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Rhetorics of Fantasy Paperback – 30 Apr 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press (30 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0819568686
  • ISBN-13: 978-0819568687
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.2 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 430,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

FARAH MENDLESOHN teaches at Middlesex University, London. She was the 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By HC Johnson on 4 Sept. 2011
Format: Paperback
One of the brilliant British academics of modern fantasy currently writing, Mendlesohn does not fail to show off her knowledge here. This work is definitely a highly recommended work for any student of modern fantasy today. Mendlesohn splits her fantasy works into four categories, and begins to use a few genuine fantasy authors (so often overlooked by academics). Unfortunately for her fantasy work, Mendlesohn is first and foremost a (self-confessed) sci-fi critic and historian. She also has a dislike for the major "subgenre" of fantasy, the medieval/quest novel. However, this work is intelligent and fascinating, and brings a more unique approach to fantasy criticism. Be prepared to enjoy arguing against Mendlesohn's views, but surely the ability to provoke active thought and opinion is only a good thing for an academic work.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Serious on 10 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback
A fascinating insight to what makes modern fantasy. As an aspiring writer I found this a truly interesting read. At the end I felt like I had begun to understand the important things that make fantasy writing work.

Well written and researched - very comprehensive, but I didn't feel like I was being patronised either.

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By Masha on 23 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a must for anyone studying or planning to read fantasy fiction. The jargon is clearly explained, and the bibliography is crammed with interesting novels, plus other books on fantasy. if you want to read beyond High Fantasy and find books that you might not have even thought of reading, then this book is invaluable.
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By v on 24 Mar. 2013
Format: Paperback
Amazingly well written book. The author gives an in depth breakdown of the genre. Excellent for writers interested in fantasy writing.
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Amazon.com: 5 reviews
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
First steps on a Taxonomic Journey 15 Jun. 2008
By Sean Holland - Published on Amazon.com
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.

Intrusion Fantasy: These are in some ways the opposite of the Portal Fantasy, with the fantastic breaking through into another world (usually ours). The intrusion fantasy is typified by the horror genre (such as Lovecraft's stories) with every escalating threats and a resolution that restores the status quo . . . or something resembling it. Characters in the intrusion fantasy are often skeptical until almost too late.

Liminal Fantasy: This is the most unusual fantasy, and the smallest category, the one where the fantastic is never fully revealed but always around the next corner or just out of sight. Such as if you had found the wardrobe to Narnia, yet never crossed through. While I have read books that I consider to represent the others, I do not recall reading something which I would put into the liminal category.

Mendleson peppers each section with multiple examples (and a fair amount of technical terminology, see the glossary) and does a good job is discussing the twists and turns of each genre as well as counter examples and a concluding chapter ("The Irregulars": Subverting the Taxonomy) on those books that do not fit into the four categories above. Again, not featuring books I have read but still interesting.

Just as it is intended to do, it makes me think about ways to discus fantasy and as such I believe this is a successful book. I hope to see more from Mendleson, and others, on this subject for an agreed upon vocabulary is a useful tool for discussing a subject that we all enjoy.

A useful glossary of terms for the non-English majors reading this book:

Dialectic - Finding truth through discussion and debate.

Phatic- In linguistics, a phatic expression is one whose only function is to perform a social task, as opposed to conveying information.

Metonymy - A word or expression used for something that it is closely related to (i.e. Downing Street to refer to the British Prime Minister).

Mimesis - Imitative representation of the real world in fiction. Thus Mimetic Fiction tries to represent the world as it is.

Monosemy- A text having a single meaning, an absence of ambiguity (usually used of individual words or phrases).

Polysemy / Polysemic - The idea that texts are capable of many potential meanings and readings and can be read in a variety of ways.

Solipsism - The view that the self is all that can be know to exist.

Taxonomy - A scheme of classification; theory and practice of classification.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
techniques of different types of fantasy literature 21 May 2008
By Henry Berry - Published on Amazon.com
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. Though readers and critics may debate which type some fantasy works belong to, consideration of Mendlesohn's four major types--or categories--offer increased understanding of the field for critics, singular instruction for writers, and greater appreciation for the field's legions of readers.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Great Study of Fantasy 15 July 2014
By Timothy Susman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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.
A Great Book for Study 2 April 2015
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Five Stars 17 Feb. 2015
By Thea Loennechen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great condition!
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