Communicator (communicator) wrote,

The struggle to reconcile fantasy

There has been a lot of argument about the article "Why there is No Jewish Narnia", and you may particularly like to read disagreement from fjm and Abigail.

I want to discuss the assumption of the 'No Jewish Narnia' article: that English-language fantasy springs from Christian mythos (and hence is once-removed from Jewish culture). I think this is wrong. I think that in the Edwardian era, and then on through the twentieth century, there was a move to bring folk-rooted and unarticulated elements into conscious and respectable focus. Part of this process was the co-opting of 'fantasy' as a delivery vehicle for Anglo-Catholic theology. I mean that this was done on purpose: the mythos was inserted, not discovered. (This reminds me of the way that traditional Germanic folklore was deliberately bowdlerised by the Brothers Grimm, and then this bowdlerisation was used by Freud to support his theory of universal repression).

I think of fantasy as something pre-Christian (and incidentally pre-Jewish) which rests uneasily below, or in opposition to, offical formal/normal culture. The history of fantasy is about a series of accommodations between the fantastic and the respectable.

An interesting example from the same era as Tolkein is Arthur Machen, a similar conservative high church figure. In Machen's fantasy the fantastic element is seen as wholly opposed to the 'light' - to reason, sanity and theology. In both cases a relationship is being sought between the conscious and the unconscious, but the type of accommodation is different - war and peace effectively. Therefore I'd say that Christian theological elements are an element separate from fantasy - and sometimes struggling to accommodate with it - rather than integral to the fantastic.

It may be that this painful struggle or dialectic is what has made Edwardian fantasy so powerful as a source of a whole genre. And the earlier powerful fantasies that you might think of such as Milton, Blake and Lewis Carroll, I think reflect a similar struggle to reconcile.

(ETA - and incidentally the fertile struggle to reconcile is obviously not something that excludes any group of people, and quite clearly does not exclude or limit Jewish participation in fantasy)

ETA(again) - going back to my long-term Albion interest, I think that in the European/Germanic tradition this dialactic is expressed in a positive and systematic way (Bohme, Hegel, Husserl, Marx, probably a zillion others) and in English or Irish tradition it is expressed in a more shadowy, oblique and fictional way. The English-language version is more embarrassed, less clear, probably less conscious but perhaps for that reason it can be effective: perhaps because it doesn't express itself with clarity. You can't 'argue against' Dracula or Narnia.

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