Speakers 2019

Brian Attebery: Timor Mortis Conturbat Me: Fantasy and Fear

What is the difference between fear and horror? They reside in different genres, for one thing. Fantasy can toy with horror but it more frequently invokes fear—fear of the unknown, fear of death, fear of the other. Unlike horror fiction, fantasy offers ways of incorporating and managing fear so that it doesn’t become, as it has too often become in the political world, an excuse for inaction or suppression or violence.

Professor Brian Attebery
Brian Attebery

Fantasy tends toward what J.R.R. Tolkien called eucatastrophe, the “sudden and miraculous grace” that takes us from despair to joy. This talk will explore some of the ways fantasy teaches us to handle great fear, with examples ranging from the folktale about “The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear” to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea stories. If we can remember the lessons from within what Diana Wynne Jones called the mythosphere, we might not be so vulnerable to fear-mongering as a strategy for control in the outside world.

Brian Attebery is professor of English at Idaho State University and the editor of Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. He edited The Norton Book of Science Fiction (1997) with Ursula K. Le Guin and Karen Joy Fowler and is the author of Stories About Stories: Fantasy and the Remaking of Myth (2014), Decoding Gender in Science Fiction (2002) and Strategies of Fantasy (1992).

You can read more about Professor Attebery on his university webpage.

Mel Gibson: ‘For the love of Mary Anning, a pack of dinosaurs?!’ The Mythosphere, STEM subjects, agentic girlhood and comics

Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson

Comics are a famously intertextual medium, often drawing on other comics, but also tapping into the Mythosphere in the broadest sense. Approaching the Fantastic through two comparatively recent comics, Lumberjanes and Ms Marvel, both known for their girl-friendliness and diverse representations, I will discuss the heady mixture of ‘beliefs, legends, myths and hopes’ that inform the titles.

The former begins with the Lumberjanes engaging with re-envisioned versions of Apollo and Artemis, and a range of supernatural creatures feature throughout the series. Simultaneously, the stories draw on tropes from adventure narratives, for instance solving puzzles and exploring secret caves. Interwoven with both, however, is a depiction of agentic girls interested in STEM subjects. Indeed, the quotation in the title, when two of the Lumberjanes are running through a fantastical land where dinosaurs roam, is immediately linked back with science and female pioneers.

Ms Marvel, in contrast, draws on the Marvel Universe through the appearance of various superheroes, as well as characters like Loki, who also appear in other parts of the Mythosphere. Here too, there is a combination of magic and science, with several of the central girl characters committed to working in those fields. In addition, that Ms Marvel herself is a writer of fan fiction means that she, like the readers, is very much both producer and product, linking real reader and fictional character through shared practices.

Both comics, I argue, epitomise the way that fantasy ‘delights in breaking down borders and defying expectations’ in combining science, fantasy, agentic girlhood and intersectionality in distinctive ways.

Dr Mel Gibson is an Associate Professor in Childhood Studies at Northumbria University. Her research on comics is usually about historical and contemporary titles for girls and women. She is also interested in how people use comics in their lives. She has additionally written about fantasy fictions, both novels and picturebooks.

You can find more information about Dr Gibson on her university webpage.

Catherine Fisher: The Prison, the Mirror and a Darkness full of Stars – an examination of the Creation of Fantasy Literature

What are the processes of writing fantasy? This talk will attempt to draw out the threads that tangle together to create a novel, looking at influences, imagery and metaphor, myth and the intangible random factors that intersect with them during composition.

From the dark metallic world of Incarceron, to the intricacies of the time-travel/faery mythos of the Chronoptika, I will examine how some recent books came about, and what shaped them, focusing on world-building and the transformation of folklore, myth and legend into contemporary story.

Catherine Fisher
Catherine Fisher

Catherine Fisher is a poet and writer of fiction for children and Young Adults. Author of over 30 books, her work has been shortlisted for the Smarties Prize, the Costa Awards and the Blue Peter Prize. She has won the Welsh Books Council’s Tir na nOg prize, the Cardiff International Poetry Competition, and was the inaugural Welsh Young People’s Laureate.

Her bestselling Incarceron was a New York Times bestseller and the Times Children’s book of the year.

Catherine’s work is a celebration of folklore, landscape and the strange. This year she has published The Clockwork Crow (Firefly 2018) and a poetry collection The Bramble King is due to appear from Seren Books in spring 2019.

You can find more information about Catherine Fisher on her webpage.