Tag Archives: Novel

SFF 5

Ok, like readers trying to follow my commentary, I was by Monday morning somewhat tired and jaded which meant checking out of the hotel and lugging my bags up the hill took me a little longer than planned and I was several minutes late for the first paper of the morning.
On this basis I apologise that I think I missed some of the nuances that the speaker was trying to suggest.

When I arrived Leimar Garcia-Siino was giving a very slickly competent talk on “The Resurgence of Mythology in Young Adult Fantasy” which I struggled rather spectacularly to follow. I recall only 2 key points: firstly that the Percy Jackson novels are representative of a broader trend towards re-appropriating mythology as an emotional and academically didactic tool in story-telling for young adults and secondly that, furthermore, our ongoing mythological consciousness creates a playful metanarrative which both reinforces and ultimately reinvents the mythological framework. I also remember thinking that if I was more awake it would have made an interesting (and far more theoretical) counterpoint to Schrackmann’s reading of Riordan partially because she looked at similar aspects of the conflict between ancient conceptions of heroism and modern values.
Overall, the paper was among the more theory heavy that I listened to and although the speaker had some interesting points to make about how we can utilise imagery whilst re-writing context I think I’d need to re-read it with some coffee to hand…

Next I dashed out to Tom Garvey’s paper on Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age. This paper reminded me a little of Brand’s paper on Watchmen in that it initially seemed strongly demonstrative in style (i.e. we were treated to a thorough explanation of why certain things should be considered classical references or allusions). However, this paper explored very different ground to most of the others that I heard at the conference because the speaker actively aimed to discuss the use of the text in a pedagogic setting. Specifically Garvey considered ways that Stephenson contrasts methods of teaching and learning within the book (and explicitly uses classical material both as exemplar and as methodology) and asked students to apply that to their own experiences and also suggested ways of reading Stephenson’s commenatry/critique of classicising education in contrast to his Eastern-philosophical leanings.
In Garvey’s exposition, Stephenson’s book  is a useful example of how embedded classical culture can be identified and played with for an audience prepared to deal with self-analysis – what Reception scholar can’t get behind that?

After the Break: Warhammer 40K…

SFF 4(?)

Aaaargh sorry for the exceptionally long delay.

Still on Day 2 but post lunch
Session 13: Divine Updates – Myths of the Classical World in Popular Literature.
This panel was all by academics from the University of Zurich, I’m not sure I quite caught a unifying theme to the papers but each of them offered me a whole load of food for thought.

The first was by Meret Fehlmann on the re-imagining of classical myth (and religion) in the novels of Robert Graves and Elizabeth Hand.
I haven’t read anything by Hand and I haven’t read the novels by Graves that Fehlmann discussed (though perhaps unsurprisingly I have read his Greek Myths & I, Claudius) but I am quite conscious of the fact that his interpretation of pre-historic Goddess worship has been influential so I was interested to see how she traced his ideas and reactions to them. Fehlmann demonstrated 2 points: firstly how Graves developed his ideas about the cult of the mother Goddess from his version of the Golden Fleece into his book 7 Days in New Crete to suggest a kind of utopian re-balancing of society and secondly how Hand re-wrote those ideas about the cult and ultimately rejected their usefulness.
Graves’ ideas about both the importance of women in cultic scenarios and the notion of the necessity of destruction in society have their basis in a number of late nineteenth and early twentieth century anthropological enquiries, including those of Jane Ellen Harrison. The ideas are played out across swathes of pagan and feminist literature but were fairly quickly rejected by scholars and then ultimately by those groups too. It is interesting to see the literary positions that demonstrate the trends but unsatisfying to consider how much more there could be done on tracing lines of influence… My brain was so buzzing with the possibility of showing how JEH influenced 70’s lesbian pagan feminism I was quite distracted.

Next up.. a Paper on the Watchmen graphic novel/comic from Scott Brand

This paper served as a gazetteer of almost every classical allusion the speaker could find. Naturally there was an interesting discussion on the impact of using Juvenal (quis custodiet..) as the central theme of the novel (albeit mediated through American politics) and some focus on the Promethean elements of the characters. However, to my taste the paper as a whole was a little light on analysis (although it is only fair to note that this was not his normal research topic) but instead offered up some interesting possibilities for further analysis as well as illustrating how classical material can serve as ornamental short-hand and foreshadowing. I would particularly like to see someone with greater skill than I pick apart the interplay between the Greek, Roman and Egyptian identities and images of the character of Ozymandias.

The 3rd paper of the panel entitled “Where’s the glory in repeating what others have done? Mediating the Ancient and the Modern in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians series” was from Petra Schrackmann.

This rather fascinating paper took great care to show how the novels actively re-write ancient mythology in order to make it more relevant to modern children. Schrackmann especially argued that by juxtaposing the modern and the mythological Riordan was able to critique both and that he used the books to create a modern mythos that especially highlights issues with the education system as well as providing a pathway to the growth of personal identity. It is clear that the series shares some of its central themes with many other books for its target age-range, specifically the notion of the power of knowledge and learning to negotiate independence through issues of agency but the speaker nicely highlighted why the often fatalistic Greek myths could still be used fruitfully.

This paper was followed rather well thematically by the final paper of the panel by Aleta-Amiree Von Holzen on Anne Ursu’s Cronus Chronicles. I have to confess that not only have I not read these ‘middle grade’ stories, I hadn’t even heard of them before the paper. Nonetheless the speaker competently outlined the key plot points before explaining some of the ways that the author took some of the same basic premises of the Percy Jackson series but created a different feeling in order to offer thoughts on the nature and purpose of power. The paper suggested that Ursu’s modernising of the myths sometimes inserts a slightly comic tone into the stories but the disregard of humanity shown by the Gods has a lot in common with the  ancient tragedies. Von Holzen also drew out the importance of the Promethean myth to the Chronicles’ consideration of free-will and the role of the Gods in a modern world – a classical connection that (as well as being discussed indirectly in a later paper) surely ought to be brought out more in modern writing.

In summary, despite (or perhaps because of) the fairly diverse directions of these modern mythological re-tellings/re-purposing it was clear that writers have been very conscious of the difficulties of using such a different cultural medium as ancient myth in their own work but also that they can use that to their advantage.

Right, better stop there before this gets any longer.
Monday morning next (Nick Lowe’s plenary will I think act a as kind of conclusion to the whole conference)