Today, fantasy is everywhere. In cinemas throughout the last decade, films like Peter Jackson's The Lord of
the Rings
trilogy, as well as adaptations of C. S. Lewis's Narnia cycle and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, have been hugely successful at box offices internationally. Most book shops feature large fantasy and science fiction sections, and fantasy computer games, especially multi-player online role-playing games like World of Warcraft, have broken all sales records. In brief, fantasy culture – a term used here as an umbrella term for all these phenomena and more – has become a dominant factor within popular culture worldwide, a factor that therefore deserves to be taken into account by Literary and Cultural Studies.

Since one of the most imminent yet often neglected issues haunting the (sub)genre concerns its underlying ideological bias, the conference aims at exploring in which ways contemporary fantasy culture is connected to the political and social developments of our time. To be sure, rather than being escapist or detached from real-world affairs, particularly Tolkien's writings – which may still be considered as fantasy's major reference texts – have been described by scholars not only as 'politically involved' in a many-layered and intricate manner but also as progressive and subversive. However, although it has been accepted widely that fantasy may indeed be expressive of certain political and social tendencies, many critics have doubted both the emancipatory potential of Tolkien's works and that evinced by a fantasy culture enormously inspired by them. In fact, fantasy writing and culture have often been characterised as deeply conservative.

Especially the bulk of 'sword and sorcery' fantasy, by allegedly recreating an 'authentic' 'medieval' setting, often poses patriarchal gender models, hierarchical class relations, and a static metaphysical orderedness of the world as 'natural' and desirable. Acts of violence are often glorified as heroism and, particularly in the context of fantasy role-playing games, intertwined with an allegedly value-free consumerist logic: the more enemies you kill and the more objects you collect, the more experience points and status you receive. But if such mechanisms seem to mirror a world influenced by the 'war on terror' and

 global capitalism, which perspectives, for instance, are opened up by postcolonial writers like Nalo Hopkinson, who "write[s] science
fiction and fantasy from a context of blackness and Caribbeanness, using Afro-Caribbean lore, history, and language"?[1]

This conference wants to address the question whether and in what ways fantasy literature and culture act as subtle or not-so-subtle indicators of their present 'real-world' contexts and which ideologies they serve to express. 

[1] Nalo Hopkinson. "Introduction." So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy. Ed. Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004. 7-9. 8.

Subpages (1): Contact