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The difficulties of placing a narrative in literature and/or genre.

I have been doing a little more research into the terms 'magic realism' and 'slipstream' today, in an attempt to find a comfortable place from which to launch my PhD proposal - once I reach that point in my research where I feel comfortable writing a proposal, that is.

As I've written before, academia is not enamoured with fantasy. If you say to an academic that you would like to write a novel about elves for your PhD thesis, you're more than likely going to find yourself on the receiving end of a reaction that is all but encouraging. Yes, many terrible, terrible things have been passed of as writing in the fantasy genre and academics may well be gun shy, but for a write like me, it poses a difficulty that has me stumped.

Elves, by their very nature, conjure up fantastical images in the minds of most westerners. Western literature casts elves and other non-human/animal being as fantasy from the get-go. The problem here is that many other cultures do not do this.

If I was writing a narrative about Icelanders interacting with elves, I could write it in such a manner than I would not have to explain the presence of characters who live inside hills and mountains. The Icelandic people in my narrative might also not be overly surprised by a human looking elf stepping out of a boulder. My story would easily be categorised as 'magic realism' or 'slipstream' writing because of the matter-of-fact inclusion of nonsensical events.

My problem lies in the fact that my elves, while widely accepted in Iceland, have migrated to Australia, where they are not known of, or accepted as possible. So, when my Icelandic elves run into Aussies, the Aussies are naturally shocked and disbelieving and the elves will need to explain themselves to form bonds of trust with the humans. That explaining of the phenomenon lands my narrative in the category of fantasy, even though to me, through my cultural experience, it is not fantasy.

How do I overcome this?

Comments

Jayne said…
How frustrating :-( Personally, I think
approaching this from a cultural studies perspective could work-exploring the culturally entrenched imagery of traditional folklore. Where has that come from,(history, mythology etc) what has perpetrated it,(socio-cultural & historical, political etc factors) and how does it translate in an entirely foreign land? Here's where it could, for example marry with traditional Indigenous folklore-what are the similarities/differences between Icelandic and other European folklore tradition, and Australian aboriginal spirituality? You could even rever to globalization-has that impacted on traditional Icelamdic culture? Where do the elves stand these days? Is there still a widespread belief or has it diminished?

I can't wait to see what you come up with-this is such an interesting topic!
Sif said…
Oh, lots of ideas there! I'll get mum to read this and see what she thinks - I'd thought at looking at how Icelandic folklore traditions have been adapted by immigrants for passing on to their children who do not live immersed in Icelandic culture... Some of these other questions might work better or work with what I was already thinking. Thanks for the feedback!
Sarah Mac said…
Good luck with this Sif. While I would like to come up with some constructive advice I think Jayne pretty much has it covered and in a much better way than I ever could.

Equating it to something that Australians can directly relate to ie Aboriginal spirituality is a great idea.

Lots of luck with this and kudos for going with something that fits with your culture rather than mainstream!
Sarah said…
I have to say it actually sounds really interesting. I can't wait to read more as you go through this process.
Sif said…
Thanks guys. I've been wondering about having an Icelandic human character, one that would not be surprised by elves, though maybe by their presence in Australia. Hmmm, maybe that is all becoming a bit confusing...

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