Borders and Crossovers in Fantasyland
Since we’re all writers at the Table, we can all talk about the publishing side of borders and crossovers, but a couple of us are also academics (just as well only a couple). So I’ll start with some well worn theoretical dicta about genres and borders.
Quote 1, Roland Barthes’ famous dictum from “The Death of the Author,” that “The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture.” Hence no single novel, whatever, can be purely “original.”
Second, the parallel claim of a Russian structuralist (whose name I have lost) that all genres begin as cadet branches from another genre – therefore, except for some legendary Big Bang single ancestor, all will have elements of another.
Quote 2, Jacques Derrida’s sweeping, "Every text participates in one or several genres ... yet such participation never amounts to belonging," and hence, to demand purity of any genre is "a madness" ("Genre" 212; 228).
Practically, it’s impossible to work without labeling and categorizing texts of any sort. Damon Knight’s despairing, “SF is what I say when I point to it,” only throws the burden of labelling back on the pointer’s experience of texts he/she understands to be SF, and that was decided by someone else’s understanding of … Indeed, Samuel Delany, always an alternate thinker, argues that “The generic mark ... is always outside the text," for example on the bookstore shelf ("The Gestation of Genres" 65). Amazon’s “Readers who bought this also bought,” is a very fluid and highly practical bookseller’s way of managing this, geared toward another sale, of course.
Genre borders, are most likely then, a matter of general but implicit consensus. Brian Attebery devised a very neat method to demonstrate this. Back in the days when “Fantasy” meant high fantasy, he sent some readers a list of novels and asked for a rating, 1-10, on the nearest to “real fantasy” (I paraphrase slightly here.) Satisfyingly, the centre or highest score of his “fuzzy set,” came back as The Lord of the Rings.
Publishers and smart authors play into this implicit consensus with the choice of cover and even the font. Genre borders are also policed, again implicitly, by readers and academics both. Long and fierce have been the academic squabbles over Star Wars as either fantasy or SF, or even “film SF,” as one academic editor insisted. Readers, too, can dispute a text's generic siting, and/or vote on the matter. Samuel Delany’s Dahlgren, one of the most astonishing experimental novels in any genre, was published as SF, and was a resounding flop. Readers voted with their wallets in (relative) droves.
At present the bewildered publishing world is confronted with genre borders more permeable than water. When Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling Outlander series first appeared, nobody knew where to classify it. Historical fiction? No, it had time travel. Fantasy? Well, um, not exactly a secondary world, historical detail far too heavy. SF? Nup, the science was hand-waving at best. There were mutters of “time romance” from those who had met the term in other minor specfic, but those examples never escaped the esoteric ghetto.
Gabaldon, au contraire, is now shelved in the “best-sellers” genre, defined by one agent’s web-site as lacking any marker except sales. But with Gabaldon’s sales, novels like this are suddenly big-time. My own Blackston Gold duo, tentatively marketed as “contemporary fantasy” got snapped up by a nameable agent on a friend’s mere whisper of “Gabaldon.”
Then there’s “paranormal romance” – a meld of horror and “romance” in the usual generic sense of the word. Came out of nowhere and is flourishing like the green bay tree. For how long, who knows? Mutters of No Vampire are appearing daily in specfic indie presses’ Call for Subs. On the other hand, there’s Twilight, and now Fifty Shades of Grey … While there’s money, publishers won’t let the Fanged Ones leave.
There’s little new to say about this seething cauldron, present or future. Let me finish with a crossover, a form not discussed theoretically, but practiced in earnest by Hollywood in movies of the Godzilla –Meets-Tarzan type. I’ve noticed a tendency in thrifty authors to do this by combining characters from two different series, for instance, Dana Stabenow’s latest, Though Not Dead. But the best crossovers happen in current fanfic. Here’s a third-gen descendant of Bridget Jones’s Diary, (via Aragorn's Secret Diary and other LotR fanfic gems) combining two cinematic hot-sites in a single exuberant text.
FIC: The Very Secret Diary of Captain Jack Sparrow (PG13, 1/1 if you're lucky)
AUTHOR: Gloria Mundi , Poor Napoleon and Ladymoonray.
PAIRING: Errrr. None, really.
Storm is finally over, after what seems like days at the wheel. (Gibbs says this is because I spent days at the wheel.) Too much cloud cover last night to determine current position. Sailing north with land to the east. Do not recognise coast - not Florida anyway, as entirely devoid of chimp-like politicians and sparkling castles, and cannot think of other north-south coast between Port Royal and New Orleans. …
Could be Portugal, if badly lost. Or Blackpool, if very badly lost.
Cotton's parrot sighted smoke to north. Well, actually squawked "Where is the horse and his rider?", but Gibbs assures me that's what it meant…
Day 3, later:
Huge armada assembled here at river delta. Most of larger ships (50 or so) have black sails; as usual, the Black Pearl is inspiration to all. Inspiration does not go as far as raggedy sails with huge holes, but we gave that look up ourselves, due to lack of forward motion …
Day 3, still later:
Interesting. This fleet hails from somewhere called Umbar. Never heard of it, and can't find it in Mercator's New Atlas of World Conquest, or A-Z of Caribbean, so is obviously local name for some perfectly ordinary place. Key West, perhaps. Or Morecambe (see Very Badly Lost possibility above).
Anyway, pirate armada call themselves corsairs, but am not fooled; they have black ships with black sails, crewed by ugly, overweight disfigured men with exotic accents. Perhaps 'Umbar' is actually Gateshead…
Pirates heading upriver to sack some city called Minas something. Cannot find this on the map either. (Memo to self: ask to copy their charts.) Have said we will join them, as long as we get an equal share of any loot, plus expenses. Will have Gibbs forge receipts…
Hmph. Always suspected crew were weasel-gutted cowards but did not expect to be proved right so comprehensively. They have deserted, every one of 'em, just because a ghost army turned up and swarmed over the ship. You'd think they'd never seen the walking dead before. And this lot are much prettier than Barbossa's mob. In or out of moonlight…
Rest of fleet similarly affected. Fat pirates leaping overboard, marooning selves on delta islets, screaming, drowning, etc. Am Captain Jack Sparrow. Not scared of ghosts. Not going anywhere.
Am also pissed and incapable of walking, but that's not the point!
At least do not have to share the Rum any more.
Day 4, later:
May have spoken too soon. Load of ruffians calling themselves Dunne-ed-dane (spelling?) turn up, along with a blond pretty-boy and a dwarf.
Allegedly they are with the army of Dead and are off to Minas Thing to save it from raiders and orcs and black-hearted scoundrels. Quite what killer whales are doing teaming up with scoundrels not quite clear, as is threat they pose to Minas Thing. …
As Black Pearl is clearly jewel (hahahah) of fleet, chief of Dunne-ed-dane has chosen it as flagship. He came aboard with pretty boy and dwarf but was put out to find me here.
Am off to Minas Thing to save it, says he.
Not on my ship you aren't, says I. Arrrrr.
Why not? says pretty boy, looking at me with superior look.
For one (says I) I spent ten years without the Pearl an' I'm not giving her up again for anything…
Dunne-ed-dane chief turns out to be Isildur's Heir: eventually understood he wasn't Isildur's Hair (what is that accent?), but have never heard of Isildur, let alone Heir (or Hair)...
Pretty boy tells me he is Elf, from realm of Fairy. Reacts badly to being asked where his wings are, then. Points to ears as evidence, but have seen pointier ears on a bo'sun from Swansea. Something very familiar about him, but can't quite put finger on it. Not while he's watching, anyway. Dwarf tells me he is a Dwarf. This so blatantly obvious, do not bother to comment...
We drink to Destiny. Isildur's Heir starts on about the Dark Lord, who is called Sow-Ron and lives in Morrdorr and is a Bad Thing. In return, tell him about myself, Aztec curse etc. Isildur's Heir not much interested, but neither was I...
The rest, if you’re interested, is at http://www.livejournal.com/users/viva_gloria/95146.html