[A fantasy bear-guard was protecting the escape of that slender Korean Alice. Foto di Marzia Poerio]

David Butler, FANTASY CINEMA: IMPOSSIBLE WORLDS ON SCREEN. Brighton, Wallflower, 2010

Fantasy as a genre is not easily defined. The tradition of fairy stories is one of its elements of fantasy if fantasy in general, since ancient times, means story based rather on the imagination than on imitation of reality. Inventions derived from fables and myths are typical of fantasy. However the terms of fantasy as a genre are those of modernity and late modernity whereby fantasy is a genre which gives course to the imagination relaunching fable in contemporaneity and mixing this component with other aspects that can be at times realism (as in Harry Potter), spectacular imagined worlds and beings (as in the film versions Lord of the rings), and science fiction (Ursula Le Guin, Pullman).

A recent discussion on fantasy as a genre is in Butler’s volume. He poses the problem of whether fantasy is a genre or a mode, a distinction into which I would not insist too much because it does not seem to be very productive.

Fantasy in my view is a genre because it is seen as such by publishers, authors and film makers, even though the precise conventions of such a genre are difficult to pinpoint. Modern ancestors of fantasy are works such as DR JEKILL AND MR HYDE, THE TURN OF THE SCREW, Le Fanu’s ghost stories and so on.

However, in the last decades what characterizes fantasy, in addition to fable, is a setting of a medieval type, often time-undetermined and based on characters which are often adolescents in initation stories and formation narratives, and articulated around ideologies which are partly based on western conceptions and partly oriental.

Is fantasy escapist or committed? Both possibilities exist, and each work will have to be assessed individually in this respect. It is true, though, that fantasy would not be itself if entertainment was not present in its stories. One may say, though, that pure taste for adventures at times prevails over other, more socially engaged concerns.

In relation to its being a popular or literary genre, most works seem to participate partly at least of both aspects since reference to myth (especially classical myth) and legend (especially Arthurian and more in general medieval legends) are often there.

[Roberto Bertoni]