creating a commercial and cultural market for fantasy: the Inklings

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Deszcz-Tryhubczak‘s review of Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper by Charles Butler makes a few points that interest me. (It sounds like a good read, even though this review echoes a certain grumpy dissatisfaction):

“…of special importance is, as Butler rightly stresses, the Inklings’ “indirect influence . . . in creating a commercial and cultural market for fantasy” (16) and in shaping the reception of this genre. Butler’s detailed analysis of the intricacies of this legacy will fascinate readers who are interested in the historical development of fantasy. The undeniable merit of Butler’s readings is that although most of the anecdotal facts from the Inklings’ activity that he presents are well known, they acquire a fresh dimension when filtered through the perspective of the younger writers [Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper].” (p.173)

“In the second chapter of his study, “Applied Archaeology,” Butler attempts discussing the oeuvres of the four authors in terms of historical, mythical, and personal aspects of time as testifying to their awareness of living “in a land where consciousness of the deep past is in constant interplay with change and contemporaneity” (32). As Butler cogently argues, this double nature of Britain may be seen by British fantasy authors in general as either a benefit—they can draw from the rich historical and mythological heritage—or as a burden for [-p.174] creative imagination forced to rely too much on tradition. With reference to geology, archaeology, paleontology, and landscape history as sciences offering his writers paradigms for the understanding of time and historical change, Butler discusses recurring issues in their texts such as the workings of memory, the conflicting drives to leave the past behind and to preserve it, the analogy between the notion of palimpsest and archaeology, or the disparities between the ever-present mythical time and the linear transitory nature of things.” (pp.173-174)

“…the focus of chapter 3, “Longing and Belonging,” shifts to the four authors’ representations of Britishness in its geographical and social senses: cultural, racial, religious, and gender relations; representations of the self; racial intolerance; distortions of natural and cultural landscapes caused by tourism; and the legitimacy of attempts to represent foreign other cultures. Of particular interest are Butler’s ecocritical readings exposing the authors’ preoccupation both with general environmental issues and with specific changes in British landscapes, a practice still uncommon in criticism of children’s literature. The reader could only wish that Butler had dedicated more space to Diana Wynne Jones’s use of urban fantasy, an important convention in contemporary fantasy.” (p.174)

Ref: Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak (2007) Review: Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper. By Charles Butler. Lanham, Maryland: Children’s Literature Association, 2006. 311 pp. Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies 21(1), pp.172-175

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