“Speculative Resistance”—a term coined by Malka Older—posits that one great power speculative fiction wields is that exploring other worlds and ways societies could work encourages people to question extant systems, to imagine alternatives, to hope, to act, and to reject the old hope-ending “because that’s the way it is.” The author Ursula K. Le Guin termed “realists of a larger reality” do broaden expectations, and even galvanize (as we see in innumerable places, from A.I. rights think tanks to Star Wars-themed Women’s March signs), but we can also narrow expectations when we repeat patterns, leaving the impression that even in a thousand magic and alien worlds X is still always true. We know that stereotypes do harm, for example that the attitudes of TV-watching millions are affected by the fact that 33% of Black and 50% of Latino immigrant characters depicted on American TV are shown committing crimes. This essay aims to call attention to something similar but subtler, subtle because of its very ubiquity in speculative fiction, general fiction, even nonfiction, but which—if we step up and challenge it—could do real good: protagonist stories. We don’t mean stories with main characters, we mean something very specific.
We begin a new year in the Le Guin Reread with a new decade in Le Guin’s career. At this point, by 1980, Le Guin was regarded as a master of both science fiction and fantasy. She had written her most famous novels, and with the exception of Always Coming Home (1985) and Tehanu (1990), her career is still remembered retrospectively today as having been cemented by the work she did between A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) and The Dispossessed (1974). Yet as we’ve seen throughout this reread, Le Guin’s career as a writer and thinker was far more varied than just the “highlights” of her career; the work she did in her later decades—she turned 51 in 1980—took more nuanced shapes, covered old terrain with new insights, and occasionally rethought some of the political and literary decisions she’d made in her earlier works.
The Beginning Place is one of Le Guin’s least remembered novels, not tied to any of her larger storyworlds (whether Hain, Earthsea, or Orsinia before, or the later Western Shore), and is a strange novel in its own right. Still, it is a joy to read and discover, since it connects much of her thinking about fantasy’s value as a literature for children and adults alike (as we saw argued in the essay collection The Language of the Night), with new heights of poetic prowess in the composition of the text, and with a new genre for Le Guin: the portal fantasy. It’s a surprisingly adult novel about growing up, about crossing that threshold from young adulthood into “full” adulthood—those awkward years in our early 20s when we take on new and greater responsibilities, come to terms with whatever family situation we’ve inherited, and try to figure out what the hell we want to do with the next few decades left.
Christmas is a fascinating amalgam of a holiday made up of a great big storm of European traditions, so there is obviously more than one answer to this question. But when the holiday blues set in and it feels like there is nothing more to Christmas than fighting with relatives and struggling to find perfect gifts, it’s as good a time as any to remember what Santa Claus really brings us every December: Magic.
There is a certain subset of fantasy creatures that are unfailingly polite. Whenever I stumble into their worlds, they break out the honeycakes and put a kettle on.
But maybe I don’t want to have to tea with mice and bears and teeny little worms. Do I want to have tea with them? Let’s see.
It’s fair to say that not all readers, or even all publishers, agree with me. After all, the story of Narnia—its very very earliest beginnings—technically starts with the sixth book on that The Magician’s Nephew, which tells the story of the creation of Narnia, in a scene C.S. Lewis pretty much ripped off straight from the then-unpublished work of his close friend, J.R.R. Tolkien. (Tolkien later noted that he did not think overly highly of the Narnia books, with this sort of thing presumably partly why.) The events of The Horse and His Boy happen during the last few pages of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, featuring various characters from that book in various cameo appearances. And lots of people like to start a story at the very beginning.
When it comes to fantasy creatures, we feel like dragons get all the credit. And we get it, they’re flashy and scaly and there’s fire-breathing and they have unnerving laughs, but they aren’t the only awesome flying buddies around. Just being able to fly is impressive enough, right? Right??
It seemed like a good moment to pause and give a little love to our favorite non-dragon air steeds. Here they are…
This is the first part of a three part (II, III) look at the Dothraki, the fictional horse-borne nomads of the Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire series and the degree to which George R.R. Martin’s claim that they are “an amalgam of a number of steppe and plains cultures” holds up to scrutiny. This is something that I have been suggesting I would get to since (checks notes), May. Of Last Year. So it is about time we actually get to it.
A number of actors who appeared in The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies have joined forces with author Julia Golding to launch a campaign called Project Northmoor, an effort to purchase J.R.R. Tolkien’s Oxford home and transform it into a literary center.
Much has changed in the fantasy genre in recent decades, but the word ‘fantasy’ still conjures images of dragons, castles, sword-wielding heroes and premodern wildernesses brimming with magic. Major media phenomena such as Harry Potter and Game of Thrones have helped to make medievalist fantasy mainstream, and if you look in the kids’ section of nearly any kind of store today you’ll see sanitised versions of the magical Middle Ages packaged for youth of every age. How did fantasy set in pseudo-medieval, roughly British worlds achieve such a cultural status? Ironically, the modern form of this wildly popular genre, so often associated with escapism and childishness, took root in one of the most elite spaces in the academic world.
n 1504, a copper globe was built somewhere in Europe. It stood only 4.4 inches in diameter and 13.6 inches in circumference, so it was nothing terribly overwhelming. Tiny ships and monsters adorned its seas—also commonplace at the time. But there was a small inscription, near the eastern coast of Asia, that made this particular globe one of a kind: it became the only documented ancient map to quietly go on record saying, Hic sunt dracones. Here be dragons.
The horror genre is undergoing a renaissance these days, with audiences devouring popular and critically acclaimed books, movies, and television series. If you’re a science fiction or fantasy writer who’d like to add more horror to your authorial toolbox, but you’re not quite sure how to go about it, you’re in luck, because that’s what this article is all about.
When I write about horses, one thing I try to do is see the world the way a horse would see it. This has the interesting effect of expanding my perception of the world I’m writing in. It teaches me to see not only the horses but the setting as characters in the story.
To the horses, the setting is part of their identity. They know what every sound and scent means, and where the terrain is safe and where danger can hide. They can find their way to water and follow the paths to forage.
Michael Moorcock as the OG Tolkien-bashing edgelord.