Amy Clarke awarded Professional Development Leave for scholarly study of paradigm shifts in 20th-century fantasy
Continuing Lecturer Amy Clarke has been awarded funding to complete her book project on contemporary fantasy. Clarke explains, “Fantasy has long been considered highly conservative. The best known fantasy series written in the mid 20th-century end with the characters returned to the world they know or safe in a restful place, a sometimes thinly disguised form of heaven. More recent fantasy series challenge and sometimes completely dismantle the Judeo-Christian narrative of blessed immortality. J. K. Rowling, in her incredibly popular Harry Potter series, argues for the necessity and finality of death. More radically, both Ursula Le Guin, in The Earthsea Cycle, and Phillip Pullman, in His Dark Materials, depict the afterlife as a dangerous myth, a false construction of male rulers. Both Le Guin’s and Pullman’s series conclude with the overthrow of corrupt ruling regimes, and, I will argue, dismantle the reader’s expectation of life after death.”
Clarke hopes to address the role fantasy literature has in shaping worldviews, in particular, views of the afterlife, and to consider whether the differences between the culminations of the older series and those of the more recent trilogies signal a paradigm shift.
Clarke also examines fan cultures built on the foundation of these series, questioning in particular how they have blurred boundaries between author, text, and reader. On a global scale, fans extend their experience of the stories through fiction, multimedia websites, real-world reenactments, and even pilgrimages to locations from the books. Their astonishing degree of engagement with these texts suggests that fans consider the narratives as central to their worldview. Clarke will consider whether these fantasy series influence their beliefs or reinforce them.