From: Pauline J. Alama PJAlama@...
Date: Fri, 8 Mar 2002 08:41:03 -0500 (EST)
Subject: [mythsoc] Mythopoeic Fantasy & Connie Willis's _Passage_
<< Members of the selection committees for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award have been urged to discuss the books on the list, & so let me begin by posing some questions about the criteria. The award is for Mythopoeic Fantasy, and the definition is "in the spirit of the Inklings." Can this, however, be the whole definition? A plan to restore some of the ancient forests of England would be very much in the spirit of Tolkien, but wouldn't be a mythopoeic fantasy.>>
My definition of "in the spirit of the Inklings" includes a wide variety of work by C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. Williams wrote "supernatural thrilliers," with an urban sensibility; of the three, he had (I think) the most appreciation for the city, and the modern inventions it promotes. He pioneered what we call "urban fantasy" these days. C. S. Lewis wrote science fiction (both short and long), and children's fantasy, as well as poetry. We all know Tolkien's achievements. All three share a love and respect for myth, for myth-creation (or re-creation in Lewis case, with *Til We Have Faces,*) and especially for Christian thought that is basic to all of them, to varying degrees. Connie Willis clearly shares all of these qualities; I'd place her in the "Williams" category for the purposes of the award.
I was a bit surprised to see Connie Willis's _Passage_ among the nominees. I think this is an excellent, intelligent, moving book; it literally made me laugh, cry, and think. (It made me cry on the lunch table, and then I had to dry my eyes & go back to work! And I don't often cry over books, even very good ones!) >>
I wasn't that emotionally moved by it, but I was very impressed with what she did; I love her gift for comedy.
<< However, I'm not sure how to shoehorn it into the category of mythopoeic fantasy. It may be argued to be in the spirit of the Inklings by taking religious, moral, and cosmological questions seriously and using imaginative fiction to work them out. >>
A very good expression of their essence, Pauline.
<< It may be fantasy, if one takes my (admittedly controversial) definition of science fiction as a kind of fantasy that builds its plot around fictional technology rather than mythological devices. But it is definitely science fiction, and I'm not sure I can see anything myth-making about it. I would be very interested in hearing other people's comments either on _Passage_ or on the definition of mythopoeic fantasy. >>
SF does indeed mythologize technology, but more, I think it is the ultimate expression of humanism---both its glory (represented by space opera and planetary romance) and its shame (wherein we find all of the cautionary tales, best represented by *Frankenstein.*). But I don't think, however it is placed in modern times with the scientific study of NDEs that Willis develops this scientific inquiry enough for it to be anything like SF, for in SF the technological focus is *central* For Willis it's both contrastive device (as opposed to the New Age "woo-woo" writer she mocks so well) and gateway to the scenes she really wants to present---on the Titanic.
That's the real "heart" of the book. Which is why I classify it as "urban fantasy." Charles Williams would be pleased; she's walking his turf, and doing him proud.
<< Thank you very much.>>
No, thank you! I look forward to your contributions. Off list, I'll tell you about another way you might contribute, if you have time! ---djb
Pauline J. Alama
71 Chestnut St.
Rutherford NJ 07070
The Mythopoeic Society website http://www.mythsoc.org
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