Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Societal Perspectives on Fantasy

In class today we spoke of about how the natural and unnatural are presented in the Hobbit. One point that was raised was how the unnatural, or supernatural elements of the narrative serve to create a more open, fantastic view of the world. However, I thought of the problem of how our perspective may stem from societies' different views on fantasy compared to how fantasy was thought of during Tolkien's time.

I think an argument could be made about how the Hobbits' views of adventure reflect the societal expectations and ideas of fantasy. It is unneeded, fruitless, and absurd. Yet, when Bilbo travels out and engages in these fantastical elements, he is persuaded to believe that these things are actually great, and important in their own way.

Yet, our society today does not have such a negative view of Fantasy and Fantastical Elements. Elves, Dwarves and Dragons are not thought of being childish things, but instead great things full of adventure and wonder which our imaginations can explore. Multitudes of games, movies, books, and art focus on these ideas which seem to only appear in mythological contexts during Tolkien's time.

What do you think? Do you think that our societal expectations and views regarding fantasy have changed how this work is viewed? Do you disagree?


Vana said...

I believe our society over-romanticizes things! For instance, the way Tolkien writes about dragons is as monsters. They're the bad guys, to be feared and defeated. However, take Christopher Paolini's work Eragon - the dragons are allies here. Dragon riders replace dragon slayers. Benedict Cumberbatch becomes our favorite hunk of man that voices Smaug, who doesn't make us tremble in fear as much as giddy excitement.

In an age where not much is left to the imagination, where science is the answer, maybe it's that we long for a world of adventure that cannot be explained away.

Tulkas said...

This is a really interesting topic. Our view of fantasy has definitely changed in the past several decades (this shift can largely be credited to Tolkien), but I would say there's still a stigma regarding fantasy and literature in general. Certainly we have a better appreciation for it, but it's not viewed as being particularly valuable. It's just a pastime, meant to give us a break from things that really matter. I see this most when I tell people that I'm an English major. I am consistently faced with questions of what it is that I can do with an English degree (apparently every English major is a teacher), and how I intend to make money with it. Fantasy and literature are still seen more as hobbies than anything else. Outside of the academic realm, putting any serious thought or work into it is considered a waste of time. So while we don't see fantasy as being so childish, many have yet to realize that it is worth more than just a pastime.

Nienna said...

I agree with both Vana and Tulkas on societies view on the fantastic. Especially Vana's comment that perhaps we long for something that cannot be explained. While science is fantastic and great for society in many ways it can definitely take some of the mystery out of the world. I think in this way fantasy can definitely bring this mysterious element back. Additionally, I believe science and the importance of fantasy can be incorporated. For instance, advances in image technology have allowed fantasy genres in film and television to leave the cartoon world and reach the adult audience. CGI, for example, allows beautiful adaptions of fantasy works such as LOTR to come to life and not look cheesy and childlike. Instead they look highly realistic and visually complex. I think this technology has definitely allowed the fantasy genre, particularly in film, to reach an older, more mature audience. Examples are Game of Thrones, LOTR, True Blood etc. These works are definitely geared towards adults, something that may have been less possible in Tolkien's time.

Vairë said...

I would say yes, but I would also argue that The Hobbit and co. were the instruments of social change that led to the new view of fantasy. After all, modern fantasy finds some of its origins in the works of Tolkien. As well, his books were some of the first widely published pieces of "fantasy" we could consider. So yes, now these texts are revered, even, for their very status as instruments of change.