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Incredible geographies? Orientalism and Genre Fantasy

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Despite its immense popularity, the Fantasy genre has been largely ignored by academic geography. In this paper I give an overview of the genre, its politics and its geographies. I examine the ways in which several popular Fantasy texts negotiate and draw upon 'Orientalist' tropes. Fantasylands are often described as landscapes enabling characters and readers to flee the drudgery of the 'real' world and escape into inconceivable places populated by magic and wonder, realms liberated from the 'actualities' of everyday life. However, it is my contention, based on a reading of several popular Fantasy texts, that Fantasy cannot be viewed as a privileged genre where 'you're limited only by your own imagination'. Fantasy is not about inventing Other-worlds: it is not a transcendental and surpassing genre. Rather, Fantasy texts, like all texts, are socially embedded. I argue that the construction of the 'Western' characters as the 'good guys' in Genre Fantasy texts can become problematic when these characters encounter 'Other' peoples. The conflation of 'Western heroes' and 'Good' can appear to confirm feelings of moral and cultural superiority when these 'heroes' encounter 'Others' in Fantasy narratives, 'Otherness' becoming interpreted as 'alien', 'weird' and 'fundamentally different' when looked at through Genre Fantasy's moral lens. Looked at in this way, rather than describing purely imaginary spaces, I would argue that these texts continue a Western historical tradition of problematically mapping difference on to the 'Other', a mapping that serves to position the 'Fantastic West' as morally and culturally superior to the 'Fantastic Orient'.
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Keywords: fantasy; imaginative geographies; landscape; orientalism; post-colonial; representation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography University of Sheffield Winter Street Sheffield S10 2TN UK

Publication date: 2004-03-01

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