A Short History of Fantasy–Part 4
A Short History of Fantasy–Part 4 avatar

In part 3, we explored the fantasy of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Now, we’ll look at the nineteenth century when what we think of as modern fantasy really got its start.

Jacob and Wilhelm GrimmIt was mainly in Victorian England that fairy tales such as those related by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen were relegated to the nursery by most adults. In a strange way this behavior led to the spread of and love of fantasy and tales of the imagination.

The beginning of the century saw the publication of two great collections of fairy tales; two volumes of approximately 200 tales collected and rewritten by the Brothers Grimm, published in 1812 and 1814, and original tales written by Hans Christian Anderson in his Fairy Tales published in 1835.

In the United States, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe were writing creepy fantasy tales like Hawthorne’s “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” (1837) and “Rappaccini’s Daughter” (1844) and Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840).

Back in England, some of their most prestigious writers had turned their hands to fantasy. Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol with its famous ghosts in 1843; Robert Browning wrote two fantastic poems; The Pied Piper of Hamelin in 1842 and Childe Roland to thLewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glasse Dark Tower Came in 1855.

Lewis Carroll  produced two masterpieces of fantasy, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 and Through the Looking Glass in 1871. These books seemed to be written for children but were also aimed at adults due to their satiric nature.

William Morris' The Wook Beyond the WorldWilliam Morris created The Wood Beyond the World in 1894 and The Well at the World’s End in 1896. These books are important because Morris invented a completely designed fantasy world, not Earth as we know it or as we see it in our mythologies.

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1888 and The Bottle Imp in 1891 both of which have become classics in the fantasy genre.

Andrew Lang's Green Fairy BookAndrew Lang continued in the spirit of the Grimm brothers with the publication of his books of fairy tales: Blue Fairy Book in 1889, Red Fairy Book in 1890, Green Fairy Book in 1892, and Yellow Fairy Book in 1894

At the end of the century in 1897, Bram Stoker wrote his great dark fantasy, Dracula, based on legends from Transylvania (a real region in Romania) and on earlier novels about vampires. It is undoubtedly the most famous and also one of the best novels in the vampire fantasy genres, even today.

All of these works led to the explosion of fantasy writing for both children and adults that came about in the twentieth century. We’ll start to explore that in our next chapter in the history of fantasy.

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A Surprise Mystery
A Surprise Mystery avatar

I picked up Dark Jenny by Alex Bledsoe on a whim. I usually don’t like “private eye” stories much, but this one turned out to be different. Bledsoe used the Arthurian story of Queen Guinevere and the apple. In the original Malory version, Guinevere is accused of attempting to murder Gawain by offering him a poisoned apple.

Dark Jenny by Alex BledsoeInstead of just retelling the story as it was told by Malory, Bledsoe turns the tale into a mystery in which the hero, a private sword jockey (aka private eye), gets involved in a plot to destroy a kingdom ruled by Marcus Drake (the parallel of Arthur). Someone frames the queen, Jennifer (Guinevere), by poisoning an apple meant for Gillian (Gawaine). You get the picture?

There are a few twists here. First of all, Elliot Spears (Lancelot) is really in love with Jennifer’s look-alike secret half-sister, Dark Jenny, not with the queen. Medraft (Mordred) is killed by Marcus at the end but he does not kill Drake. Instead, Drake is killed by a snake bite on the day of the battle.

All in all, the book is fast-paced and unusual in its unexpected parallels to Arthurian legend. You may want to give it a try.

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A Short History of Fantasy–Part 3
A Short History of Fantasy–Part 3 avatar

In part 2, we explored the fantasy of the Middle Ages. Now, let’s look at the growth of fantasy in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

In 1516, Ludovico Ariosto published his first version of Orlando Furioso, a romatic fantasy Orlando Furioso by Ludivico Ariostoin Italian that includes a trip to the moon in a flaming chariot, mythical creatures like the hippogriff, wizards and sorceresses. The final version was completed around 1532. The work was extremely popular, both on the European continent and in England, and probably influenced other writers of his time like Spenser and Shakespeare.

Published between 1590 and 1596, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is a fantastic allegory based on the chivalry of the Arthurian Romances. It takes place in Faerieland and displays such fantastic aspects as an enchanted spear, a fiend from Hell, and Merlin, the wizard from Arthur’s court.

In France, between 1532 and 1564, Rabelais published the five books of Gargantua and Gargantua and Pantagruel by RabelaisPantagruel, satirical fantasies about two giants, father and son, and their many adventures.

The Faust legend from German sources found its way to England where Marlowe produced his play, The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, circa 1592. This play and the book it was based on has had an enormous effect on later fantasies about selling one’s soul to the devil.

Shakespeare was also influenced by the rise of the fantastic in literature. Nothing could be more fantasical than A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a story of fairies who influence the A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeareworld of mortals written around 1593 or The Tempest of 1611 about an island where sprites and magic take hold.

In the last part of the 17th century, in France, Charles Perrault published his very popular children’s stories, retelling folk tales for the general public. These stories included Little Red Riding Hook, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. This was the beginning of the fairy tale as a literary work.

Jonathan Swift’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships (better known as Gulliver’s Travels) was published in 1726. This great work of satire uses many fantastical elements to get its point across. Gulliver travels to places where the folk are tiny Lilliputians or gigantic Brobdingnagians or even talking horses (Houyhnhms) who rule a land of deformed and debased humans (Yahoos).

The Castle of Otranto by WalpoleHorace Walpole established the gothic romance with his 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto, A Story. Translated by William Marshal, Gent. From the Original Italian of Onuphrio Muralto, Canon of the Church of St. Nicholas at Otranto (now known simply as The Castle of Otranto). It is full of mysterious supernatural happenings surrounding the nefarious plan of Manfred, lord of the castle, to throw over his wife and marry his dead son’s fiancée. William Beckford’s Vathek followed the gothic pattern in 1786 with its emphasis on the terror produced by supernatural ghosts and hauntings.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge published The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in 1798. It tells the story of a curse visited on a seaman who killed an albatross and was haunted until he The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridgelearned to bless the creatures of nature repented. The poem is an allegory that uses fantasy to represent Christianity or the beauty of Nature, depending on your point of view.

The new fantasies written in these three centuries helped to develop and make more popular fantastic work as a nascent genre. The next period we’ll explore is the very important 19th century. We’ll see how fantasy literature became both more accepted and less so and how the attitude toward it changed decisively in that period.

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Lois McMaster Bujold–Fascinating Characters
Lois McMaster Bujold–Fascinating Characters avatar

Some authors just know how to build characters and tell a great story. This is true of Lois McMaster Bujold whether her genre is fantasy or science fiction.

Beguilement by Lois McMaster BujoldI first read Ms. Bujold’s fantasy series, The Sharing Knife, and fell in love with the characters. Her main character, Fawn, was well drawn causing the reader to really care what happened to her. The story was unusual and held my interest throughout the four books, Beguilement, Legacy, Passage, and Horizon. Hungry, I searched for for more of her work.

That’s when I found the great Miles Vorkosigan saga. This set of 16 books (so far) is really terrific. Miles is born into a military aristocracy, son of powerful militaryThe Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold men and women, so of course he is expected to uphold the family tradition. One problem, however: Miles is handicapped because of genetic damage to his bones resulting from an nerve poison attack on his mother while she was pregnant. He is small and fragile, unlike the usual hero, but he overcomes all obstacles through courage, humor, determination, and a dual personality.

And what obstacles he faces! Every one of them is interesting, exciting, and often funny. The reader gets to know Miles intimately from his birth through his death (and revival) to his marriage and parenthood. One can’t help but like him, even though it would probably be difficult to be around him very much because of his unrelenting energy. At the distance of fiction, he is fascinating.

All in all, Bujold writes fast-moving, unusual, and surprising stories with extremely interesting characters.

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A Different Approach to Mordred
A Different Approach to Mordred avatar

In The Book of Mordred, the author, Vivian Vande Velde, gives us a different view of Mordred, Arthur’s son/nephew, who, according to the traditional sources, usurped and destroyed Arthur’s kingdom. In this version, Mordred is a sullen, yet honest, young man who doesn’t like the trappings or hypocrisy of chivalry. Through a story that is mainly about three women, the traditional story of Arthur’s relationship to his son is turned on its head and made to serve a new, more rosy, picture of the tale.

The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vande VeldeIt is often difficult to determine who or what the story is really about. The first section features a young woman named Alayna whose daughter, Kiera, has inherited her dead father’s wizardly powers. Kiera is kidnapped by an evil wizard who wants her powers (small though they are). Alayna rescues her daughter with the help of Mordred.

The second section centers on a young Nimue who, in the original stories, entrapped Merlin and stole his powers. Here, Nimue is an innocent young woman who helped to save Merlin’s life by sending him to Avalon when he was deathly ill. She has few powers, but one is a small ability to heal with the help of a ring given to her by Merlin. She is caught up in this story when she witnesses the kidnapping of a group of young men. While she is attempting to help rescue them from the same wizard that kidnapped Kiera, she enlists the assistance of Mordred (who doesn’t do much to help her but winds up with Nimue’s ring when she is apparently killed).

The third section is about Kiera and her difficulty accepting the terrible future that she foresees about the deaths of Mordred and Arthur. Of course, all her visions come true, but they are not as terrible as she expects. Arthur is taken away to Avalon as in the original stories, but in this version Mordred, too, lives through the final battle through a deus ex machina device. Nimue, whom we haven’t heard from in quite a while and thought dead, heals Mordred of his wounds through the ring and he and Alayna live happily ever after.

If this description seems confused, it’s because that’s the impression the book leaves with the reader. Even though the story is very readable, it is muddled with characters that are never fully developed and consequences that don’t logically result from the character’s actions. There are also too many discrepancies from the original stories to suit my tastes.

2011, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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Science Fiction Films—Remakes, Then and Now—Part 2
Science Fiction Films—Remakes, Then and Now—Part 2 avatar

This is Part 2 of a two-post series. See Part 1.

Why make remakes?

I_am_legend_thumb4One of the big factors that stimulates filmmakers to produce new sci-fi movie remakes seems to be the generational turnover that takes place every 20 or so years.

Younger audiences have always been the mainstay and source of big money for new movies. But a new audience is not attracted to theaters to see reruns. Remakes based on contemporary current events and hot topics bring old stories up to date and make them seem fresh.

How can old stories be retold and still appeal to new audiences?

After it ages, the societal conditions, cultural values, and ways of life depicted in a movie may go out of style or die; but stories about constants in human nature or human affairs never go out of style. A remake of this kind of movie can retell an old story but show how it unfolds under contemporary world conditions. Because circumstances and situations in the remake are current, this new account may appeal to contemporary audiences whereas its predecessor may not.

Remakes like these tell the same basic story but bring it up to date with new details; they’re told and will be retold, over and over; witness King Kong or I am Legend or The Thing.

But other remakes are little more than a new and very different story thinly disguised as an older one, their chief similarity with the original movie being their title. Witness The Day the Earth Stood Still or Journey to the Center of the Earth. Their remakes are next to nothing like the originals except on the surface.

Why produce this kind of remake?

Old titles can sell tickets to new generations of viewers. Even if poorly made, a remake with the right title can capitalize on the reputation of its predecessor. New viewers may have heard about the original from their parents or other sources and they’re curious: maybe the remake will be as good or better. But it seldom is.

Conclusions

In general, remakes tend to be inferior to originals, as do sequels, and for many of the same reasons. Originals are based on new sources for ideas and tend to be the products of superior, talented, creative artists; remakes tend to be uninspired copies.

That’s why some of the people who film remakes sometimes decide to modify the stories or plots on which their new movies are based. But quality equal to the original often eludes them.

The same basic stories seem to be retold in films over and over and probably will go on being retold whenever circumstances warrant. Are there too few new sci-fi stories to tell or is the movie industry just reluctant to take chances with new ones?

Follow up

This is such a big topic, this posting is only a start; lots more could be said. If you have additional suggestions about the factors that affect remakes or on whether remakes are getting better or worse, please feel free to comment with your suggestions or opinions.

More to do

Science Fiction is a genre of speculative fiction literature as well as of film and other media.

2011, Decision Consulting, Inc. (DCI). All rights reserved. All copies must include this copyright statement.

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A Short History of Fantasy–Part 2
A Short History of Fantasy–Part 2 avatar

In part 1, we looked at some fantastic tales written in ancient times. Fantasy began to be seen even more often in written works of the Middle Ages. Some of the more influential works are listed in the table below.

Work Author Language Date
Beowulf Anonymous Anglo-Saxon c. 8th century
The Arabian Nights (1001 Nights) Anonymous Arabic 12th century compilation from earlier tales
Tristan & Iseult Anonymous Celtic early 12th century
Yvain, the Knight of the Lion Chretien de Troyes French circa 1178
Parzival Wolfgang von Eshenbach German early 13th century
The Decameron Giovanni Boccaccio Italian 14th century
The Mabinogion Anonymous Welsh 14th century from earlier sources
Sir Gawain & the Green Knight Anonymous Middle English late 14th century
The Canterbury Tales Geoffrey Chaucer Middle English late 14th century
Le Morte d’Arthur Sir Thomas Malory English 15th century

Many of these tales have been used as the source of other, more current works of fantasy, but I’ll just write about some of the originals and their fantastic aspects in this post.

The Saga of BeowulfOne of the oldest extant works from the Medieval Period is Beowulf, a heroic tale of a battle against a demon/dragon monster who is terrorizing a feasting-hall. The people of the time loved stories of adventure, especially when they contained elements of the supernatural like Grendel and his mother.

Also important in this period are the frame narrative tales: the anonymous Arabian Nights, Boccaccio’s Decameron, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In these works, Arabian Nightsa series of stories are tied together within a outer framework. This allowed the work to contain stories of a widely differing character, some of which were fantastic, like the story of Sinbad with its fabulous Roc or of Aladdin’s lamp and the genie. The Decameron contains tales of sorcery like “The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo” and The Canterbury Tales contains the fable, “Chanticleer and the Fox”, from the Nun’s Priest’s Tale.

You may notice that several of the works in the list–Tristan, Yvain, Gawain, sections of the Mabinogion, and of course, Le Morte d’Arthur–are part of the Arthurian canon and contain fantasy as discussed in a previous post about fantasy in Arthurian Legend.

The next period is the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. We’ll see how many new fabulous works we can find in the development of fantasy during that period.

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A Short History of Fantasy–Part 1
A Short History of Fantasy–Part 1 avatar

Fantasy is probably as old as language. As far as we can tell, people were making up stories to explain things they thought of as supernatural in very early times. Take for example the stories of the Amerinds and the stories that have survived through retelling in Africa about anthropomorphic animals. These stories were created to help explain both the nature of the world and the nature of humans. It’s unlikely that people really believed that animals could talk or behave like humans.

We can look at these and other ancient stories from two viewpoints: as a current (21st century) audience or as a contemporary (in the time of the work) audience. Many stories can be seen today as fantasy or myth, but how did the original listeners or readers think of them? We can never be sure, but it is possible that many of the listeners understood the stories as metaphor just as we do today. If so, fantasy is ancient indeed and has been a vehicle for the investigation of the nature of man and his relationship to the universe since people started telling stories.

Gilgamesh (circa 2200 BCE)

The ancient story of Gilgamesh the Assyrian is one of the earliest tales that was preserved in writing. It is basically an investigation into what it means to be human, into man’s relationship to the natural world,  and into the nature of death and the possibility of immortality.

The Legend of Gilgamesh, The KingSome of the ideas in Gilgamesh may have been seen as fantasy even by its contemporary audience. The character of Enkidu is a fantastic one. He starts as a wild man, almost an animal, and is magically transformed through exposure to the trappings of society into a civilized man. Gilgamesh himself attempts a journey to find the secret of immortality. Though unsuccessful, the journey is full of magical events that lead him to wisdom.

The fantastic themes used in the epic are prevalent in fantasy from ancient times and through the ages up to the present day.

The Odyssey (circa 750 BCE)

Is the Odyssey fantasy? The answer to this depends on the answers to other questions. DidHomer's Odyssey the ancients Greeks really believe in Circe and the Cyclops? Did they really believe that Odysseus met with the strange creatures on his travels? Or did many of the educated people of the time see the story as a metaphor? If the Greeks didn’t take the many fantastic occurrences in the story as fact, then the Odyssey was one of the earliest fantasies.

Aesop’s Fables (circa 600 BCE)

Aesop's FablesThe fables attributed to the slave, Aesop, may be the first written instance of real fantasy. These stories of thinking animals used to present a moral or lesson were meant to entertain while educating people about right and wrong. This is still the purpose of much of today’s fantasy fiction.

We’ll see in our next installment how stories in the Medieval Period contributed to the body of fantasy literature.

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Science Fiction Films–Remakes, Then and Now—Part 1
Science Fiction Films–Remakes, Then and Now—Part 1 avatar

the_fly_IIScores of science fiction movies have been remade since films began, many more than once. New additional remakes are in production or planned.

We’re not talking about sequels or about movies that are inspired by earlier movies but are radically different from their originals. If the premise is basically the same, we count a movie as a remake even if the title has been changed.

Are the remakes any good? Are they better or worse than the originals?

History

Here are just a few examples of past remakes taken at random. They are presented in no special order:

Title Original Year Repeats Comments
The Thing from Another World 1951 1982 Same premise and setting, different antagonist
King Kong 1933 1976, 2005
The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 2008 Different situation and premise
I am Legend 1964 1971, 2007 Other titles: The Omega Man (1971); The Last Man on Earth (1964); I Am Omega (2007)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956 1978, 1993, 2007
Planet of the Apes 1968 2001 Two sequels to the 1968 version
War of the Worlds 1953 2005
The Invisible Man 1933 2000
Journey to the Center of the Earth 1959 1999, 2008
The Fly 1913 1924, 1958, 1981, 1986, 1989, 2004, 2005
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea 1905 1907, 1916, 1954, 1973, 1985, 2012, 2013

Analysis

What do these samples tell us about sci-fi movie remakes?

We can’t be sure without more samples and a much closer inspection of action, plots, and premises, but here go a few preliminary speculations…

There was lots of interest in science fiction movies in the silent era when science was just starting to make an impact on society. Many of these silents were remade when sound came in during the 30s.

Movies during the the 40s were about World War II; little attention was paid to science unless it had a direct connection with victory. With money being spent on war, little moolah was left over to spend on remakes.

Many pre-war 1930s-era sound remakes were refreshed in the post post-war period during the 20 or so years following the war, in the 50s and 60s. They updated the 1930s and 40s science in earlier movies. After all,  the war had stimulated scientific progress and mankind was on its way to the moon!

The same basic set of 50s and 60s stories were remade again during the next 20 or so years, from the 60s to the 80s, and for some of the same reasons. Old science and the plot possibilities it allowed were obsolescent. TV was cutting deeply into movie theater revenues and fresh blood was needed.

This new wave of remakes from the 60s and 80s was repeated again between the 80s and the end of the 20th century, and for similar reasons. CDs, video tape, DVDs, and cable TV offered new market opportunities for up-dated remakes.

Another new wave of remakes occurred late in the twentieth century after Hollywood developed and perfected high-tech computerized special effects that supported plots and premises of old movies that were far more elaborate, ambitious, and expensive to make than before. TV and gaming were cutting into theater revenues once again and new remakes were needed to spark sales. Improvements in DVDs, computer movie downloads, and HDTV also triggered audience interest in new high tech remakes.

At each of these stages, plots, premises, and situations for each new wave of remakes incorporated new science that made plots, settings, and situations plausible. New distribution and projection technologies made previous versions seem old fashioned.

Judging by the movies in the above table, it seems as though before the 30s movie makers were coming up to speed on how to tell a good sci-fi story. Once they could film movies affordably with sound and color film, filmmakers had the technical tools and financial incentives they needed to make films that were better than their original counterparts.

Throughout the 50s and 60s, movie-makers expended special efforts to shoot remakes that were good pictures not just because they had sound and color, but also because they were dramatically well-constructed and well acted.

After the 60s and 70s the dramatic level of remakes gradually declined. Filmmakers began to rely increasingly on novelty, glitz, shock, and special effects that would appeal to ever more sophisticated and increasingly jaded audiences.

See more in part 2.

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What Makes a Story Good Science Fiction–Part 4
What Makes a Story Good Science Fiction–Part 4 avatar

In part 3, we discussed setting in good science fiction. Now, let’s look at theme, the fourth and final factor in our list.

Theme

A theme is the underlying idea behind a work of literature. There are several themes that are commonly used in many science fiction stories. One of the most prevalent themes is that of man’s ability to overcome obstacles through insight and ingenuity. Another is the way scientific discoveries may affect the future. Let’s look at some diverse examples of books that use these themes.

Examples

“Who Goes There?”, a great story by John W. Campbell, describes a lonely outpost in the Who Goes There by John Campbellfrozen wasteland of the Antarctic. The science team stationed there are being attacked by a strange alien being. Through their ingenuity and bravery, they are able to defeat the monster and save the world. (By the way, this story is the basis for the films, The Thing from Another World (1951), The Thing (1982), and The Thing (2011).

A very different story with the same theme is Clifford Simak’s They Walked Like Men (a truly original and funny book). Simak tells of an alcoholic newspaper reporter who Clifford Simak's They Walked Like Menstumbles on a very different kind of alien invasion. The aliens are buying up all the real estate they can in an effort to legally own the entire earth. Of course, nobody believes our drinking hero so it’s up to him and a couple of allies to rescue the earth from this terrible fate.

Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the SeaThe older and possibly more often-used theme of the effect of scientific discoveries was used by Jules Verne in all of his classic novels. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea with its submarine, Around the World in 80 Days with its railroads and steamers, and From the Earth to the Moon (by being shot from a cannon) all exemplify the theme of changes brought about by science.

More recent works also using the theme of the effect of scientific discoveries are Mars by Ben Bova which explores the consequences of an expedition to Mars and Jumping Off the Planet by David GerroldJumping Off the Planet by David Gerrold which tells of going into space with the aid of a space elevator from Earth.

Conclusion

Although these themes are not always confined to the science fiction genre, they are prevalent there. Along with the plot, characterization, and setting factors of science fiction we discussed previously, use of strong themes help to make stories good science fiction.

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