Academic journal article Extrapolation

The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature

Academic journal article Extrapolation

The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature

Article excerpt

The Scholarly Guide to Fantasyland. Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012. xxiv + 268 pp. ISBN 0521728738. $29.99. pbk.

Reviewed by T. S. Miller

Almost a decade after the publication of the celebrated The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, the popular Cambridge Companion series of introductory essay collections has now expanded to include this companion to fantasy literature, edited by the same team that spearheaded the sf volume, Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn. Lbe Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature shares all the advantages of previous entries in the series: it contains a number of brief, accessible essays by luminaries of the field; its low price and all-round convenience make it ideally suited for course adoption; and readers will find its cover and interior design both elegant and comfortingly familiar. The collection succeeds very well, then, as a relatively inexpensive introduction to fantasy and various topics in fantasy scholarship and criticism. At the same time, as a more definitive or authoritative treatment of fantasy literature as a whole-or as a comprehensive "state of the field" overview of contemporary scholarship-the book leaves much to be desired. I would contrast this volume with something like the monumental Routledge Companion to Science Fiction (2009), which succeeds in acquainting the novice with important critical conversations while advancing those conversations, and which manages (in over twice the number of pages) to navigate questions of history and theory with a exhaustiveness simply not attainable in a book as short as Lbe Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature. Finally, not all of the essays in this volume are equally useful, even for beginners, and I would not necessarily endorse some of them as a first place to begin researching a particular topic.

Before I highlight a few of the stronger and weaker essays, let me first say that some of the problems with the individual essays likely stem from larger problems with the collection's structure and concomitant limitations, rather than necessarily with the contributing authors themselves-such as the fact that the essays average only ten pages in length due to constraints (presumably imposed by the publisher) related to the desired length of the entire text. The table of contents showcases an impressive roster of contributors drawn from both the academic community and the ranks of professional fiction writers, very much in the tradition of the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts and its annual conference, which has always proved a sizable draw for scholars and professional authors alike. The only underrepresented group here-or, really, unrepresented group-would seem to be the community of Tolkienists and other scholars of the Inklings; after all, Inklings studies remains the largest subfield in the study of the fantastic and supports not one but at least three dedicated peer-reviewed journals of its own. (Although Edward James's brief crash course on Tolkien, Lewis, and their influence is one of the better essays in the book due to the invaluable medievalist perspective he brings to bear on their work, James is not primarily a scholar of either author himself, and, as far as I can tell, has not previously published on them.) With this exception, the range of contributors is admirably ecumenical, yet the anthology's obvious goal of breadth in the coverage of various topics in fantasy scholarship is also sometimes fulfilled at the expense of depth. For instance, the only sustained discussions of the complex relationship of tales of horror and the supernatural with contemporary fantasy have been relegated to the historical section of the book, and a reader interested in parsing that relationship in more theoretical terms will be disappointed-as well as, say, a reader interested in theorizing the relationship of folk and fairy tales to the fantastic. …

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