about wonder in itself.

    It must be said that we are discussing these categories as if they existed as absolutes. They don't. To name one, The Books of The News Sun by G. Wolfe are immersive fantasies but also share a lot with the portal fantasies too. Anyway, I find all this incredibly fascinating...
  20. Peat

    Peat Journeyed there and back again

    Never heard of it but after an initial thoughtless sneer, it sounds quite solid. I wouldn't have used the word portal because it has another meaning to so many people but the basic idea seems sound.

    https://muse.jhu.edu/book/21231 - free samples of the book here.
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