Academic journal article Mythlore

"Countries of the Mind": The Mundane, the Fantastic, and Reality in the Landscapes of Diana Wynne Jones's Hexwood and Carth Nix's Old Kingdom Series

Academic journal article Mythlore

"Countries of the Mind": The Mundane, the Fantastic, and Reality in the Landscapes of Diana Wynne Jones's Hexwood and Carth Nix's Old Kingdom Series

Article excerpt

THE FIRST STEP IN READING ANY FANTASY NOVEL MUST BE to "Find the MAP" (Jones, Tough [iii]). The map, Diana Wynne Jones advises, shows every place you will visit during the adventure: every bog, fen, and dilapidated village the heroes will be forced to slog through on their way to the inevitable happy ending. No matter which fantasy you pick up, the map will dictate the course of the narrative and the story told just as surely as a step-by-step account of the plot would.

Most critics of fantasy literature understand that the main appeal of fantasy is its ability to reframe and refocus our view of the real world, allowing us to step outside normative thought patterns, analyze them, and reconfigure them when they are found to be limited or wrong. (3) The primacy of the map in fantasy suggests that it is more than simple window-dressing for the secondary world each author constructs: the map must relate something vital about the construction of the normal, and, by the very fact of being part of a Fantasy, the construction of the fantastic as well.

Michel de Certeau argues in The Practice of Everyday Life that "in a pre-established geography, [...] everyday stories tell us what one can do in [that geography] and make out of it" (122). The map determines what can and cannot happen within the areas it has combined into a stationary tableau. In the case of Fantasies in which the landscape is divided into mundane and fantastic areas, the map that demarcates the boundary between mundane and fantastic zones determines how the two can interact with one another.

It is not, then, a stretch to claim that that relationship between the mundane and the fantastic will be best understood when we look at novels in which the landscape engages with the divide imagined between the two by critics. Homi Bhabha argues that spatial difference is imaginary, constructed by the viewer to create cleanly defined identities (6). Thus I argue that the way in which each author I examine here arranges their fictional landscape reveals much about their conception of the relationship between the mundane and the fantastic: the landscape they use to tell their story reflects their conception of continuities, discontinuities, and imbalances of power and real-ness between the mundane and the fantastic.

Even the decision whether to include a physical map at the beginning of the work is revealing: (4) for, if cartography is the spatialization of ideas, the creation of the map itself is where those relationships are codified. As Edward Soja argues in Postmodern Geographies, "Concrete spatiality--actual human geography--is [...] a competitive arena for struggles over social production and reproduction" (130). The inclusion or non-inclusion of a map is thus a statement not only of the antagonistic relationship of the mundane and the fantastic, but of where the power to define reality lies, or ought to lie--with the authority of the author, or with the reader themselves. I will thus be looking at two fantasy texts: one which includes an actual map at the beginning, Garth Nix's Old Kingdom books Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen; and one which does not, Diana Wynne Jones's Hexwood. I will explore what the landscapes of these two fantasies and Nix's and Jones's respective handling of them reveal about their visions of the relationship between the mundane and the fantastic and the reader's responsibility in defining it.

Each of Garth Nix's Old Kingdom books, which tell the adventures of a family of necromancers trying to prevent undead monsters from ravaging the world, opens with a map of the secondary world. In the north, there is the Old Kingdom, home to seers, monster-slayers, and magic; in the south, at the very bottom of the map, Ancelstierre, modern, mechanistic, and magicless.

In contrast, Jones's Hexwood includes no map. However, the characters are constantly attempting to create maps of the multiple mundane and fantastic zones they move between, erecting mental barriers at likely places in the landscape to assert some degree of control over their world. …

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