The Catharsis of Myth, the Shock of Invention.
Ellen Asher, Theodora Goss (L), Elaine Isaak, Laura Miller, Catherynne M. Valente. [Greatest Hit from Readercon 8.] In writing or reading fiction, we place a high value on the degree to which the plot unfolds in unexpected ways. But much of the power of myth and fairy tale derives from the way it fulfills our expectations. How do the best works of fantasy reconcile these seeming opposites?
FREEZING COLD in this room.
Valente: pre-panel re: all-women composition of panel: was being sarcastic, but there is perception that fantasy is for girls in playground way, sf = hard, fantasy = soft
Isaak: (there will be?) hard fantasy manifesto on website
Asher: don't deal with Stupid Ideas at Readercon, is stupid idea
Goss: beef w/panel description, who's "we", why is fantasy expected to be genre that holds this kind of tension, don't all genres have to reconcile, e.g. detective story
but still interesting, something deals w/in her own writing, got into rewriting classic literary works (daughters of Mad Scientists getting together & forming club, latest story completed)
Miller: critic, book about Narnia, common criticism of it is motifs lifted from somewhere else: fully intentional, CSLewis medievalist & didn't share idea of originality as ultimate measuring stick (pretty recent idea)
Asher: retired SFBC editor ("retirement is wonderful"). Panel description uses "fantasy"--so many stories constantly being rewritten, long tradition of that; sf has tropes but not really that many actual stories that are being rewritten (Frankenstein)
Valente: Orphan's Tales are start to finish taking old fairytales & making them new
Isaak: novelist, guessing is most traditional fantasy novelist up here, though did have novel rejected for being too original; last book read is Valente's _Palimpest_, thought, "see _this_ is too original!" (rejection: didn't know what market was, hadn't sold book like this before therefore cannot buy it; goes on to say that people do generally want stuff like what they've read)
(someone) picks up, not actually foolish POV, bookstores have to be subdivided one way or other, categories are useful, though don't have to like
Goss: picks up Isaak re: repetition, like to read similiar books--why? something fundamental, five year old daughter loves repetition, what is it in us?
Asher: "survival, I think." Have to be able to filter/categorize/generalize/make rules in world. From familiar base can reach out to new and strange.
Miller: also kids cognitively still changing, repetition gives something adults don't get
Asher: is she hearing the same story? Like re-reading at 30 book first read at 15, not same book
Goss: what about writers, e.g. Narnia, _Silver Chair_ woman is also serpent, all that evokes, why?
Miller: CSLewis had theory that certain motifs qualify as myths and have existence/identity independent of way told; thought just extra-literary quality. experience feeling of recognition. interviews w/Narnia fans, they said recognized even though never heard before, had always been there. CSLewis thought people could invent myths. Parallel to genre-creating stories?
Asher: like deja vu?
Goss: are these stories inherent in us and thus we have this experience?
Valente: circular. Mythology exists to explain life, then when come across in symbolic terms, dazzled but what hits home is under symbols (kids love Cinderella because she *didn't* get to go to the ball)
Asher: maybe that's why they keep being rewritten, resonant archetypes but update to reflect world living in now
Goss: is it important to make it new at all then, or just some expectation that will be new/shocking/etc.?
Asher: if you don't make it new it just gets boring, adults aren't five-year-olds
excursion into fashion metaphor
Isaak: Paris runways, most extreme stuff, take elements of and incorporate
Valente: tremendous amount of pleasure in "one new thing", how tell fairy tales at core--series of three and third is different. Explains desire for Tolkien-esque fantasy too. Allows us to live metafiction, we know what story we are in.
Asher: the really important reworkings, not just disposable Xeroxes, where changes aren't arbitrary (or trivial?) like names & hair colors, illuminate something maybe never thought of in original version, different (role?) perspective, e.g. Cinderella from step-sister POV
Valente: we're kind of in fairytale retelling 2.0 now, not new enough to do step-sister POV
Goss: when you're writing, do you think of reader expectation and am I makign this new enough? to Isaak, Valente
Isaak: want people to feel invited in, feel that going to recognize, but then see something didn't expect (chapter 1 of her dispossessed prince story, prince gets castrated), so pretty conscious of it (and since rejection slip more so)
Valente: all the time, "not awesome enough" is something always watch out for. Post-Orphan's Tales gets so many requests for short fiction fairy tales, loves but doesn't want to be just writing _Wicked_, has really high standards. wrote poem about Cinderella to see if *could* do something new with. if can do something resonant w/own experience will resonate forward for others
Goss: what about readers & critics perspective, especially critics: as academic, think this type fiction not given lot of critical respect
Miller: depends on venue & critic, also how defining it. To her really revered writer in this mode is Murakami, but things familiar are not the right things (?), ex. familiar thing/antagonist is Johnny Walker (booze label), works b/c writing underneath level of surface realism (?). _Wind-up Bird Chronicle_, asks self why significant that guy sitting @ bottom of well every day, more than just metaphor, partly tone of whole thing. often critics might resist things that seem like genre but completely open to things like that, have to go to underworld to find truth about self but don't recognize as genre
Valente: loves Murakami but one of most repetitive writers knows (much of what looks strange to others just her neighborhood at time, living in Japan). Early blog post about.
Miller: Murakami's writing style deliberatively really plain
Asher: noticed more in Japan? gets more critical legitimacy here b/c Japanese
Valente: rock star in Japan
Asher: thinking more re: critics, mindset more legitimate if something foreign/exotic/not old-fashioned Anglo-Am
another thing damanged legitimacy of fairy-tales = idea for children
audience: Murakami also male, gender issues? Angela Carter & someone couldn't hear name of
Valente: hard question and one people don't like to talk about much b/c it's true--Carter keeps being talked about as touchstone but you know, she's _dead_ and there have been many great since. whereas when men write these kind of stories get called original, critical attention way women don't (Hal Duncan example, title of which didn't hear)
[Someone on SFWA forums actually said vagina stories = w/characters and emotional arcs; penis stories = action. But I didn't hear *who*!]
Asher: when people started writing these stories, they were men
Valente: sexism not logical! that's the point!
Goss: teaching class in fall, fantasy from turn century (Stoker etc), difficulty finding women authors
Valente: classic territory, more women come into field more can denigrate
Asher: secretary used to be male-dominated, important, well-paid
audience: fanfic, didn't mean to be question about things denigrated b/c women do them, but: fascinated most about fanfic, often everyone knows how story ends, people write about parts of middle. Also see labels about spoilers through season 3, community rigidly managing how much know
Valente: own personal rule: doesn't change end when retelling fairytale, point is to tell what everyone knows, stayed at that ending through many generations for reason
fully admit that retelling fairytales is fanfic. gets to a level of quality, can not call it fanfic (like sf, if it's good it's not)
managing surprise is really interesting cultural activity
Goss: what extent do we need to do it? especially in urban culture, manage level of shock/what's hitting us; riding T (subway) w/earbuds or reading, partly that management. also reminds of Tolkien's cauldron of society, new that so many can dip into
Isaak: many cultures start story by telling the end, not expectation don't know how ends, what people enjoy is unfolding & how audience becomes participant
Valente: twist ending become obsession of Western storytelling, especially last 10-20 years and movies, hence not wanting spoilers; also TV & movie fandoms biggest and now able to watch at different rates, so no spoilers = we can have same experience as others
think twist endings mostly suck; limited number of dark secrets & twist endings
audience: from shock of new end of things, what loves about fantasy these days is new mythologies that are being used, cites Alaya Dawn Johnson Pacific-based story, wondering what new vistas seen open up or want to
Valente: it is super-super hard to write non-Western mythologies b/c have to tell story for the first time to Western audience *and* twist it! Ex. her novel _The Grass-Cutting Sword_, most fundamental Japanese myth. not same symbols and story patterns, also leads to things like publishers saying "this is too original"; also whole host of cultural reasons why don't see people doing, but "it's a ninth level spell"
audience: something didn't hear; Holly Block uses Philippine legends; as reader, v concerned that publishing not shunt off original material b/c doesn't fit marketing niche. small press explosion wonderful thing for field.
Goss: shoutout to Small Beer Press, Prime Books, others: women writing original fantasy coming out of those
same audience member: readers want both comfort and to escape boredom, choose different books for different purpose
audience: something about myth and Joseph Campbell I couldn't hear at all
Goss: influenced by JCampbell?
Valente: hate him, ubiquity, have to namecheck every time, just shorthand for what everyone can see, also he hates women, wrote entire academic paper on how much JCampbell sucks. dead white man given preference in conversations about living writings, don't care
Goss: writing *against* Hero's Journey, sees in (Valente's)? writing
Valente: "I might as well spray-paint 'Fuck You Joseph Campbell' on my collected works"
Miller: something, then "It's just dumbed-down Jung"
Asher: when people starting, will get things wrong, but still value (paraphrased)
audience: second read of Orphan's Tales, noticed shortcircuiting or removing importance (paraphrased) of male journeys, loved it
audience: two versions of Hero Journey's liked, Greg Keyes, hero walks away b/c (something couldn't hear), also brings in other mythologies; something about using other mythologies couldn't hear at all; Charles Stross _Jennifer Morgue_, character thinks is James Bond and isn't at all.