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The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 9 December, 2019 01:49PM
Elsewhere, I've asserted that the artistic legitimacy of a form or genre (or subgenre) is proven if there is even just one work that (a) incontestably belongs to that genre as clearly defined, and (b) that achieves something of real worth that could only be achieved in that form.

So -- how is "weird fiction" defined? Would "weird fantasy" be better, as admitting poetry?

What artistic qualities does such literary art attain that it only can attain?

Why should all people who care about literary art agree that those artistic qualities are worthy? (We are trying, here, for a discussion that does more than just say, "I like it; I don't really care if nobody else does, or if people think it's stupid; it's all subjective anyway," etc., etc.) Let me elaborate a bit. I don't find that cubist art has an immediate appeal to me. If I saw a book about cubist art on the library discard book cart, offered for free, I wouldn't take it. But I'm willing to entertain the idea that, if I were willing to give him or her a fair listening, someone might be able to convince me that cubism may achieve something certainly worth achieving and that, to the extent that I dismiss it out of hand, is something legitimate that I stand to miss out on.

So, then: what is the case for weird fantasy? What are the arguments we can make to a person who cares about literary art, but dismisses wf out of hand?

I'll begin with this, that weird fantasy can be regarded as a variety of the art of storytelling about wonders, marvels, the extraordinary. I would say that some of the ancient works of literature that have compelled admiration for hundreds or even thousands of years certainly emphasize the extraordinary, the wonderful. Thus, take Oedipus Rex. It's just silly to suppose that what matters in Sophocles' play is that it gives us some knowledge of social relations in ancient Athens or something like that. No; it is a real work of literary art. And it deals with an almost risibly unlikely situation, if you think in terms of a "slice of life" -- a young man inadvertently kills his father and marries his mother, thus bringing dreadful consequences upon his kingdom; at last he learns what he has done through the oracle of the gods. Well, insofar as Oedipus Rex is a weird fantasy, the artistic legitimacy of wf is proven.

But probably we will want a definition of wf that is narrow enough to exclude Sophocles' play, for the simple reason that when we feel like reading wf, we do not take Sophocles down from the shelf.

So... the ball is now rolling, I hope!

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: zimriel (IP Logged)
Date: 9 December, 2019 09:05PM
A "weird fantasy" which includes Oedipus Tyrannus is - if I read you right - Nemesis fantasy. The final victory of Mathematics over Physics.

In Oedipus Tyrannus, the Olympic Gods rule, and these Gods impose laws upon men and women that we all understand. If men and women don't follow the Laws Of Nature And Of Nature's God, even in ignorance, they suffer, along with all around them.

That is often true of Clark Ashton Smith. I see it especially in his best Zothique tales. Raising the dead ("Empire"), torturing the living ("Torturers"), and withholding the dead from their grave ("Charnel") all end as they should. Even if those gods whom men worship are such like Tisaina / Thasaidon, Who Wields The Mace; there still remains a higher justice beyond them.

HP Lovecraft might agree. His higher law is that we don't question whatever laws Nature's God has imposed upon us. If we go Beyond, we'll attract the attention of those From Beyond. "The Other Gods" is his extension of Lord Dunsany here: Nature's God cares about us, and Yog-Sothoth does not.

Robert Howard seems the exception. Conan doesn't ever reach his final destination. He sometimes wins, sometimes loses, always survives. Maybe Howard did not write Weird?

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 9 December, 2019 09:26PM
For myself, I think before I get into discussing tragedy on this particular thread, I'd like to get a clearer idea of what weird fantasy as such is.

Does anyone want to work here on a definition?

For a definition, we'd need three things:

1.the term to be defined ("weird fantasy")
2.the category to which that term belongs
3.the characteristics that set "weird fantasy" apart from the other things that belong in the category

So you can visualize a pie-circle (the category); "weird fantasy" is a slice of that pie.

That's not a very good analogy, of course, since a pie typically has the same ingredients all the way through. But anyway, use it for what it's worth.

So, if "weird fantasy" is the term, then what's the category, and what characteristics set "weird fantasy" apart from the other members of that category?


At this point, though, I pause; is "weird fantasy" even the best term for the thing we are discussing? I can't think of a better offhand, but that doesn't mean there isn't one.

However we define "weird fantasy," or dark fantasy or whatever, the definition needs to be broad enough to encompass all of the work that basically everyone would agree IS "weird fantasy." So: do we agree that most of the prose that HPL and CAS wrote was "weird fantasy"? Well, then did Arthur Machen write weird fantasy? Blackwood? M. R. James? ….E. R. Eddison?

I'm going to sit back and let others do the heavy lifting! : )

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 9 December, 2019 10:39PM
This should be good, and I'll try to participate, but I have some personal business coming up this week and the next, then Xmas is upon us. Our daughter is coming home from her first professional job out of college, and I'm looking forward to her visit!

Off the top of my head, I recall some of CAS stories that, to me, seemed more like science fiction than his other prose, like the Zothique, Hyperborea, Averoigne cycles. This SF-type material is closer to Edgar Rice Burroughs than to something like The Worm Ourbouros--which I take to be adult fantasy, but is it weird fiction?

So, are Vulthoom, or the Vaults of Yoh Vombis truly weird fiction, a la Lovecraft, or are they more like Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth?

Or are all they all weird fiction, and therefore maybe Bradbury's Martian Chronicles is, or Ballard's Vermillion Sands, also? For that matter, is science fiction subsumed within weird fiction, is it the other way around, or are they separate entities only tangentially related?

Maybe we could hash out some works that we agree are weird fiction, but ARE fantasy, and some others that are fantasy, but not weird fiction...

Then, we could take the list of works generally recognized (by us) as weird fiction, and attempt to analyze the literary attributes , tropes, and devices that are typical or characteristic of weird fiction. Some of these would be shard by other genres/sub-genres, but we may be able to come up with a fairly definitive list of these characteristics that in the aggregate occur in weird fiction, but not the others.

Extra credit: is weird fiction a subset of adult fantasy, or some other broader genre(s)?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But give a man a boat,
a case of beer, and a few sticks of dynamite..." -- Sawfish

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 10 December, 2019 10:17AM
Thanks for those suggestions, Sawfish.

Further questions:

1.Are the following terms identical, or, if not, how do they differ from each other? -- weird fantasy, dark fantasy, supernatural horror
2.Do we agree that the definition of wf (or whatever other term we select) should be broad enough to include certain works aimed at young readers? I'm thinking here of some books by John Bellairs, such as The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

I'm not quite comfortable with "supernatural horror" in that there's likely to be confusion when it comes to Lovecraft, at least. Because of his essay, he may be identified with "supernatural horror," but the development of his imagination, and some of his best stories, were away from the supernatural towards science fiction. Is there anything supernatural in "The Colour Out of Space," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," At the Mountains of Madness, "The Whisperer in Darkness," "The Shadow Out of Time," and perhaps others? Then there's William Sloan's To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water. In these novels the atmosphere is eerie and some plot elements suggest "the supernatural," but both are works of science fiction or science fantasy. I would like to suggest the term "Gothic science fiction" for these novels by Sloan and those Lovecraft stories, i.e. they are literary works emphasizing the evocation of an eerie atmosphere and uncanny suspense -- like the Gothic novels of Anne Radcliffe, I believe -- but while the strange things may remain only partially accounted for, the sense is that everything that happened is, in principle though probably not in fact, presumed to be explicable in rational, scientific terms.

If we include Gothic science fiction within weird fantasy or dark fantasy, then our definition of the latter term will have to be broad enough to encompass stories that might not deal with "the supernatural."

As a Christian, by the way, I also have a little discomfort with the word "supernatural" or at least with the way it's often used. This term suggests a dividing line on one side of which are "natural" things -- the "laws of nature," atoms, rocks, stars, plants, machines, human bodies, etc., and on the other side of which are, or may be, "supernatural" things -- miracles, spirits, angels, devils, God. The term has some usefulness if we are discussing things in which there is believed to be something present or going on that transcends the sensory, such as sacraments and (other) miracles, etc. But the real dividing line is between created things and the Creator.


From Dec. 16 to Dec. 27 or so, I might not be contributing much here, btw.

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: zimriel (IP Logged)
Date: 10 December, 2019 07:45PM
Quote:
Dale Nelson
As a Christian, by the way, I also have a little discomfort with the word "supernatural" or at least with the way it's often used. This term suggests a dividing line on one side of which are "natural" things -- the "laws of nature," atoms, rocks, stars, plants, machines, human bodies, etc., and on the other side of which are, or may be, "supernatural" things -- miracles, spirits, angels, devils, God.

I am also a Christian. I draw that 'dividing line' between what is of this world and what is not. In fact I insist on it. I see God as outside of this spacetime, in a position to create and defend it.

That goes back to what I was saying earlier and elsewhere: about physics, which apply to this spacetime; and about mathematics, always true in every universe forever.

"The Dark Eidolon" and "The Other Gods" had this much in common - if we bypass such god(s) as mean us well, we shall encounter Things as don't. Because the supreme god of all things that were, will be, and can be is Nemesis. It is the Cold Equations.

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 11 December, 2019 11:54AM
Interleaved below:

Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Thanks for those suggestions, Sawfish.
>
> Further questions:
>
> 1.Are the following terms identical, or, if not,
> how do they differ from each other? -- weird
> fantasy, dark fantasy, supernatural horror

OK, let's consider the terms used in combination. I'll use the definition taken from a free online source that seems most germane to our discussion:

1) Weird - I'd want to emphasize the 2nd definition here.

2: of, relating to, or caused by witchcraft or the supernatural : MAGICAL

[www.merriam-webster.com]

[NOTE" I may want to fine-tune this one...]


2) Dark (as in mood)

I'd use most of the 3rd definition:

a: arising from or showing evil traits or desires : EVIL
the dark powers that lead to war

b: DISMAL, GLOOMY
had a dark view of the future

d: relating to grim or depressing circumstances


[www.merriam-webster.com]


3) Fantasy

I'd want to concentrate on 2b.

b: imaginative fiction featuring especially strange settings and grotesque characters


[www.merriam-webster.com]


4) Supernatural

Much of the definition is related, but I'd suggest concentrating on 2a.

a: departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature

[www.merriam-webster.com]


5) Horror

There are several definitions that may be useful here. Under the 1st definition:

a: painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay

b: intense aversion or repugnance

Under the 2nd:

a: the quality of inspiring horror : repulsive, horrible, or dismal quality or character

[www.merriam-webster.com]

[NOTE: It may be useful to differentiate between "horror" and "terror".]

I'd have no objection to fine-tuning any of these, or perhaps substituting a mutually agreeable definition, but I think it will work best, moving forward, to have fairly concise definitions of key descriptive terms.


> 2.Do we agree that the definition of wf (or
> whatever other term we select) should be broad
> enough to include certain works aimed at young
> readers? I'm thinking here of some books by John
> Bellairs, such as The House with a Clock in Its
> Walls.

I'm fine with this idea, Dale.


Let's decide on the definitions and then tackle the rest of your post.

Does this sound OK, to you?

>
> I'm not quite comfortable with "supernatural
> horror" in that there's likely to be confusion
> when it comes to Lovecraft, at least. Because of
> his essay, he may be identified with "supernatural
> horror," but the development of his imagination,
> and some of his best stories, were away from the
> supernatural towards science fiction. Is there
> anything supernatural in "The Colour Out of
> Space," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," At the
> Mountains of Madness, "The Whisperer in Darkness,"
> "The Shadow Out of Time," and perhaps others?
> Then there's William Sloan's To Walk the Night and
> The Edge of Running Water. In these novels the
> atmosphere is eerie and some plot elements suggest
> "the supernatural," but both are works of science
> fiction or science fantasy. I would like to
> suggest the term "Gothic science fiction" for
> these novels by Sloan and those Lovecraft stories,
> i.e. they are literary works emphasizing the
> evocation of an eerie atmosphere and uncanny
> suspense -- like the Gothic novels of Anne
> Radcliffe, I believe -- but while the strange
> things may remain only partially accounted for,
> the sense is that everything that happened is, in
> principle though probably not in fact, presumed to
> be explicable in rational, scientific terms.
>
> If we include Gothic science fiction within weird
> fantasy or dark fantasy, then our definition of
> the latter term will have to be broad enough to
> encompass stories that might not deal with "the
> supernatural."
>
> As a Christian, by the way, I also have a little
> discomfort with the word "supernatural" or at
> least with the way it's often used. This term
> suggests a dividing line on one side of which are
> "natural" things -- the "laws of nature," atoms,
> rocks, stars, plants, machines, human bodies,
> etc., and on the other side of which are, or may
> be, "supernatural" things -- miracles, spirits,
> angels, devils, God. The term has some usefulness
> if we are discussing things in which there is
> believed to be something present or going on that
> transcends the sensory, such as sacraments and
> (other) miracles, etc. But the real dividing line
> is between created things and the Creator.
>
>
> From Dec. 16 to Dec. 27 or so, I might not be
> contributing much here, btw.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But give a man a boat,
a case of beer, and a few sticks of dynamite..." -- Sawfish

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 11 December, 2019 12:40PM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Maybe we could hash out some works that we agree
> are weird fiction, but ARE fantasy, and some
> others that are fantasy, but not weird fiction...
>
> Then, we could take the list of works generally
> recognized (by us) as weird fiction, and attempt
> to analyze the literary attributes , tropes, and
> devices that are typical or characteristic of
> weird fiction. Some of these would be shard by
> other genres/sub-genres, but we may be able to
> come up with a fairly definitive list of these
> characteristics that in the aggregate occur in
> weird fiction, but not the others.

Sawfish's message of 11 Nov. 2019 (morning) with definitions of key words such as "weird" should be a good resource to have at hand when we're working on a definition formula.

I do like his idea, though, of spending a little time hashing out works that we think should be under the heading of this genre that we want (1) to define and then (2) to evaluate for its artistic legitimacy.

Questions, too, accumulate. Another is: do we agree that a weird fantasy story (or "dark fantasy"? or "supernatural horror story"?) may have a happy ending? I think it would be a mistake to lay down a law that wf can't have a happy ending. Or, well, maybe I'd want to contend that weird fantasy might occasionally have happy endings, even if "dark fantasy" can't (can't it?).

But I was expressing approval of the compilation of representative works. That is, when we come to decide what we are going to call this genre whose artistic legitimacy we are going to attempt to evaluate, we would like the definition of this genre to be such as to accept those works.

So, here are some works I would suggest as representative of "weird fantasy."

Algis Budrys's "Rogue Moon," a Nebula-winning novella about an enigmatic and lethal installation discovered on the Moon -- a great example of Gothic Science Fiction

Damon Knight's "Stranger Station" -- Gothic sf

Fritz Leiber's "A Pail of Air," "Smoke Ghost," and "You're All Alone" -- Gothic sf

William Sloan's To Walk the Night and The Edge of Running Water -- Gothic sf

David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus -- I hesitate over this one!

W. H. Hodgson's "The Voice in the Night," which arouses suspense and vicarious horror, part of that horror being entangled with a very positive feeling about the capacity of human beings to retain their dignity even having experienced intense inner suffering and the unspeakable deprivation of human appearance; and numerous other works by Hodgson

Much of Poe's and Aickman's fiction

The characteristic works of M. R. James, Lovecraft, Smith, and Blackwood

Much of Machen, but not all

Some stories by Walter de la Mare and Ray Bradbury

Charles Williams's War in Heaven, Descent into Hell, All Hallows' Eve

The ghost stories of Russell Kirk

Howard's sword-and-sorcery

Dunsany's "Hoard of the Gibbelins"

Tolkien's poem "The Mewlips" (which I've argued might be derived from Dunsany's "Hoard")

Many folktales, perhaps especially the Icelandic and the Japanese

John Bellairs's novels for kids, such as The House with a Clock in Its Walls

It will be seen that not all of these that I'm proposing involve "the supernatural," but all in some way go outside the empirical world as it is usually expected to be. It will be seen also that there is quite a range of literary styles here, ranging from pulp fiction to children's literature to highly literary fiction. Is the range too great?


What about works that we think are not[I] "weird fantasy"?

[i]The Lord of the Rings
and The Silmarillion have monsters (e.g. giant spiders), practitioners of evil arts (Saruman as breeder of super-Orcs), and (in the case of The Silamrillion at least, a sense of doom. But do we regard these as works of weird fantasy? Or maybe one as, but not the other?

Comics about Casper the Friendly Ghost and Wendy the Good Witch -- not wf, agreed? But I admit that I've found Popeye's Sea Hag a bit creepy....!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11 Dec 19 | 12:43PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 11 December, 2019 12:45PM
zimriel Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Because the supreme god of all things that were,
> will be, and can be is Nemesis. It is the Cold
> Equations.


I'm glad that you mention nemesis

It suggests an element of the older sense of "weird," i.e. the sense of fate or doom, which is so important in the old weird ballads and folk stories!

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 11 December, 2019 03:47PM
More nominations for "weird fantasy" or (whatever)….

Jack Vance's The Dying Earth -- agreed?

Shakespeare's Macbeth

Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Kubla Khan," "Christabel"

Keats's "Lamia" and "La Belle Dame Sans Merci"

Tolkien's "The Lay of Aoutrou and Itroun"

Beowulf

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The British folk tale "Yallery Brown": [www.sacred-texts.com]

Grimm's "Jorinde and Joringel" [www.sacred-texts.com]

Lafcadio Hearn's Kwaidan (I already mentioned Japanese folktales)

Jacobs's "The Monkey's Paw"

Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Henry James's The Turn of the Screw

Stoker's Dracula

Haggard's She

H. G. Wells's "The Sea-Raiders," "The Crystal Egg," The Time Machine

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 11 December, 2019 05:17PM
Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House

A question for when we discuss the formal definition of weird fantasy or whatever term we decide on -- is this thing a subset of a broader category that could be called the wonder tale?

"Wonder tale" would admit things like Machen's "Great Return" that many of us would hesitate to label as weird fiction, and yet that seem akin to it, and tales of dealings with the faeries, etc.

I'm going to start a separate thread relating to the question of what wf works have actually creeped us out. This seems relevant to the definition-then-artistic legitimacy discussion we're working on here.

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 11 December, 2019 08:10PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House
>
> A question for when we discuss the formal
> definition of weird fantasy or whatever term we
> decide on -- is this thing a subset of a broader
> category that could be called the wonder tale?
>
> "Wonder tale" would admit things like Machen's
> "Great Return" that many of us would hesitate to
> label as weird fiction, and yet that seem akin to
> it, and tales of dealings with the faeries, etc.
>
> I'm going to start a separate thread relating to
> the question of what wf works have actually
> creeped us out. This seems relevant to the
> definition-then-artistic legitimacy discussion
> we're working on here.

Dale, the list is getting so long that, in order to make even an initial response, I'd have to spend a lot of time going thru the referred works to see if they were, or were not, to be included as weird fiction--and we still haven't yet decided on a workable definition for weird fiction.

Maybe we could agree on ONE work that we both feel (and other contributors, too) are certainly to be included as weird fiction. In doing so we'd necessarily develop a list of characteristics, and maybe we could use this list, or modify it, to use as a tool to qualify other works.

OK, to start, to me a good, solid example of weird fiction is Lovecraft's well-known The Statement of Randolph Carter.

Would you agree or not? If not, why not, and we can move on until we both solidly agree on what is unquestionably an example of weird fiction.

As to your ultimate point, that "...the artistic legitimacy of a form or genre (or subgenre) is proven if there is even just one work that (a) incontestably belongs to that genre as clearly defined, and (b) that achieves something of real worth that could only be achieved in that form," is an exciting and worthy proposition to explore. The way I see it, we are now working on element "a" of your propostion.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But give a man a boat,
a case of beer, and a few sticks of dynamite..." -- Sawfish

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 11 December, 2019 09:48PM
Sawfish, I hoped, by listing a bunch of stories as I did, to give interested persons a chance to see that "weird fantasy" seems to cover quite a range, and also to comment if anything listed didn't seem to belong -- to the end of being able to formulate a definition.

A good definition is a corral that's capacious enough to keep in everything that belongs, and to keep out everything that doesn't belong. Of course, there may be occasional disagreements about specific items.

It must be years since I read "Randolph Carter." I'm sure it's an example of wf, but I'd like to check it again.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11 Dec 19 | 09:49PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 09:12AM
I wonder if the Fourth Voyage of Gulliver -- to the Houyhnhnms -- qualifies as weird fantasy. Gulliver's miserable recognition of the fact that he and the noisome Yahoos are of one species anticipates Lovecraft's "Arthur Jermyn" and "The Outsider."

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 09:50AM
Let's make a good faith effort, by the way, to deal with objections to weird fantasy. We're looking towards an argument for the artistic legitimacy of weird fiction. That argument will be strengthened if we acknowledge sincere criticisms that may be made against the genre.

After all, other genres have been criticized, and defended. For example, Neoclassical poetry (Pope et al.) has been criticized for its moralism, didacticism, artificial diction, mechanical metrics, etc. A case for the artistic legitimacy of Neoclassical verse that takes account of such criticisms and is still able to argue for its achieving worthwhile things achievable in no other way will be more convincing than an assertion of liking for Neoclassical verse that leaves the matter at that.

So... this might take some effort, since presumably everyone here likes at least some weird fantasy... but what are objections to it that might be entertained? Will we be able to show that, though the various objections may indeed be true of much wf, they are not absolutely inherent in it?

Here are a few that occur to me, to get this ball rolling. But that's not to say we should stop adding examples of works that are, or are not, wf, nor that we shouldn't devise a definition of wf before we get too deeply into a defense of the genre.

1.Weird fantasy is misogynistic. Writers of wf often aim for effects of terror and horror. Believing that women are usually more susceptible to these emotions, the writers again and again write scenes of fear, horror, panic involving women as victims. Examples: many of the stories by Robert Bloch.

2.Weird fantasy is reductive. That is, its tendency is to turn from the artistic rendering of human complexity to oversimplified depictions of people as mentally ill and nasty (the perpetrators of various bad deeds) or as lacking in perception (the typical victim who walks into the bad place when the reader can see that any reasonable person would not do so) or as the object of cynical superiority evoked in the reader. Reading weird fantasy is liable to make its addicts impatient with literature that portrays human depth more searchingly; they are bored by it, and crave the simplicities of wf.

3.Weird fantasy is formulaic. Countless wf stories are just variations on Bad Things Happening to Curious People. You start a weird story not only assuming it will work out in familiar ways, but probably because[i] you assume it will work out in familiar ways. This is lazy reading as well as lazy writing.

4.Weird fantasy is childish or primitive. Everybody really knows that there are no such things as vampires, ghosts, demons, gods, books of magical spells that really work, and so on; furthermore, there is no evidence that there is intelligent nonhuman life anywhere in the universe, so tales of alien invaders are silly. Some people never grow up but retain an immature desire to pretend to be scared of strange creatures. Like the character in the movie [i]Signs
says, they need girlfriends.

5.The sub-literary nature of weird fantasy is damningly evident in that some of the best-loved works in the genre are manifestly written in a slapdash or inept manner. Any story that can do what it's supposed to do with little or no regard for verbal excellence is highly suspect. An author may, if he or she wishes, try to tell a weird story using just and resourceful diction, but frankly the purpose of the story -- to deliver cheap thrills -- makes this optional.


6.Weird fantasy is obviously of low social origins. It has typically been produced by writers for cheap magazines, shoddy paperbacks, sleazy movies, etc. that are aimed at the semi-educated who desire an easy-to-read escape from the tedium of proletarian or low bourgeois conditions. A love of weird fantasy is common among such, while those who have had a first-rate education and are conversant with literary excellence have little interest in it, except perhaps as indicative of interesting psychological abnormality on the part of the author (e.g. Poe).

7.Weird fantasy tends to absorb the attention of people away from more important concerns, such as improving the lot of oppressed classes or saving one's soul. It is like a drug that dulls the needed keenness to deal with the tasks of the day.

8.Weird fantasy is characteristically opposed to diversity and multiculturalism because the chief thing is always fear of "the Other." Even where the story may avoid stereotypes of persons of color, people of Asian descent, and so on, it cultivates reactionary attitudes of dislike of difference. This is harmful especially in our global economy. We need instead a literature that celebrates difference and that exposes the intersecting prejudices that persist in disadvantaging some and privileging others.

9.Weird fantasy typically deals with ugliness. This is especially harmful when it is read by young people. The beautiful is a real category of reality -- it is not just a matter of taste -- but it may take effort to develop the ability to perceive the beautiful in poem, painting, or music (e.g. Bach's keyboard works). Young readers develop a taste for the weird, the ugly, the morbid, rather than for the beautiful.

10.At least among the young, weird fantasy promotes depression, possibly even the desire for self-harm or hurting others, by its grim themes, violent or sickening imagery, etc. It may compensate socially marginalized youngsters who need to be encouraged to interact with others rather than retreating into unreal worlds.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12 Dec 19 | 10:20AM by Dale Nelson.

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 10:54AM
Interleaved, below:

Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Let's make a good faith effort, by the way, to
> deal with objections to weird fantasy. We're
> looking towards an argument for the artistic
> legitimacy of weird fiction. That argument will
> be strengthened if we acknowledge sincere
> criticisms that may be made against the genre.
>
> After all, other genres have been criticized, and
> defended. For example, Neoclassical poetry (Pope
> et al.) has been criticized for its moralism,
> didacticism, artificial diction, mechanical
> metrics, etc. A case for the artistic legitimacy
> of Neoclassical verse that takes account of such
> criticisms and is still able to argue for its
> achieving worthwhile things achievable in no other
> way will be more convincing than an assertion of
> liking for Neoclassical verse that leaves the
> matter at that.
>
> So... this might take some effort, since
> presumably everyone here likes at least some weird
> fantasy... but what are objections to it that
> might be entertained? Will we be able to show
> that, though the various objections may indeed be
> true of much wf, they are not absolutely inherent
> in it?
>
> Here are a few that occur to me, to get this ball
> rolling. But that's not to say we should stop
> adding examples of works that are, or are not, wf,
> nor that we shouldn't devise a definition of wf
> before we get too deeply into a defense of the
> genre.
>
> 1.Weird fantasy is misogynistic. Writers of wf
> often aim for effects of terror and horror.
> Believing that women are usually more susceptible
> to these emotions, the writers again and again
> write scenes of fear, horror, panic involving
> women as victims. Examples: many of the stories
> by Robert Bloch.

This, to me, is too close to allowing popular sensibilities of a given period to dictate whether or not a work is of value or not.

It would be a lot like criticizing the prosecution in former times of cannabis possession simply because it is now lawful (here in OR, for example). I tend to react to this sort of litmus testing of former norms by current sensibilities as a form of cultural chauvinism...

"Oh, they used to make terrible assumptions about women, but we're far past that now, and know The Truth(tm). Therefore these works of a former era are devalued..."

Nope. Not for me.

So I'd reject #1 as an area of valid criticism.

>
> 2.Weird fantasy is reductive. That is, its
> tendency is to turn from the artistic rendering of
> human complexity to oversimplified depictions of
> people as mentally ill and nasty (the perpetrators
> of various bad deeds) or as lacking in perception
> (the typical victim who walks into the bad place
> when the reader can see that any reasonable person
> would not do so) or as the object of cynical
> superiority evoked in the reader. Reading weird
> fantasy is liable to make its addicts impatient
> with literature that portrays human depth more
> searchingly; they are bored by it, and crave the
> simplicities of wf.

Seems of value to me. I'd categorize the use and reliance on stock characters to use to advance a narrative as lazy and weak. Poor artistry, in short.

Worse yet, if accepted by a broad swathe of readers, "poor aesthetic sensibilities".

>
> 3.Weird fantasy is formulaic. Countless wf
> stories are just variations on Bad Things
> Happening to Curious People. You start a weird
> story not only assuming it will work out in
> familiar ways, but probably because you assume it
> will work out in familiar ways. This is lazy
> reading as well as lazy writing.

Maybe. But one (or me, at least) never tires of reading new takes on traditional themes, because bad things happening to curious people is really just Pandora/Prometheus/Icarus retold.

I mean, I never tire of a well-motivated revenge tale. That theme will not wear out for me, yet it's predictable as hell.

Now, what this says about *me*, I'm reluctant to consider... ;^)

>
> 4.Weird fantasy is childish or primitive.
> Everybody really knows that there are no such
> things as vampires, ghosts, demons, gods, books of
> magical spells that really work, and so on;


Not to put too fine a point on it, but in an epistemological sense, I *don't* know this for a fact. I know that I've never in 72 years seen convincing evidence of it, but...

> furthermore, there is no evidence that there is
> intelligent nonhuman life anywhere in the
> universe, so tales of alien invaders are silly.
> Some people never grow up but retain an immature
> desire to pretend to be scared of strange
> creatures. Like the character in the movie Signs
> says, they need girlfriends.

Hah!

I like fantastic elements that are plausible within the setting of their own narrative universe. They tend not to be boring. I mean, consider shoggoths--what they are, how they were originally formed and for what purposes. And whatthey became. This is fairly well thought out stuff--a new take on golems.

E.g., Solaris, the Lem novel and the Tarkovsky film have little going for them other than the fantastic to the point of the incomprehensibly alien.

> 5.The sub-literary nature of weird fantasy is
> damningly evident in that some of the best-loved
> works in the genre are manifestly written in a
> slapdash or inept manner. Any story that can do
> what it's supposed to do with little or no regard
> for verbal excellence is highly suspect. An
> author may, if he or she wishes, try to tell a
> weird story using just and resourceful diction,
> but frankly the purpose of the story -- to deliver
> cheap thrills -- makes this optional.

Not sure that I can agree with this. You seem to be describing merely poor art that is popularly accepted by a broad audience. The same genre can yield superior art that is ignored or misunderstood by that same audience.

This is not bound to the genre, and it's like saying that the TV shows the Goldbergs and Deadwood can both be categorized as an open-ended TV series and are therefore more-or-less of equivalent artistic value (low) because they are both an open-ended TV series.

>
>
> 6.Weird fantasy is obviously of low social
> origins. It has typically been produced by
> writers for cheap magazines, shoddy paperbacks,
> sleazy movies, etc. that are aimed at the
> semi-educated who desire an easy-to-read escape
> from the tedium of proletarian or low bourgeois
> conditions. A love of weird fantasy is common
> among such, while those who have had a first-rate
> education and are conversant with literary
> excellence have little interest in it, except
> perhaps as indicative of interesting psychological
> abnormality on the part of the author (e.g. Poe).

Again, there are cheap commercial weird tales and there are heartfelt weird tales. The operative terms here is "heartfelt" vs "commercial", and not "weird fantasy".

>
> 7.Weird fantasy tends to absorb the attention of
> people away from more important concerns, such as
> improving the lot of oppressed classes or saving
> one's soul. It is like a drug that dulls the
> needed keenness to deal with the tasks of the day.

And what's wrong with that, I'd like to know? ;^)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But give a man a boat,
a case of beer, and a few sticks of dynamite..." -- Sawfish

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 11:54AM
Dale, somehow I missed #7-#10. I'd like to deal with them now:

Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

[MUCH SNIPPED...]

>
> 7.Weird fantasy tends to absorb the attention of
> people away from more important concerns, such as
> improving the lot of oppressed classes or saving
> one's soul. It is like a drug that dulls the
> needed keenness to deal with the tasks of the
> day.
>
> 8.Weird fantasy is characteristically opposed to
> diversity and multiculturalism because the chief
> thing is always fear of "the Other." Even where
> the story may avoid stereotypes of persons of
> color, people of Asian descent, and so on, it
> cultivates reactionary attitudes of dislike of
> difference. This is harmful especially in our
> global economy. We need instead a literature that
> celebrates difference and that exposes the
> intersecting prejudices that persist in
> disadvantaging some and privileging others.

I'd dismiss #7 & #8 out-of-hand as being social, and not aesthetic, concerns, and I would note that this line of criticism is more fitting in an institution that's consumed by a thirst for the appearance of "social justice"--whatever that means--and has no place in valid aesthetic criticism beyond perhaps noting how much different popular public values were when the work was written.

I'm sure not here to discuss fiction under this sort of regime--on the contrary, the MAIN reason I'm here, and not posting elsewhere, is that this site is relatively devoid of social priorities and the adoption of virtue-signaling rhetorical postures, dealing primarily with the aesthetic. If the group wants to move in that direction, it'll do so without me.

>
> 9.Weird fantasy typically deals with ugliness.
> This is especially harmful when it is read by
> young people. The beautiful is a real category of
> reality -- it is not just a matter of taste -- but
> it may take effort to develop the ability to
> perceive the beautiful in poem, painting, or music
> (e.g. Bach's keyboard works). Young readers
> develop a taste for the weird, the ugly, the
> morbid, rather than for the beautiful.


I think that the underlying assumption--that art can shape an individual's tastes and outlooks--is valid. I'm definitely not the same person that I was before reading Catch-22, for example. But actually intervening between a responsible youth under the age of 18, and say, Justine or The Story of O, or some Conan story, is the responsibility of those closest to the individual, and not the broader society.

At least that's how I see it.

>
> 10.At least among the young, weird fantasy
> promotes depression, possibly even the desire for
> self-harm or hurting others, by its grim themes,
> violent or sickening imagery, etc. It may
> compensate socially marginalized youngsters who
> need to be encouraged to interact with others
> rather than retreating into unreal worlds.

Again, a social concern and not an aesthetic concern. Me, I wouldn't care to explore it in a forum that seems to me to be devoted to aesthetic evaluation.

My opinions only, Dale. Others may feel differently.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But give a man a boat,
a case of beer, and a few sticks of dynamite..." -- Sawfish

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 12:09PM
Just to be clear — the objections to weird fantasy are my attempts (sometimes, I admit, with tongue in cheek rather than entire good faith) to indicate views one might encounter, e.g. in the press, in academia, etc.

They are not necessarily my own views.

In some cases, it was easy to present straw man versions. But then I’m not sure that some o& the objections might not be close to what you would hear in, for example, a college lit seminar, or even a faculty lounge.....

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 12:33PM
Sawfish, you suggested “The Statement of Randolph Carter” as a representative work of weird fantasy. I’d say it is, sure.

A couple of thoughts about it.

1. It is unusual in being known to have derived from a dream. We would usually discuss a dream somewhat differently than we’d discuss a story we didn’t take to have an oneiric origin. So that could be a concern.

2. Probably most people wouldn’t take it to be a masterpiece, so, while it Is an excellent choice as an example of weird fantasy, it might not lend itself to the eventual evaluation of the artistic legitimacy of the genre as well as some other stories; but let’s see what others have to say.

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 12:55PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Just to be clear — the objections to weird
> fantasy are my attempts (sometimes, I admit, with
> tongue in cheek rather than entire good faith) to
> indicate views one might encounter, e.g. in the
> press, in academia, etc.
>
> They are not necessarily my own views.
>
> In some cases, it was easy to present straw man
> versions. But then I’m not sure that some o&
> the objections might not be close to what you
> would hear in, for example, a college lit seminar,
> or even a faculty lounge.....

I understand, Dale, and do not ascribe some of these points of criticism to you, but they are *patently* invalid when considering art, in my firmly held position.

My daughter attended and graduated from Vassar; she graduated last spring. Until you get some actual feedback on the day-to-day life of the mind at a place like that, it may be impossible to grasp how intellectually bankrupt the general sensibility there can be.

Much of the evaluation, and hence the limited reasoning, starts with a preconceived notion of the value of a work as it relates go a worldview of justice, depending on how closely it hues to accepted current orthodoxies. This has less to do with an assessment of traditionally recognized literary devices as it does with social conformity. In short, in an atmosphere like that, aesthetics takes a back seat to morality. And to my mind, moral priorities are transient, while the finest art is for all practical purposes "timeless" within the framework of human existence.

Worryingly so....

DEEPLY worryingly so... :^(

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But give a man a boat,
a case of beer, and a few sticks of dynamite..." -- Sawfish

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 01:46PM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
Until you get some
> actual feedback on the day-to-day life of the mind
> at a place like that, it may be impossible to
> grasp how intellectually bankrupt the general
> sensibility there can be.


As C. S. Lewis said of the majority of critics of his day (when it came to science fiction), "the whole present dynasty has got to die and rot."

[www.unzcloud.net]

Today's academic hostility to the canon of standard literary works can be astonishing. And the emphasis on literary theory is dismaying. As an example, one might check the award-winning essay “‘Aggressive Disintegration in the Individual’: A Lacanian Study of Signification and the Destruction of Self in Shakespeare’s King Lear”
here:

[www.winthrop.edu]

"Lear’s dependency on the phallus-as-language is seen throughout the play....the great problem with the psychoanalytic perspective is that it views the female as the blank canvas on which the Symbolic Order of patriarchy imposes meaning...."

Even if one grants, for the sake of argument, that Lacanian theory is valid (which I do not grant) and that it is used appropriately here, I would still object, because time spent studying theory is time that can't be invested in reading the literary works themselves. It's dreadful, how literary study on the one hand increases the time the student spends on theory (usually of a strongly leftist bent) while, at the same time, students arrive in college having read fewer works of literature than was the case formerly with those who were going to study literature; or so I suspect. It would be interesting to see -- but no English Department is likely to do it -- a list of the standard literary works that the students taking bachelor's degrees read during their time in college -- or that they failed to read. Students are not likely to be reading them on their own, outside of class, while in college, since so many hold jobs, socialize, spend time online, watch movies, and so on.....

I've gotten some things off my chest here (and there's a link to real Machen rarity!):

[wormwoodiana.blogspot.com]

As I note in that piece, the academic talk about critical "lenses" for reading "texts" seems to me questionable. Rather than "lenses," a better metaphor for the emphasis on literary theory (feminist, queer, postcolonial, etc.) might be urban light pollution. You might have to go off by yourself in order to see the stars.....

In the meantime, literary discussion can go on in other places.



Edited 4 time(s). Last edit at 12 Dec 19 | 02:31PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 03:09PM
Interleaved:

Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Sawfish Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> Until you get some
> > actual feedback on the day-to-day life of the
> mind
> > at a place like that, it may be impossible to
> > grasp how intellectually bankrupt the general
> > sensibility there can be.
>
>
> As C. S. Lewis said of the majority of critics of
> his day (when it came to science fiction), "the
> whole present dynasty has got to die and rot."
>
> [www.unzcloud.net]-
> 1965mar/63-67//
>
> Today's academic hostility to the canon of
> standard literary works can be astonishing. And
> the emphasis on literary theory is dismaying. As
> an example, one might check the award-winning
> essay “‘Aggressive Disintegration in the
> Individual’: A Lacanian Study of Signification
> and the Destruction of Self in Shakespeare’s
> King Lear”
> here:
>
> [www.winthrop.edu]
> search/AMullerArticle.pdf
>
> "Lear’s dependency on the phallus-as-language is
> seen throughout the play....the great problem with
> the psychoanalytic perspective is that it views
> the female as the blank canvas on which the
> Symbolic Order of patriarchy imposes meaning...."
>
> Even if one grants, for the sake of argument, that
> Lacanian theory is valid (which I do not grant)
> and that it is used appropriately here, I would
> still object, because time spent studying theory
> is time that can't be invested in reading the
> literary works themselves. It's dreadful, how
> literary study on the one hand increases the time
> the student spends on theory (usually of a
> strongly leftist bent) while, at the same time,
> students arrive in college having read fewer works
> of literature than was the case formerly with
> those who were going to study literature; or so I
> suspect. It would be interesting to see -- but no
> English Department is likely to do it -- a list of
> the standard literary works that the students
> taking bachelor's degrees read during their time
> in college -- or that they failed to read.
> Students are not likely to be reading them on
> their own, outside of class, while in college,
> since so many hold jobs, socialize, spend time
> online, watch movies, and so on.....

For what little it's worth, I largely agree with what you're saying.

I'd allow as how deeply studying literary theory can help illuminate *why* a given writer has created certain works, but personally I'm far more interested in *how* he/she achieves his/her goals. Techniques, and even external ***stylistic*** influences. Philosophical/political/ideological not so much, unless it can be demonstrated that these affected the stylistic palette used (and how).

So I guess I come at this from the perspective of an appreciation of a superior piece of craftsmanship that can often express higher artistic goals (those works that can generate a sort of transcendent feeling of aesthetic or emotional enjoyment), rather than from a theoretical direction.

>
> I've gotten some things off my chest here (and
> there's a link to real Machen rarity!):
>
> [wormwoodiana.blogspot.com]
> t-machens-glitter-of-brook-and.html
>
> As I note in that piece, the academic talk about
> critical "lenses" for reading "texts" seems to me
> questionable. Rather than "lenses," a better
> metaphor for the emphasis on literary theory
> (feminist, queer, postcolonial, etc.) might be
> urban light pollution. You might have to go off
> by yourself in order to see the stars.....


Hah! An excellent metaphor, Dale!

>
> In the meantime, literary discussion can go on in
> other places.

Here. Perhaps now's the time to share where I'm coming from as an appreciator of literature.

I graduated in the mid-70s (had to stop studying and work, intermittently) from one of the Cal State schools, Cal Poly SLO, which is sort of like Texas A&M in that it's a technical school primarily. However, my major was English, Creative Writing emphasis, and my thesis was a longish short story bordering on novella length. I realized that I really had no talent as a creative writer, and hence made my living in SW development. Nor did I really enjoy certain aspects of the creative process in that I recognized that to write my best stuff (still objectively mediocre), I had to "open up" much more than I was comfortable in doing to achieve a degree of honesty and verisimilitude--which were probably my strongest points.

But the major had lots of enjoyable survey classes, and I got tremendous pleasure in reading as much of the stuff as I could--and as you said earlier, it's doubtful that I'd have read any of it on my own, were they not assigned. Subsequently, I've re-read a lot of this stuff, to my greater understanding.

But I'm definitely the better for it.

Now combine this with the idea that I see no honest attempts at art as unworthy or unacceptable purely on an assessment of the moral messages contained therein. To this end I've read some effective artistic expressions that represented just hideous attitudes and worldviews, but nevertheless were *art*. Practically speaking, what this means is that I'll likely not read very much by this particular writer--their views are too repellant for me, personally (or too vapid, or too arrogant, etc.)--but neither would I ridicule or derogate their works as being unartistic, if, indeed, it was an effective piece of communication and stylistically interesting.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But give a man a boat,
a case of beer, and a few sticks of dynamite..." -- Sawfish

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 04:12PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> For a definition, we'd need three things:
>
> 1.the term to be defined ("weird fantasy")
> 2.the category to which that term belongs
> 3.the characteristics that set "weird fantasy"
> apart from the other things that belong in the
> category


Are we ready to create a provisional definition of weird fantasy? To give us some text to work with, I submit the following. Edit away till you like it.

Demonstrably, people of widely separated cultures have told stories of wonders. Some of these stories may have been believed to be true at first (and I would not rule out the possibility that some small number of them really were; but that's another topic), but the time came when even the stories originally regarded as true were told without express belief in their truth, or indeed with disbelief. We may say that, in modern societies where the truth of such stories may be believed by nobody, even so the tale of wonders may appeal to many readers (or listeners, viewers, etc.).

So here is the first of two definitions for discussion.

The tale of wonders is a variety of fictional narrative that deals with the unreal.

Now here to kick around is a definition of weird fantasy.

Weird fantasy is a variety of the tale of wonders that emphasizes the uncanny, the strange, the eerie, and the mysterious.

You'll notice that I have hesitated to include "the fearful." That may be a weakness, since this definition might be too broad without something like that added. Or must a work of weird fantasy include "the fearful" or frightening?

Examples of tales of wonder that are (at least for the most part) not[i] weird: William Morris's [i]The Well at the World's End; the Chronicles of Narnia; Lord Dunsany's "The Bride of the Man-Horse," Beagle's The Last Unicorn, etc.

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 09:03PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> William Sloan's To Walk the Night and The Edge of
> Running Water -- Gothic sf


Should be Sloane with an E.

What about Solovyov's/Soloviev's "Tale of the Antichrist"? I would probably include this unusual futuristic, apocalyptic short story as an example of a weird fantasy, but I wonder if others would.

[archive.org]

[en.wikipedia.org])

I used to assign it as a follow-up to Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov when I taught a course on Russian literature in translation. The final book was another fantasy, the recent novel by E. Vodolazkin, Laurus.

Sawfish, I was mostly allowed to teach my literature courses as I wished (composition courses not so much). I didn't have to reduce time spent on firsthand reading of literature in order to teach theory. But they offered me early retirement & my wife urged me to take it, and I did. Mostly teaching was a good experience, but I do seem to remember that, when the time came to leave, I remembered lines from one of Bob Dylan's songs (grins merrily):

I'm crestfallen, a world of illusions at my door.
I aint haulin' any of my lambs to the marketplace any more.
Prison walls are tumbling down, there is no end in sight.
I gained some recognition, but I lost my appetite.
Sweet beauty, meet me at the border late tonight!



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 12 Dec 19 | 09:21PM by Dale Nelson.

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 10:32PM
Hah!

I knew it!

You are a *superior* literary scholar, Dale!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But give a man a boat,
a case of beer, and a few sticks of dynamite..." -- Sawfish

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 11:01PM
Read a lot of good books, anyway.

Another question about weird fantasy. Does it have a fatal tendency to glamorize evil?

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 12 December, 2019 11:05PM
Simone Weil on Fantasy Vs. Reality
“Nothing is so beautiful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy as the good. No deserts are so dreary, monotonous and boring as evil. But with fantasy it is the other way round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive and full of charm.”

Comments?

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 13 December, 2019 01:26PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:

> Weird fantasy is a variety of the tale of wonders
> that emphasizes the uncanny, the strange, the
> eerie, and the mysterious.

Question: Must weird fantasy include an element of the sinister? Are there stories that belong to the category of weird fantasy but that are free of the sinister?

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 13 December, 2019 02:46PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Dale Nelson Wrote:
>
> > Weird fantasy is a variety of the tale of
> wonders
> > that emphasizes the uncanny, the strange, the
> > eerie, and the mysterious.
>
> Question: Must weird fantasy include an element of
> the sinister? Are there stories that belong to
> the category of weird fantasy but that are free of
> the sinister?

Interesting...

I don't think that weird fantasy necessarily has to include a distinct element of the supernatural--personally, the defining term that comes to my mind is "uncanny"--but *maybe* it does need to have an element of the sinister ,or at least threatening.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But give a man a boat,
a case of beer, and a few sticks of dynamite..." -- Sawfish

Re: The artistic legitimacy of weird fiction or weird fantasy
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 14 December, 2019 10:05AM
Sawfish Wrote:

> I don't think that weird fantasy necessarily has
> to include a distinct element of the
> supernatural--personally, the defining term that
> comes to my mind is "uncanny"--but *maybe* it does
> need to have an element of the sinister ,or at
> least threatening.


We could test this. Can anyone think of a story that should be classed as weird fantasy, but that has no appreciable element of the sinister?

I mentioned Dunsany's "Bride of the Man-Horse" earlier as a story that didn't seem to me to be an example of weird fantasy, even though Dunsany wrote some well-known tales of the type. Is it the element of the sinister that disqualifies "Bride" -- if it is disqualified?

(Btw, having read it again this week, I'll acknowledge that there's an element of what could be called the sinister in that the Man-Horse grabs his intended bride by the hair. I'd forgotten that. But, if it is "sinister," is it the right kind of sinister to make the story a weird fantasy? If it's sinister but not the right type of sinister, what is the right type for wf? I suppose it might not be necessary to spell that out, if it's figured that the other characteristic "notes" of wf -- eerie, etc. -- control for that.)

This might be a comment that's dissolving into niggling.

But I think there is an agenda item here worth kicking around.

The more broadly we define wf, the less likely it is that it will need defending as artistically legitimate. For example, if any story with an eerie ghost in it is weird fantasy, then Hamlet may be mentioned, and probably nobody's going to want to deny that play's attainment of very high literary value. If one literary work shows the characteristics of weird fantasy AND attains high literary achievement that could be achieved no other way -- then, it's been contended, the legitimacy of the genre is demonstrated. QED.

The more narrowly we define wf, the more exacting will be the task of defending its artistic legitimacy. Of course, we don't want to define wf so narrowly that our definition excludes works that, by any reasonable reckoning, must be included. For example, if we defined weird fantasy as "a variety of pulp entertainment specializing in black magic, gore, horror, and cheap thrills," we'd have a task all right to defend it -- but is that a satisfactory definition of wf?

All the same, if we're getting tired of poking at this business of definition, would someone like to say "Here's a definition I think is good enough" and propose that we move on to the question of the genre's artistic legitimacy?

By the way, tomorrow (Sunday) may be the last day for a while that I will be contributing to this thread.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 14 Dec 19 | 11:03AM by Dale Nelson.



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