Hello, and thanks for stopping by. My name is Jonathan Geltner. Once I was a doctoral student in literature, but I quit that. At present I’m completing a MFA in fiction, in the course of which I’ve written a critical thesis on the experimental Australian writer Gerald Murnane and a significantly less experimental novel set in archaic Rome and contemporary Ohio. I am also shopping around an epic fantasy. I’ve started this blog in order to talk about fantasy fiction. Much as I love so-called literary fiction, fantasy was my first love (as far as prose is concerned) and as the years go by I suspect that fantasy, in one form or another, will be my last.
But what is fantasy, anyway? In fact, this is one of my driving questions. I don’t expect to answer it perfectly: good questions you never do. But in attempting to find one or another answer, I’ll bring up a variety of material. The origins of the European-American tradition of fantasy go far back, arguably all the way back to Homer and the Bible. But I think there are good reasons for thinking of fantasy’s roots as basically medieval. And it happens that I used to study medieval literature and still love it, so I will occasionally talk about it here, for example the Norse sagas, the Mabinogion, the Niebelungenlied, the stories of the Holy Grail (e.g. Parzival) and the Matter of Britain (e.g. Le Morte d’Arthur), the story of Tristan and Isolde…
And then there is the matter of folklore, fairy tales, the gothic and the weird or ‘fantastic’ tale, all of which Europeans began to take an interest in rediscovering, preserving and inventing anew in the latter 18th and 19th centuries. One thinks of the pseudo-ancient poetry of ‘Ossian’ invented by James MacPherson, of Charles Perrault and the tales popular with his crowd, then of Frankenstein, of E.T.A. Hoffman and Edgar Allen Poe, of Elias Lönnrot’s compilation of the Kalevala, of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, of Lewis Carroll, William Morris and George MacDonald… It is that invention anew of a certain kind of storytelling, particularly in the literature of the English language beginning in the late 19th century, that we normally — at least in the English-speaking world — think of as the beginning of ‘fantasy fiction.’
Of course fantasy is now, and really always has been, a worldwide phenomenon, and it is possible to furnish the genre with a variety of genealogies and pedigrees. Sometimes it’s useful to think of fantasy as the oldest of literatures, sometimes one is interested in it specifically as a modern development, and sometimes one just wants to enjoy a book. I tend to be historically free-ranging in my thought simply because I find it both useful and pleasurable to dig deep into one’s literary inheritance and to spend it liberally. But in general, for the purposes of this blog, I’m interested most in the modern thing, from, say, Lord Dunsany and Hope Mirrlees and John Cowper Powys to the present — roughly the last hundred years. And I am interested above all in what one loves and enjoys about fantasy, however defined.
Finally, let me admit up front that I am mindful of metaphysics, mysticism, religion: if we don’t take these aspects of life and thought seriously, we miss something crucial at the heart of fantasy. A living tradition, such as I believe fantasy to be, is always changing and growing, but if we suppose there is an unchanging essence of fantasy then I think that to speculate about that essence is to speculate about not just a faculty of the mind we call ‘imagination’ or about a peculiar literary practice, but also about what is genuinely otherworldly.