Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ryman and Oz

I've just fnished Geoff Ryman's novel WAS, and I'm baffled. Like all Ryman's work, this is beautifully written. And I know I said a few posts ago that category labels don't matter. But, nonetheless... What is this?

The novel follows three characters; one is the young Judy Garland before and as she films THE WIZARD OF OZ. This thread is a sort of dramatized biography, using real facts. The second character is a fictional actor dying of AIDS in 1989; here, too, there is fiction but nothing SF or fantastical (although the character is given to hallucinations and delusions). The third thread is an alternate (and much grimmer) life of Dorothy Gale, a different version of the life of somebody else's fictional character, presented as an actual little girl in 1875 Kansas with no fantasy elements in her heart-breaking life at all. Yet the novel was published by Fantasy Masterworks of Great Britain. So my question: Does something have to be different in some way from real life -- contain some element of magic -- for a work to be "fantasy"? Or is it enough to merely present the alternate reality of a fictional icon, stripped of all the original fantastical elements?

I ponder this as I prepare to attend World Fantasy Con in Saratoga, NY later this week. Stay tuned.

3 comments:

BuffySquirrel said...

Maybe for the same reason that Philip K. Dick's mainstream novels are shelved in the SFF section of the bookshop. Once labelled a genre author, always a genre author.

The book does sound intriguing, though.

Dan B (no, not Bennett, think harder) said...

Just wanted to hip you to this cool group on Yahoo called The Judy Garland Experience. They have all sorts of great, and constantly changing, ultra rare and unreleased files of Judy and lots of other musicians (Joe Turner, Aretha, Sinatra, Peggy Lee, JImmy Scott, Anita O'Day, Ruth Brown, Chet Baker etc). I mean the files are really great, if you are a music lover you have to join, I'm serious.
The group is pretty tite and has Judy's family members, other celebrities, fans, authors and lots more as members.
There is always some kind of an interesting discussion going on.
They also have mad pics, contests, polls,blah, blah, blah, you know what I mean, it's all good, check it out!
http://movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/thejudygarlandexperience/

ThimbleriggerJohnny said...

""So my question: Does something have to be different in some way from real life -- contain some element of magic -- for a work to be "fantasy"? Or is it enough to merely present the alternate reality of a fictional icon, stripped of all the original fantastical elements?""

Hello Nancy,
I think you answered your question in your very first paragraph when you said Ryman's piece was "beautifully written"

All genres overlap to some extent. And perhaps the answer is in the "depth" of the writing. This novel you describe sounds quite incredible - certainly your synopsis had ME hooked.

Why do you consider the novel beautifully written? Did it provoke thought? emotion? Did its depth stimulate parts straight cut novels don't reach? Is that the fantasy of it? Maybe a new genre is emerging as the craft of writing must surely evolve?

Some say there is nothing original. I disagree. There are new discoveries every day. The craft will evolve as it always has.

Define fantasy.
Define sf, horror etc...

Difficult.

After all, vampires can be stripped down scientifically as much as werewolfs may be considered by some as fantasy creatures as much as Ryman's novel will certainly be labelled by some as the mutterings of a madman and by others as "beautiful" -

So I suggest the answer to your question is YES - it is merely enough to present an alternate reality of a fictional icon... as long as the writing is `beautiful`.

Just a thought! :)

Best
TJ