Monday, June 05, 2006

Reading and Writing
I am reading a fantasy manuscript at the moment and it's making me think about why Undine isn't fantasy. Magic is there, but the magic is more of a metaphor (a metaphor of becoming, on many levels, of transformation), whereas in true fantasy, magic is a scaffolding, both in terms of world-building and in holding the whole structure of the novel together - it's the glue that makes the fiction work. In fantasy the internal logic very much depends on the fantasy. Whereas in Undine, the internal logic almost resists the magic, the magic is a kind of absurdism, like in a dream where suddenly you're naked and you're carrying a fish, and it all just kind of makes sense. It brings these strange elements into Undine's life that she has to somehow incorporate into her real life - which of course is ultimately impossible, leading to her central dilemma - is she the magic or is she the girl - is she the dreamer or is she the dream? In the dream you just keep carrying that fish. Often you don't even wonder where the fish comes from. That's the way a dream works and in a way it's how magic works for Undine - Trout wants to know the wheres and the whys and the hows. But for Undine, the questions are different. The science of it doesn't interest her, it's more about the way it intersects with the girlness of her, she is curious about the girl inside the magic, even more than the magic inside the girl.
I used to say that Undine wasn't really fantasy, it's a magic book and it's true, it's not genre fantasy. But I don't have anything against fantasy and Justine Larbalestier once said in a talk we did together that all fiction is really fantasy and this is true too. All novels deals with their own self-contained worlds which though they may mimic the real world perfectly, they still have their own gravitational pull - in an Anne Tyler novel for example, the entire world may revolve around the experiences of one American family. Although the rest of the universe is implied, we see only a small part of it and it might seem that suddenly the six people who occupy the content of the novel are grotesquely huge while everyone else seems infintesmal in comparison.
Fantasy writers seem to garner a very loyal following who become deeply entrenched in the world the author has created - perhaps more so even that the authors themselves. I think it's fascinating that readers can become so absorbed in a world so alternate from their own. Are they looking for difference, or are they looking for sameness in difference, seeking to recognise themselves amidst dragons and warlocks and magical acts?
I'll write more about this later, my mate Kate Constable is a fantasy writer and we've been talking a bit lately about kids books and magic. There's a lot to say.

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