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A Mutating Transmedium

Today, we have another new author joining our ranks at Fantasy Matters--John Murray, a computer science PhD student who is interested in video games and digital narrative.  His essay today talks about Henry Jenkin's concept of "transmedia"--that is, blending multiple platforms or media types to tell a story or convey an idea.  He looks at several video games that employ this concept in creative and exciting ways, as well as several that fall short in their attempt.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneIn 2007, the video game industry surpassed the movie industry in gross revenue. Another recent trend is that almost every successful fantasy or science fiction movie worth its salt has released an accompanying game, usually one that follows closely the storyline of the original movie. Such forgettable games as Enter the Matrix, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone point to one result of this trend: mediocre tie-ins and adaptations.

The reviews and feel of these games reveal how closely tied they are to the movies themselves and how the effort put into them is completely abstracted compared to the original material.  They often feature voice talent from the original movies and use key scenes, detailed props, or settings. Unfortunately, in many of these games the aspiration toward "transmedia," a concept that Henry Jenkins observes and named, falls short of its promise. But they are participating in the same process, the same blending of contexts that makes a “transmedia property.” How do these games contribute to this emerging genre, marketing strategy, and approach to media creation?


Power Heirarchies, Sex, and Gender Roles: Challenging the Comfortable in Lev Grossman's The Magicians

In this essay, Elizabeth Simons examines some of the traditional, comfortable structures of power in children's literature--including Harry Potter and The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe--and argues that Lev Grossman's The Magicians challenges many of these structures.  She also notes, however, that gender stereotypes seem particularly difficult to rewrite, even in a novel like Grossman's.

Ever since the Grimm brothers revised their tales for children, removing sexual content and adding heavy-handed moralizing, children’s literature has carried with it the promise of safety and comfort, and many of the popular works for children today still play off these ideas.  The MagiciansThe first book in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, for instance, exudes comfort from its very dedication: Lewis, in addressing his goddaughter Lucy Barfield, refers to The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe as a “fairy tale,” to be taken “down from some upper shelf,” an image that puts the story in the context of a warm tale, as from a parent to a child (vii).  Indeed, he tells her that he has written the story for her, and he reassures her that regardless of her interest in the book or her enjoyment of it, and regardless of his own as he ages and as his mind and body deteriorate, he “shall still be [her] affectionate Godfather” (vii).  The rest of the story maintains this same comfortable feel by drawing on familiar aspects of storytelling and by reinforcing comfortable structures.  Another popular children’s series, Harry Potter, offers similar comfort through similar structural techniques. Jack Zipes compares the series to a fairy tale, citing the books’ “absolute conformance to popular audience expectations” as the biggest reason for their “phenomenality” (176).  Even more important is the comfort given in Harry Potter’s underlying message: “In a world in which we are uncertain of our roles and uncertain about our capacity to defeat evil, the Harry Potter novels arrive and inform us . . . that if we all pull together and trust one another and follow the lead of the chosen one, evil will be overcome” (Zipes 182). Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which is, in many ways, an homage to Rowling’s and Lewis’ works, moves away from the child audience, placing their fantasy stories in an adult context instead.  Grossman’s novel causes his readers to address unsettling issues by casting off several comfortable structures; specifically, The Magicians challenges traditional power hierarchies and directly addresses sexual desire.  Still, despite the way in which the novel undercuts the safety and comfort of the Narnia and Harry Potter stories, it nevertheless adheres to the same familiar gender stereotypes that shape those worlds.  The existence of these gender stereotypes in a novel as progressive as The Magicians demonstrates how such stereotypes are particularly persistent within the fantasy literature genre.


Genre Doesn't Exist -- Or Does It?

Last Friday, Jen Miller posted her thoughts about The Time Traveler's Wife and how it relates to the fantasy genre.  Here, Ken Schneyer responds to that post with his own thoughts about the validity of genre.

Four hundred years ago, Shakespeare showed us the fluidity of genre boundaries by writing plays that deliberately messed with Aristotle's definitions of tragedy and comedy. Compare Othello to Much Ado About Nothing, or take different scenes from Measure for Measure out of context, and you'll see what I mean.

The Time Traveler's WifeNonetheless, people persist in believing in genres, and in assigning different characteristics to them as if they were natural and even immutable. Sometimes it's something as silly as blanket attributions of quality (e.g., the ones we've seen over and over again, "It can't be science fiction; it's too good", or "Nobody ever wrote a romance as serious literature except Jane Austen", etc.). Sometimes it's an attempt to define different subgenres (e.g., Are time travel stories science fiction because they involve the logical consequences of a particular theory, or are they fantasy because they're impossible?). Sometimes it's a fight over which shelf the book will occupy in the bookstore (hence Margaret Atwood's insistence that her novels aren't SF, and people's perplexity as to whether The Time Traveler's Wife belongs with romance, literature or SF).


Hey, That's Not Fantasy: Thoughts on The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's WifeA few weeks ago, I was browsing the Scifi/Fantasy section of my local library, looking for things to read, and I came across a copy of Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife.  I had wanted to read it when it first came out in 2003, but never had the patience to wait in line for it at the library, so I forgot about it.  This time, though, I checked it out--and spent the next few days engrossed in a very thought-provoking novel.

When I got to the end, though, my lingering thought was: "I'm not sure it counts as fantasy."


Big Boys Don't Fly: Making The Cape

The CapeI was at the beach with my two sons in late July of 2010 when I got a call from Joe Hill:

“Hey, you feel like adapting my short story, "The Cape," for IDW?”

And that was it. More was said, but that’s basically how it all got started.


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