Worldbuilding

Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy in the 2018 Mythopoeic Awards Finalists!

I have just found out that my latest monograph, Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), has been shortlisted for the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies!

The Mythopoeic Awards are divided into four categories, two for fiction, and two for scholarship:

  • The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature is given to the fantasy novel, multi-volume novel, or single-author story collection for adults published during the previous year that best exemplifies “the spirit of the Inklings”.
  • The Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature honors books for beginning readers to age thirteen, in the tradition of The Hobbit or The Chronicles of Narnia.
  • The Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies is given to books on J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and/or Charles Williams that make significant contributions to Inklings scholarship.
  • The Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies is given to scholarly books on other specific authors in the Inklings tradition, or to more general works on the genres of myth and fantasy.

My first monograph, Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) received the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies in 2010 and it’s a great honour to be shortlisted again, this time for the Myth and Fantasy Studies category.

I am in really excellent company, alongside books by colleagues Farah Mendlesohn and Mark J.P. Wolf. I actually contributed two entries in Wolf’s edited collection in this shortlist: one on Tolkien’s Arda, and one (co-authored with Andrew Higgins) on Invented Languages.

The winners of this year’s awards will be announced during Mythcon 49, to be held July 20-23, 2018, in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

Here’s a link to the announcement the Mythopoeic Society website: http://www.mythsoc.org/news/news-2018-05-21.htm

And here’s the full short list:

Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies

Byrne, Aisling, Otherworlds: Fantasy and History in Medieval Literature (Oxford Univ. Press, 2016)
Fimi, Dimitra, Celtic Myth in Contemporary Children’s Fantasy: Idealization, Identity, Ideology (Palgrave MacMillan, 2017)
Levy, Michael and Farah Mendlesohn, Children’s Fantasy Literature: An Introduction (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2016)
Sanders, Elizabeth M, Genres of Doubt: Science Fiction, Fantasy and the Victorian Crisis of Faith (McFarland, 2017)
Wolf, Mark J.P., ed., The Routledge Companion to Imaginary Worlds (Routledge, 2017)

Ursula K. Le Guin: In Memoriam

I was saddened this morning to hear about the death of Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the giants of fantasy literature, and an author I have written about and taught for many years. I was asked to write a brief article about her for The Conversation, which is available to read here: https://theconversation.com/ursula-k-le-guins-strong-female-voice-challenged-the-norms-of-a-male-dominated-genre-90636

Here are also some of my favourite quotations from Le Guin’s Earthsea books and her essays about fantasy literature in The Language of the Night:

On the conception of The Wizard of Earthsea:

‘Serious consideration of magic, and of writing for kids, combined to make me wonder about wizards. Wizards are usually elderly or ageless Gandalfs, quite rightly and archetypically. But what were they before they had white beards? How did they learn what is obviously an erudite and dangerous art? Are there colleges for young wizards? And so on.’ (The Language of the Night, p. 51)

On challenging assumptions about race in her fantasy writing:

My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start… I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”). It didn’t even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now – why wouldn’t they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future? The fantasy tradition I was writing in came from Northern Europe, which is why it was about white people. I’m white, but not European. My people could be any color I liked, and I like red and brown and black. I was a little wily about my color scheme. I figured some white kids (the books were published for “young adults”) might not identify straight off with a brown kid, so I kind of eased the information about skin color in by degrees – hoping that the reader would get “into Ged’s skin” and only then discover it wasn’t a white one. (A Whitewashed Earthsea)

On fantasy, dreaming, and the inner journey:

The great fantasies, myths and tales are indeed like dreams: they speak from the unconscious to the unconscious, in the language of the unconscious – symbol and archetype. Though they use words, they work the way music does: they short-circuit verbal reasoning, and go straight to the thoughts that lie too deep to utter. They cannot be translated fully into the language of reason, but only a Logical Positivist, who also finds Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony meaningless, would claim that they are therefore meaningless. They are profoundly meaningful, and usable – practical – in terms of ethics; of insight; of growth… It also seems to me that most of the great works of fantasy are about that journey [to self-knowledge]; and that fantasy is the medium best suited to a description of that journey, its perils and rewards. The events of a voyage into the unconscious are not describable in the language of rational daily life: only the symbolic language of the deeper psyche will fit them without trivializing them. (The Language of the Night, pp. 62, 65)

On magic and “true names” in Earthsea:

To change this rock into a jewel, you must change its true name. And to do that, my son, even to so small a scrap of the world, is to change the world. It can be done… But you must not change one thing, one pebble, one grain of sand, until you know what good and evil will follow on that act. The world is in balance, in Equilibrium. A wizard’s power of Changing and of Summoning can shake the balance of the world. It is dangerous, that power. It is most perilous. It must follow knowledge, and serve need. To light a candle is to cast a shadow… (A Wizard of Earthsea, chapter 3)

On action and self-knowledge:

“When I was young, I had to choose between the life of being and the life of doing. And I leapt at the latter like a trout to a fly. But each deed you do, each act, binds you to itself and to its consequences, and makes you act again and yet again. Then very seldom do you come upon a space, a time like this, between act and act, when you may stop and simply be, or wonder who, after all, you are.” (The Farthest Shore, chapter 3)

On life and death:

“Death and life are the same thing—like the two sides of my hand, the palm and the back. And still the palm and the back are not the same…They can be neither separated, nor mixed.” (The Farhest Shore, chapter 5)

Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018. R.I.P.

 

References:

Le Guin, U.K. (1992) The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. New York: HarperCollins.

Le Guin, U.K. (1993) The Earthsea Quartet. London: Penguin.

Le Guin, U.K. (2004) A Whitewashed Earthsea: How the Sci Fi Channel wrecked my books. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2004/12/a_whitewashed_earthsea.html

 

Beren and Lúthien: Some First Thoughts (and radio interview)

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Beren and Lúthien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, was published yesterday. The book is an attempt by Christopher Tolkien to extract one of the most beautiful, moving, and personal stories of his father’s ‘legendarium’ into a standalone book, allowing the story to shine on its own, as well as showing its development over time. The books is accompanied by stunning illustrations by Alan Lee.

I was interviewed about this new book on BBC Radio Wales this morning by Felicity Evans, on Good Morning Wales. I first talked about the personal significance of the story for Tolkien: seeing his young wife, Edith, dancing in a woodland among white flowers near Roos in East Yorkshire became the heart of the tale of the mortal Beren falling in love with the immortal Lúthien. Michael Flowers’ research has added a lot to our understanding of this personal connection and the imagery of this scene – see here for his excellent blog post, including photographs from the location where Edith danced.

I actually found it very moving that Christopher Tolkien dedicates this book to his own wife, Baillie Tolkien, especially as he says in the preface that – at 93 – this may well be the last book of his father’s work he will edit. He also mentions hearing the story of Beren and Lúthien orally from his father in the early 1930s and refers to the famous letter his father sent him a year after Edith’s death, saying that his wife “was (and knew she was) my Lúthien” (Letter #340). Famously, the names Beren and Lúthien are inscribed on the gravestone where Tolkien and Edith are buried (Wolvercote Cemetery, Oxford).

In my interview I also referred briefly to the creative reshaping of myth and legend in this tale: the union of a fairy woman with a mortal man (a widespread motif in European folklore), and the reversal of the Orpheus myth (Lúthien wins back Beren from the Halls of Mandos, as opposed to Orpheus getting back Eurydice from the Underworld). But there are, of course, many more such examples: Lúthien’s imprisonment in the tree-house brings to mind the tale of Rapunzel, and the hunt of Carcharoth resembles the hunt for the giant boar Twrch Trwyth in the Welsh Mabinogion. The interview then moved towards Tolkien’s popularity and the reasons why fantasy literature is flourishing recently.

You can listen to the interview here: