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Rhetorics of Fantasy Paperback – April 30, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Mendlesohn goes well beyond a survey to offer new and often surprising readings of works both familiar and obscure. A fine critical work that offers fresh insights on almost every page.” (Brian Attebery, editor, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts)

“A useful and deliberately flexible taxonomy, and an intense engagement with the arms race of rhetoric between makers and users of fantasy. For authors and readers as well as academics and commentators.” (M. John Harrison, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award)

About the Author

FARAH MENDLESOHN teaches at Middlesex University, London. She was editor of Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction for six years, and is the author of Diana Wynne Jones and the Children's Fantastical Tradition (2005) and co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction (2006), winner of a Hugo Award. She is the program director for the World Science Fiction Convention in Montreal in 2009.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Wesleyan; First edition. edition (April 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0819568686
  • ISBN-13: 978-0819568687
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #759,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Best to start with the "Health Warning: This book is not intended to create rules. Its categories are not intended to fix anything in stone. This book is merely a portal into fantasy, a tour around the skeletons and exoskeletons of the genre." (P. vii)

So, this book is trying to find common ground among the various paths of fantasy so we can at least discuss the various types with some agreed upon framework. Mendleson divides fantasy up into four primary categories:

Portal-Quest Fantasy: These are two strains (well represented by Narnia and Middle Earth) that are almost parallel in how they are told, the protagonist(s) ventures into another/wider world, learning about it and ultimately setting things right. These are stories of correction, often crouched in terms of healing or restoring things to how they once were. It is an interesting section as I never thought about certain aspects of the structure of the Quest fantasy, such as how history must be uncovered and it always true . . . as is prophecy. Characters in the portal-quest fantasy often accept their role reluctantly but they accept that the role is both true and necessary.

Immersive Fantasy: Immersive fantasy is rather odd category, as it is an umbrella for the worlds in which other stories are told, such as mysteries in a fantasy world (Randall Garret's Lord Darcy series) or romances (many, but not my sub-genre) or war stories (Glen Cook's Black Company). Immersive fantasy can even hold other types of fantasy stories within them (such as the intrusion fantasy within China Mieville's Perdito Street Station). The key to immersive fantasies is how they present the world we find ourselves viewing as the only world, the techniques to do so are discussed by Mendleson and where they can fail.
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Format: Paperback
Mendlesohn has read widely in the field of fantasy literature "for an understanding of the construction [word in italics in original] of the genre...in order to provide critic tools for further analysis." Teaching at London's Middlesex U., she is coauthor of The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction and other works.

Believing "that the fantastic is an area of literature that is heavily dependent on the dialectic between author and reader for the construction of a sense of wonder," the author sought to gain an understanding of how this sense of wonder which is the literature's main appeal for its readers is aroused. Mendlesohn identified four basic "constructions"--the portal-quest fantasy, the immersive fantasy, and intrusion fantasy, and the liminal fantasy. Each is somewhat self-explanatory from the author's name for it. Each creates a respective sense of wonder by its author's skilled, experienced employment of techniques proper to it.

Liminal fantasy is "that form of fantasy which estranges the reader from the fantastic as seen and described by the protagonist." Joan Aiken's story "Yes, But Today Is Tuesday" is analyzed as a prime example of the liminal fantasy. C. S. Lewis's "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" represents the portal-quest fantasy. "The Lord of the Rings" is a classic quest fantasy. With each type of fantasy, Mendlesohn uses both familiar and obscure, often older works to impart her multipart perspective on the field.

As the author recognizes, fantasy works often have aspects of other types besides the type they fundamentally belong to. "Lord of the Rings," for instance, has aspects of immersive fantasy; this is found mostly in the scenes of the Shire.
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Really informative and interesting text. Leans heavily on certain examples but does a great job of explaining those examples if you haven't read them; that said, I found the text more interesting and accessible where I had read the example works. Still, for someone interested in reading fantasy with a more critical eye, or writing it with an eye to what has come before and the conventions of the genre (whether to hew to them or play against them), it's a great work and very readable.
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This isn't fiction, it is a thoughtful analysis of fantasy and the rhetorical nature of it. I think its a great book for the writer, scholar, or fantasy aficionado.
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