Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Readercon: Fantasy as Inner Landscape

I'd say this was disappointing, but I didn't really understand the panel description in the first place, so I can't complain that it wasn't what I expected.

Also, the mikes and/or speakers in this room really did not work well, so I frequently had to struggle just to recognize the words coming out of people's mouths.


Fantasy as Inner Landscape.
John Crowley, Greer Gilman, Kelly Link, Kathryn Morrow (L), Paul Park, Michael Swanwick.
It's easy to criticize fantasy for its apparent acceptance of outmoded social structures, and in fact we've done so in past panels such as "Efland Über Alles" and "The Return of the Prime Minister." But are the social structures of fantasy actually a metaphor for inner experience? The king, the knights, the aristocracy, and the noble peasants who aspire to one or more of the above—do these appeal to writers and readers not because of any fondness for their reality, but because they provide a map of human experience and growth? Readercon hopes to put the audio recording of this panel online at some point after the convention.

Swanwick: he's doubtful about the concept of the panel.

Gilman: whereas everything she's written is her inner landscape inside-out.

Park: he has an alarming propensity for characters with aristocratic titles, and is curious why he's done that so much.

Link: thinks the theory is useful in the way that narrowing one's focus can be useful.

Crowley: anecdote: once asked authors on a panel to identify their most regressive political fantasy: and got no response! Thinks we can unleash that kind of thing in fantastic novels because we wouldn't dare in realistic.

Morrow: [a lot I didn't follow: nostalgia, archetypes, homage?], then turns own question on Crowley.

Crowley: his first book [id'ed elsewhere as "Great Work of Time"] was a fantasy about the continuation of British Empire in a nicer fashion. So if there is an inner landscape, it makes more sense than the outer—arrange it so that good leaders take over from bad, things are set up in hierarchy?

Gilman: inner landscape is not only the self turned elsewhere, but the hope that self can get lost in it. What she's after: open door and you're not there anymore. (I am not at all sure that I understood this.)

Swanwick: story of the journey from childhood to adulthood—Belgariad, reduced to most idiot form—is getting cranked out by fantasy writers like a sausage factory: which is why it's the plot of his next novel! As an American and democrat, he thinks monarchy is a terrible model and wants to subvert it. So he made a list of things that fantasy does, and asked John Clute for a model of fantasy, and made a checklist of things he could subvert. (Something about psychodrama and becoming useless, but I couldn't hear the subject of that sentence.)

Park: because the inner landscape is connected to other texts, and because it can have a metaphorical connection to things author really loves (JRRT and the Midlands, for instance), the inner landscape has a kind of genuineness that readers respond to, regardless of what they think of it.

As for class hierarchies: why are so many middle-class Americans write them? cites Naomi Novik, claims she's internalized the cult of the gentleman; what does this do for the author? It orders the world in a very easy way that we don't have.

(I said, "WTF?!" veejane suggested this was the "psychoanalyze your fellow author" panel, which was not appealing. Anyway: I don't agree with Park's reading of the Temeraire books as uncritically embodying the cult of the gentleman, and I also find it rather rude to phrase it as what the author internalizes, as opposed to what the books suggest.)

Morrow: also, a king is small enough to get the imagination around.

Crowley: one person to represent one characteristic.

Link: responded to Park: doesn't see Lord of the Rings as an interior landscape, because it's hard to read the three books as a map for the interior person of JRRT or of the reader. The only interior map she can make, is that no matter what one achieves, at some point things fall away.

Gilman: JRRT had a bad case of the elves. Who are kind of a lack, at some point they always fall/fade away.

Link: JRRT modeled a LotR relationship (didn't hear which one) on that of his and his wife's. Back to response to Park: re: Novik: books goes on to complicate things, with realizations about the nature of power and control.

The reason why stories are told about people with special powers, is that authors want to be able to give their characters as much as agency as possible. Which makes her uncomfortable.

(Crowley: in The Once and Future King, the trouble begins when he becomes king.)

Park: to Link: do you think that the problem is that books give people a wrong vision of world, or that they sap agency by giving an illusion (not sure of what, possibly that special powers are required for agency)?

Link: both are possible. Complicated relationships between characters are positive models; but larger things, like archaic political structures, are hard to translate into useful models.

Morrow: is that sort of the point? The reader is truly escaping, not urged to any kind of action.

Gilman: she is obsessed not with kings but with the Alan Garner model, in which characters try to escape a role being thrust upon them. Also with the year, how humans crank it around, e.g., if you don't do certain things, it's always winter.

Crowley: interior versus exterior landscapes: the interior is made of meaning, not of things that one can't control. In exterior landscapes, winter goes away no matter what you do.

Park: props (? I think plot-props) versus the landscape they're in. Location might work in a more personal way, as opposed to narrative necessities such as characters with agency.

Swanwick: landscape can be both real & metaphorical at same time; his forthcoming novel is set in the Tower of Babel, which is a very big male symbol but is also New York City, mapped out within the Tower's levels.

Gilman: is Central Park the female principle?

someone: it is now!

Swanwick: I may have to go back and write that chapter. But the reality of NYC gives the landscape the structure & honesty that's required. If everything is compliant to the needs of the author, it gets mushy.

Gilman: similarly, distances & effects of weather have to be real.

Swanwick: that's the problem with inner landscapes, they turn everything false. (I have no idea what this means.)

Link: for instance, if a character is going to be sacrificed, the reader can tell that they're not meant to care about them too much. Waldrop suggested that you can take any piece of literature and read it as an allegory for writing the story itself (I've lost the connection to inner landscapes for this sentence).

Crowley: when reading a certain kind of story, the question he asks is, "is this writer going to make it to the end?" rather than "is the character," citing Link's zombie story as an example.

Audience: used to accept the culture-bound nature of LotR, taking it as a truism that it was stating an imperialist agenda or unease about dark hordes. Then she talked to people with different experiences: young men in Kuwait saw themselves as Riders of Rohan; people in the Pacific Islands & Israel saw themselves as Hobbits menaced by evil civilizations all around them. Really does suggest Jung had a point.

Morrow: also JRRT was a pretty darn good writer who was doing his own thing.

Park: it's more complicated than the book being tailored to an agenda, the problems he sees are unstated and indirect; but sure, a genuine expression of (for instance) feeling surrounded or dwindling will become universal.

Crowley: something about Anthony Burgess that I missed; Wilde's comment that all bad poetry arises from sincere feelings.

Audience: another truism: we grow up in monarchies: families, school yard. An inner landscape can slide into pure ideolect, so (I think the implication was, "to be interesting and comprehensible") either the inner landscape is weird or it's normal but done well.

Audience: people keep thinking center of universe; formerly, that it physically revolved around us, which is not true, but it does seem to be true that the maximum and minimum sizes of everything are 40 orders of magnitude on either side of us.

Swanwick: but, the orders of magnitude were defined by humans!

Link: recommends Megan Whalen Turner trilogy; Elizabeth Knox's Dreamhunter duet; Park's books.

Park: wrestled with the agency problem throughout his books, because agency has to be false throughout (? not sure I understood this either, but it doesn't make me want to read his books, not that I was interested in the first place).

Audience: JRRT was writing about West European landscapes; these are American panelists, why aren't they citing American landscapes?

Morrow: maybe it's just that this is a young country, and the Europeans squashed the American Indians too far down.

Swanwick: took a trip to Ireland, and on the first day, suddenly saw all the things he'd read about, and it all looked different. Americans are at a serious disadvantage not growing up with all that, which killed his desire to write JRRT landscapes. Instead: strip malls!

Link: cited Robin Hobb, possibly for non-W. European landscapes?

Gilman: the American myth is fear of the landscape, either as a source of unknown terror or a place for strip malls.

And then they ran out of time.

[ Readercon link roundup ]

Tags: cons, readercon, readercon 2007

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  • Arrival (movie)

    If you're considering seeing the movie Arrival, and you HAVEN'T read the story it's based on (Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life"), I would strongly…

  • The Lobster (movie)

    The kids are away for the weekend and there's nothing really compelling in theaters, and we saw The Lobster on the on-demand list and remembered…

  • Temeraire Reread finished; Toast Retrospectives ongoing

    I finally put up the spoiler post about the conclusion to the series, League of Dragons, today. (Here's the entirely-spoiler-free review if that's…