Genre shaping fiction

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoUm, I have to think through the logic of this a little (always part of the magic), but I really like the way Junot Díaz plays around with genre fiction in the creation of his character, Oscar Wao – one of those mirror in the mirror type constructions. The concept of genre shapes the character and the story, but then it also puts the shape of the story (its identity, if you will) in question… twisty. Consider the following moments in the book:

“I’m not entirely sure Oscar would have liked this designation. Fukú story. He was a hardcore sci-fi and fantasy man, believed that that was the kind of story we were all living in. He’d ask: What more sci-fi than the Santo Domingo? What more fantasy than the Antilles?
But now that I know how it all turns out, I have to ask, in turn: What more fukú?” (p.6)

…”anytime a fukú reared its many heads there was only one way to prevent disaster from coiling around you, only one surefire counterspell that would keep you and your family safe. Not surprisingly, it was a word. A simple word (followed usually by a vigorous crossing of index fingers).
Zafa.
…Even now as I write these words I wonder if this book ain’t a zafa of sorts. My very own counterspell.” (p.7)

The brief wondrous life of oscar wao“You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of color in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having a pair of wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest!” (p.22)

“What can I tell you? In Santo Domingo a story is not a story unless it casts a supernatural shadow.” (pp.245-246)

Ref: Junot Díaz (2008) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. faber and faber: London
[winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award]

The critics agree about the success of this blending:

“Diaz finds a miraculous balance. He cuts his barnburning comic-book plots (escape, ruin, redemption) with honest, messy realism, and his narrator speaks in a dazzling hash of Spanish, English, slang, literary flourishes, and pure virginal dorkiness.”–Sam Anderson, “New York Magazine”

“Funny, street-smart and keenly observed…An extraordinarily vibrant book that’s fueled by adrenaline-powered prose.”–Michiko Kakutani, “New York Times” (interesting metaphor!)

Genre is a dialogic concept

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“The degree of abstraction necessary when working with a concept like ”genre” often glosses over the fact that no single text actually represents the abstraction in its entirety or perfectly developed form. Genre is a dialogic concept, emerging from a series of textual configurations in a process of constant revision by practitioners and theorists alike. Every individual text is synchronically and diachronically fragmented, containing traces of other genres, as well as traces of both surpassed and emerging stages of its own historical development.” (p.43)

Ref: Steffen Hantke (2002) ‘Monstrosity Without a Body: Representational Strategies in the Popular Serial Killer Film’ Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities. 22(2), pp.34-54

smashing image against image

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Just going through a recent – and very interesting – issue of Children’s Literature Association Quarterly (37(4)Winter 2012), which looks at comics and picture books. There is a great deal of interesting stuff about genre in these articles – as well, of course, as thought about comics and picture books. In their editorial, Charles Hatfield and Craig Svonkin write:

“Sergei …Eisenstein argued that meaning was created in montage not as Pudovkin thought, by linking image to image in a coherent, deliberate chain, but rather by violently smashing image against image, so that images juxtaposed in opposition to each other create a new dialectical meaning each image separately could never evoke. Eisenstein’s model fits our project, given that comics and picture books likewise perform dialectically. Of course, the dialectic of images in cinema is not the same as that of image and written text in static form; nonetheless, Eisenstein’s dialectical theory resonates with our work here, which focuses on the intermedial space between two types of literature—and on the ways the literature itself uses dialectics to evoke meaning in the intermedial spaces between text and picture, or between picture and picture, or among text, picture, text, and picture.”[1]

“Pursuing questions of ideology…, Michael Joseph focuses his attention on the power of genres to construct their audience. Specifically, he posits the graphic novel as a liminal object that has a special relationship with its readers—“liminal” in Victor Turner’s sense of something “in between” marked by the disturbance of established social structures. Comics, Joseph asserts, particularly alternative comics, have this power to disturb, because they resist the norms of book culture and thus subvert the very category of children’s literature. The graphic novel, in his view, is neither a book nor an art object in the usual sense, but rather deconstructs the form, utility, and cultural authority of the book itself. The genre invites an embodied and material reading practice, one that refuses the transparency which convention dictates is essential to reading, and thus encourages a critical and subversive reading attitude. The effect is to cede interpretive agency to the reader (an empowerment perhaps especially important to readers in the liminal state of adolescence). Analyzing a key page from Kim Deitch’s graphic novel Alias the Cat, Joseph shows how comics refuse transparency, call attention to their own framing, and playfully exploit “bookness.”” p.433 Hatfield and Svonkin

“Thomas, Jr. [shows…] how expectations of genre determine and limit the kinds of meaning we can make of a text—that is, how genre concepts work to shape and foreclose interpretive possibilities.” p.434 Hatfield and Svonkin

“Genres are essentially literary institutions, or social contracts between a writer and a specific public, whose function is to specify the proper use of a particular cultural artifact” (Political Unconscious 92).” ~ Frederic Jameson cited p.435 Hatfield and Svonkin


[1] 432 Charles Hatfield and Craig Svonkin (2012) Why Comics Are and Are Not Picture Books: Introduction Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 37(4)Winter: 429-435

Harry Potter’s mix of subgenres – Saxena

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Vandana Saxena also asserts that: “J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, as a mix of subgenres of young adult literature, becomes an ideal text to study; the heroic quest, the boarding-school fiction, fantasy, magic and adventure – the series brings together all these narratives of boyhood, portraying youthful subversion as well as cultural containment and an adolescent’s negotiations through these conflicting forces. Secondly, the charges leveled against the series – that it is formulaic, that its popularity rests on aggressive marketing strategies rather than content, and that, in guise of its engagements with difference, it foregrounds conventionality and conformity – rather than working against the series, as we shall see, make it a suitable representative text of postmodern children’s literature.” (p.7)

“To an extent,” Saxena goes on to note, “the charges ring true. Harry Potter is after all a conventional hero of a late capitalist world. He is an orphan but belongs to an ancient powerful family of wizards. His Cinderella-like transformation from rags to riches is an oft-repeated fairy tale. Surrounded by aides and by virtue of owning some unique magical objects, the White English boy overcomes all evil to save the world. As a school story, Harry’s relationship with his friends and teachers eventually reassert the boundaries of gender and race that are inherent to the culture from which the text emerges.” (p.7)

Ref: Vandana Saxena (2012) The Subversive Harry Potter: Adolescent Rebellion and Containment in the J.K. Rowling Novels. McFarland & Company: Jefferson, NC and London.

Vandana Saxena – the dynamics of adolescence in Harry Potter

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According to Vandana Saxena: “The subgenre of adolescent fantasy can be characterized as a mix of illusion, escape, entertainment, formula and also instruction and guidance. Fantasy and adolescence…reinforce each other. An adolescent can be seen as an ‘other,’ an outsider to the categories of child and adult, embodying the gap between the two states of being in the chronology of growth. Many critics agree that young adult literature expresses the trials of adolescence, the process of individual coming-of-age set against a specific social and cultural background. [-p.6] Sarah Herz and Donald Gallo point out the situational archetypes and themes in YA fiction, which include coming-of-age rituals, quest and search for self. The literature centers on the youthful protagonist as much as it centers on the cultural background that frames his/her growth.” (pp.5-6)

Saxena continues: “Robyn McCallum defines adolescent fiction in relation to the essential humanist ideology that traditionally underscored the idea of child and children’s literature: “preoccupation with a personal maturation … is commonly articulated in conjunction with a perceived need for children to overcome solipsism and develop intersubjective concepts of personal identity within this world and in relation to others’ (7). This feature of YA literature derives from the unique position that an adolescent occupies in society. On the one hand, an adolescent is an outsider to the social and political frameworks of the society. At the same time, s/he occupies an important position in the collective psyche – preparing adolescents to become responsible members of the community is a major cultural preoccupation. It is important to contain adolescence through the discourses of growth, development and maturity since an adolescent, by the virtue of his/her position on the cultural periphery, has the potential to question and subvert these very discourses. According to Roberta Trites, ‘the distinction between a children’s and an adolescent novel lies not so much in how the protagonist grows – even though the gradations of growth do help us better understand the nature of the genre – but with the very determined way that YA novels tend to interrogate social constructions, foregrounding the relationship between the society and the individual’ (Disturbing [the Universe] 20). Rowling’s series portrays this two-way relationship that characterizes adolescence. Adolescence …emerges not as a stage of life, but as a state of being – an existence on the margins and in a constant dialogue with the center, always challenging and negotiating with the attempts at containment. Thus, young adult literature emerges as a volatile field of engagement with institutional politics and dominant social constructions.” (p.6)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Vandana Saxena (2012) The Subversive Harry Potter: Adolescent Rebellion and Containment in the J.K. Rowling Novels. McFarland & Company: Jefferson, NC and London.

From Dusk Till Dawn – Helyer

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I quite liked what Ruth Helyer had to say about Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn (which she compares to American Psycho):

American Psycho […] leaks into differing categories, demonstrating characteristics of comedy, autobiography, spoof horror, bleak social commentary, conventional horror, and pornography. When Patrick carelessly shoots a street musician, the action accelerates into a “cops and robbers” type chase, complete with tires screeching, bullets ricocheting, and innocent people dying. Patrick’s self-parody is complete as he finally begins to discuss his brutal actions in the third person, referring to himself as “Patrick,” “Bateman,” and “he,” when throughout the previous narrative he has been “I.” The potential for characters within modern Gothic narratives to parody not only the genre, but themselves
suggests that the title is no longer a convenient genre “label,” evoking affected eighteenth-century novels, but a new and modern representation, or rather a fissure between representations, through which we can look back, to multiple scenes. Patrick encourages this by constantly filming everything, including himself.
Quentin Tarantino’s film From Dusk Till Dawn shows a similar irreverent mixing of seemingly established genres, suggesting that their “established” status is under threat. This text alludes to the western, the thriller, the black comedy, romance, the horror/vampire movie, the road movie, the buddy movie, and other film genres. Like American Psycho, Tarantino’s film attempts to portray the violent excesses of criminality and its ruthless and perverted desires. Actor George Clooney, despite [-p.742] his matinee idol looks and his fame as a star in a hugely popular television show, makes a parody of his role as “hero” by robbing banks and killing people. The quality of camera shots of his breathtakingly handsome face are at times quite stunning, again undercutting our ability, or inclination, to view him critically. The glorious use of color and clarity remind us of Patrick’s insistence on graphic, visual description. Within the narrative the brother of Clooney’s character refuses to die, and in keeping with the postmodern Gothic demonstrates a “coming back,” a “re-visiting.” Like American Psycho, From Dusk Till Dawn exposes contemporary culture as a mix of violence and “apparent” reality.” (pp.741-742)

Ref: Ruth Helyer (2000) Parodied to Death: The Postmodern Gothic of American Psycho MFS Modern Fiction Studies, 46(3), Fall, pp.725-746

Romance, character, healing and the hero

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In her discussion of Romance, Joyce Saricks writes: “Characters rather than plots twists drive Romances. In a Romance the lovers must come to understand themselves and their relationships with each other. As readers, we see interior as well as exterior aspects of these characters, and we respond to them and their developing relationship. In her Contemporary Romances Susan Elizabeth Phillips explores complex family relationships and the difficult concepts of guilt, forgiveness, and grief. Although these affect the protagonists and force them to mature, these themes do not detract from the power of the Romance. In fact, it is because of the environment the Romance creates, one in which the characters feel safe sharing their deepest emotions, that healing finally comes.

This growth, however, is not limited only to Romances with a serious side. In almost all, the characters are forced to change, to relinquish preconceptions about themselves (often their lack of self-worth) and their partners before they are able to embrace the romantic union readers demand.” (p.134)

“That characters are written to a pattern is important, too, as it is in most genres from adventure to Women’s Lives and Relationships. the women are bright, independent, strong, and, perhaps surprisingly, not always beautiful but certainly interesting and articulate. The men must be strong, distant, and always dangerous, because the stronger the hero, the greater the victory when the heroine brings him to his senses and his knees. Conquering a gentle, affectionate, mild-mannered, sensible hero simply is not satisfying, either for the heroine or for the reader.” (p.134)

“One last important point about characterization is that we almost always get the point of view of both protagonists. This allows us to experience their inner dilemmas and follow their thoughts as they work out their relationship. This is not just her story; it is his as well. Romances are almost never written first-person; the reader and author require the third-person to create the full picture, to reveal easily the inner thoughts and struggles of both characters.” (p.135)

Ref: Joyce G. Saricks (2009) The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2nd edn.) American Library Association: Chicago

“A Brief History of the Modern Romance Novel” according to Wendell and Tan

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“Boy meets girl,
Holy crap, shit happens!
Eventually, the boy gets the girl back.
They live Happily Ever After.” (p.11)

One would think,” Wendell and Tan acknowledge, “that we could tell the story once and be done with it. But we’ve written and read countless thousands of variations of this story, and we show no signs of being sick of it.

The romance tradition goes all the way back to the oldest myths, and we could wank on and on about medieval courtly love, the rise of the gothic tradition (which marked some of the first popular novels written by and for women), and the influence that people like the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen have had on the various elements of romance, but that could easily take up a book in and of itself. We’re just going to cut right to the chase and talk about the clearest predecessor we can find for the modern romance novel: The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E Woodiwiss.

The Flame and the Flower was first published in 1972, and it’s one of the most famous in the bodice-ripper tradition. These books are typically set in the past, and the hero is a great deal older, more brutal, and more rapetastic than the heroine – but then, despite the way more and more romances push the envelope, we’ve yet to encounter one in which the heroine plunges the depths of the hero’s dark tunnel of muddy love against his will.

But back to The Flame and the Flower. This novel is, in many ways, the Platonic ideal of the bodice ripper. The heroine’s bodice is, in fact, ripped; the hero is appropriately arrogant and hard-edged before being brought low by the power of love; swashes are buckled; buckles are swashed; villains are suitably hideous; and the adventure runs at quite the fever pitch. No noun or verb is left unmodified, and Woodiwiss works simile and metaphor to limp exhaustion. It was a runaway bestseller and spawned countless books that followed, with various degrees of success, that particular formula, such as Rosemary Roger’s infamous Sweet Savage Love (which, if nothing else, is probably the most-parodied romance novel title of all time).” (p.11)

“And honestly,” they write, “‘sweet, savage love’ serves as a neat encapsulation of the older style of romances. The turmoil and violence, they runneth over in torrents as mighty as the hero’s seed. And speaking of mighty torrents of heroic seed, it was well-nigh de rigeur for the heroine to be raped by the hero in those novels. The rape would be justified in any number of ways within the framework of the story [something Wendell and Tan devote some time to discussing in depth and with much humour later]….

And oh lawdy, the sexual euphemisims. Romances like Sweet Savage Love and The Flame and the Flower were a great deal more humpy than any of the other mainstream love stories at the time, and there was a veritable arms race to see who could come up with the moistest grottoes and the most potent (and jutting) spears of manhood so they could titillate without being considered obscene. / They were discreet enough at first.

By the late 1980s, oral sex scenes were practically a requirement (as was the accompanying fluttering distress and confusion of the heroine the first time her hey-nanner made the acquaintance of the hero’s mouth), and we had the occasional startling turn of phrase, like the hero who ‘burst like a ripe melon’ within the heroine, as recorded by Rebecca Brandewyne’s deathless prose in Desire in Disguise.” (p.12)

The genre, however, has changed a great deal since those Old Skool romances were published. it’s true: the covers haven’t changed that much. …But though the covers may be similar, the content is different in some substantial ways. …The Old Skool, very roughly speaking, ran from the late 1970s through the ’80s, while the New Skool started sometime in the late 1980s and continues to the present, but as with any attempts at categorization, there were some books published in the ’80s that were in the New Skool mode, and Old Skool-style romances are still occasionally published.” (p.13)

More old Skool romances, from historicals to contemporaries to category romances, shared several elements in common, elements that don’t necessarily hold true for the newer types of romances that now dominate the market. Some of them include: BRUTAL HEROES” (p13)… RAPE… THE HEROINE: COMIN-OF-AGE COMES EARLY… THE CONFLICTS (“The Big Secret was a staple of Old Skool romance novels. Ranging from ‘My brother is a spy for the enemy’ to ‘I’m a maaaan, baby’ to ‘I lied about something very small and extremely pointless at the beginning of the story, and now it’s snowballed out of control because the author needs about twenty thousand more words’ worth of conflict’, Big Secrets littered the landscape of Romancelandia like dollar bills on a strip club stage. / And then there are the Big Arguments. …[and] Big Misunderstandings.” (pp.16-17)) THE SUDDEN REALIZATION OF LOVE… THE POINT OF VIEW… etc.

Actually, backtracking a little, I quite enjoyed the way Wendell and Tan connected these last two points… they explain: “Given the antagonistic nature of the lovers, resolving the tension between their evident hatred for each other and their out-of-control [-p.19] lust was quite a trick to pull. Thus was born the Sudden Realization of Love device. At some point, the hero and heroine realize: OH! All that hatred, and the fights, and the fear? All actually manifestations of love. Hey, Ike hit Tina because he loved her, okay? And when the hero hits her, it feels like a kiss, obviously.

We’d almost always witness this critical epiphany on the part of the heroine, inevitably followed by page upon page of angst about how the hero could not possibly love her back, so she’d act like even more of a spoiled buttnoid because it’s not as if what she did mattered any more, anyway (cue the world’s tiniest violin). And sometimes, we’d witness the hero being coldcocked by the brass-knuckled fist of love as well, but that was a relative rarity. It was much more common in Old Skool romances for heroes to relate to the heroine, in excrutiating detail, about the Exact Moment the scales fell off his eyes – usually during the denouement at the end of the book. Why? Because of: / THE POINT OF VIEW

Most of these Old Skool romances were written solely or mostly from the heroine’s viewpoint, though a few early authors started including the hero’s point of view, too.” (pp.18-19)

“…Scholars have differing views as to why the viewpoints stayed so faithfully with the heroine for so long. Pamela Regis, in A Natural History of the Romance Novel, offers an analysis of how Old Skool romances followed the heroines partially because they had much more development to undergo than the hero, and the heroine’s achievement of autonomy and self-actualization was the point of the narrative. This borne out by the thirteen-item plot summary for [-p.20] the ideal Old Skool romance formulated by Janice Radway in Reading the Romance, published in 1982:

1. The heroine’s social identity is destroyed.

12. The heroine responds sexually and emotionally.
13. The heroine’s identity is restored.

In other words, the quest of the romance was the fulfillment of the heroine, and the hero was often a tool (in the construction sense, not in the dickhead sense, though often he could be both) in that fulfillment.

This idea has merit, but the fact that the hero was simultaneously villain and savior, punisher and lover, probably also dictated the choice of point of view. A lot of the central conflict and tension in Old Skool romances depended on the heroine and the reader not really knowing what the hell was going on in the hero’s head – insofar as he showed any capacity for rational thought not dictated by his penis, that is, and given the priapic state of many romance heroes, that capability is somewhat in doubt.” (pp.9-20)

“But romances,” Wendell and Tan remind us, “have undergone some fairly drastic changes over the past several decades, with trends visibly changing by the late 1980s and early ’90s.” (p.21) It seems, with the New Skool romances, we are starting to see: GENTLER HEROES… MORE SCENES FROM THE HERO’S POINT OF VIEW… THE RISE OF THE KICK-ASS SEXUALLY EXPERIENCED HEROINES… and THE QUIET DEATH OF THE RAPIST HERO [which Wendell and Tan discuss in some depth and in their inimicable style later in the book.]

Ref: (italics in original) Sarah Wendell & Candy Tan (2009) Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels. Fireside: New York

Romance genres – according to the Smart Bitches

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According to Sarah Wendell & Candy TanSaying that you read romance is like saying you like food. Just as there’s a world of difference between homemade panang curry and an Egg McMuffin, there’s mind-boggling variety in the romance genre. It’s huge. Huge like Fabio’s pectorals crossed with Diana Gabaldon’s total word count. Consider the types of books that can fall under the heading ‘Romance’:

There’s historical romance – but what kind of historical romance? A traditional Regency, in which the hero and heroine barely kiss? A novel set in the Victorian era, featuring bondage and anal sex? A story about lovers in ancient Rome? Colonial American? An American western? How about something set in Revolutionary France, or fourteenth-century Florence?

And contemporaries: is it a category romance or a single title? Is it a mystery or romantic suspense? (For the record, ‘romantic suspense’ [-p.9] does not mean that the romance is in doubt and must be investigated. It does, however, mean that there is an 87.6 percent likelihood that the cover will feature two people running.) Is it a comedy? An ensemble of women that could be ‘women’s fiction’ or chick-lit? (We’d just like to note for the record that that’s one of the worst terms ever to hit the genre since ‘bodice ripper’.) A wrenching story of emotional recovery, complete with a winning, adorable rescue dog?

And then we get to the landscape of paranormals: Vampires! Werewolves! Vampire werewolves! Mummies! Psychics! The undead! The reanimated! The demonic and the celestial! The slayers, the fey, the wee folk, the fairies, trolls, and selkies. They all fall under ‘paranormal,’ which has its roots in an ancient Greek word meaning ‘overcrowded genre’.

And then there’s that scary place, the crossroads of romance, fantasy, and perhaps even science fiction…. In fantasy or science-fiction romance, the fate of the entire fucking universe can depend on the Happily Ever After of the hero and heroine. No pressure or anything. It’s a scary mixture, but it works. Why? Because romance deals with one of the most elemental blocks of human relationships. Just as any work of fiction can have a romantic element, any romance can include the elements of other popular fictional genres. The genre is huge, creative, evolving, and a multiavenue crossroads of just about every other type of fiction. And it has been ignored for far too long.” (pp.8-9)

Ref: (italics in original) Sarah Wendell & Candy Tan (2009) Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels. Fireside: New York

Westerns

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Joyce Saricks writes that “Many librarians dismiss Westerns as a dying genre. It seems that publishers agree, since they currently reprint popular authors and titles from the past and publish fewer and fewer new titles. Still, the archetype of the lone man bringing justice has long been a dominant theme in American literature and one that still resonates with readers. Westerns were first popular as pulp fiction at the turn of the twentieth century, and their appeal was dramatized on radio and television shows and in the movies from the early years of that century through the 1960s. After languishing for several decades, Westerns are making a comeback on television and in the movies. Readers who appreciate the satisfying stories found in this genre can only hope that Western novels, such an integral part of our roots in legend and literature, will once again become a staple of our collections.” (p.313)

Defining Westerns:

Saricks explains: “In traditional Westerns we expect cowboys, cattle drives, gunslingers, adventure, and gunplay. Fans do not necessarily require historical accuracy, although they do expect realistic detail in firearms and accoutrement. However, creating a strong sense of time and place, the feel of the Old West, is essential. Westerns speak to basic, deep-seated feelings about the land and the men who brought justice to the wild, uninhabited country and thus helped make it safe for those who civilized it.

The West was viewed as a land of opportunity that offered the possibility of redemption for those who had escaped the confines of civilization. Westerns dramatize and romanticize the conflict between the civilizing influences of the East and the wild, untamed West, as they portray the dangers faced by the men who brought order to the new territory.” (p.313)

Saricks’s approach to Westerns “also encompasses Historical novels set in the West during the same time period. These Novels of the West accurately depict the western expansion and emphasize historical details and events. These titles often feature explorers as well as the settlers who stayed on to civilize the West. In addition, they frequently include strong female characters, as it is usually the women who are responsible for bringing civilization. These novels explore the issues arising in the civilizing of the West; their focus is on the people who came and stayed. Traditional Westerns, in contrast, more frequently depict the lone man riding into a community and then leaving once his job is complete.

However, as those distinctions now increasingly blur in the novels read by fans of both Westerns and Historical Fiction, the differences between the two become harder to define and less important. Western readers, generally speaking, do not require the strong historical background vital to Historical Fiction fans, but they will enjoy many of these larger, historically accurate novels, because they are set against a familiar background, just as fans of Historical Fiction about the West will appreciate the sense of time and place they find in Westerns.” (p.314)

“Westerns, then” Saricks goes on, “are novels set in the western United States (with the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers as the eastern boundaries0 primarily from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the twentieth century. They feature the adventures of cowboys, scouts, Indians, settlers, and lawmen, and they explore the clash between civilization and anarchy in mythic stories of men and the land. While they may accurately depict the time and place in which they are set, the image and feel of the West and of those times, as well as the struggle too survive against myriad perils, take precedence over history.” (p.314)

Characteristics of Westerns

“1. The exterior descriptions of the landscape and terrain frame the books, which take place in the western United States in the decades between the Civil War and 1900. Since they may be set in unidentified places (simply the West) and in an unspecified time, they often project a sense of timelessness.

2. The traditional hero is often a loner who arrives to right wrongs and then moves on. Heroes use strategy before guns to win arguments, although they are often forced to use violence in the end.

3. Plots may be complex or more straightforward. Common themes include the redemptive power of the West, the difficulties surviving in a harsh landscape, revenge, and the lack of law along with the necessity of creating just laws.

4. Nostalgia for times past creates an elegiac tone that permeates many Westerns.

5. Pacing may be breakneck in Westerns that feature action-packed stories or more measured in others.

6. Dialogue is generally spare, colorful, and rich in jargon, but many Westerns also feature lyrical descriptions of the landscape.” (p315)

Landscape and the land – modern political importance?

Saricks also notes that “Landscape dominates the Western, and it is often so carefully drawn that it is a character itself.” (p.314) … got me thinking about Space Westerns again… and Joss Whedon’s Firefly… obviously the Western genre still has fans… and still has currency … but what part of it? landscape as character? That would almost work on a political level, because of the ‘new’ way of looking at the land that seems to have come with post-colonialism (I’m talking government and their increasing understanding of indigenous relationships with and knowledge of the land… is the land more of a character again?)

Ref: Joyce G. Saricks (2009) The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (2nd edn.) American Library Association: Chicago