Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Triple Bladed Sword?

We begin with a question, as writing often does: a response to self-inquiry, anticipation of a naysayer, or reply to a direct question.

Why Triple Bladed Sword?

As a title, it references one of my favorite films from my adolescence, become the guilty pleasure of a forty-year old: Albert Pyun's Sword and the Sorcerer, a B movie alternative to John Milius's operatic Conan the Barbarian. The oversaturated color palette of Pyun's fantasy is liberally littered with gory battles, gross makeup prosthetics, and naked women. For a 11 year-old boy enamoured with Tolkien, Dungeons and Dragons, and Marvel's Conan comics, it was the perfect movie. What gave Sword and the Sorcerer the win over Conan the Barbarian in my teen years was the hero's sword: a massive, two-handed, triple-bladed sword that fires its outer blades and includes a hidden dirk in the hilt in case the main blade snaps off in your climactic battle with an evil king and sorcerer. Can you say rolling for damage with a d12?

So Triple Bladed Sword carries the connotation of my youth, when I was discovering secondary worlds filled with elves and dwarves, wizards and warriors, swords and sorcerers. It was the middle point between my fascination with space opera and SF: I was graduating from Star Wars and Jules Verne into Lord of the Rings and Norse Mythology. From there, I would springboard to Salem's Lot and Clive Barker, into worlds of horror, although I'd been a fan of movie monsters since my childhood. As an adult, these three branches have comprised the bulk of my reading and movie-going: science-fiction, fantasy, and horror.

As I've posted before, at my research blog The Steampunk Scholar John Robert Colombo constructs the following taxonomy of fantastic literature in "Four Hundred Years of Fantastic Literature in Canada,":

"Fantastic literature" is short for "the literature of the fantastic." I have in mind three literary genres: Science Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, and Weird Fiction. The three genres are more distinct in theory than in practice, but they do represent different approaches to storytelling. Science Fiction is writing that is realistic and deals with reasonable change that follows the introduction of a scientific discovery or a technological invention or application. Fantasy Fiction is writing that seems closer to legend and myth than to realism; it describes heroic action in a world that is not out own. Weird Fiction, often described as "horror fiction," "occult fiction," or "supernatural fiction," offers the reader a realistic world that lies somewhere between the workaday world informed by science and the world charged with imaginative values; in Weird Fiction, the society and world are recognizably our own, except for the fact that someone finds a miraculous object or develops a strange talent, unexpected and non-scientific in nature. Within Weird Fiction, the difference between the literature of horror and the literature of terror is that in the former the accent is on physical menace, whereas in the latter it is on psychological menace, roughly equivalent to the difference between the physical horror of Frankenstein and the psychical terror of Dracula.
The three genres are easily distinguished, as a consideration of modes of transportation suggests. In Science Fiction, the given mode of transportation may be a rocket ship, spaceship, or starship, perhaps even a flying saucer, depending on the period and the sophistication of the writing. In Fantasy Fiction, the mode of transportation might be a flying carpet or a steed that is the descendant of Pegasus, based on the setting of the work. In Weird Fiction, there might be levitation or sudden appearances and disappearances without rationale. In any prose narrative, the mode of transportation is accepted as the norm, and the reader does not expect to encounter in a given novel or story both sleek spaceships and winged steeds, as consistency and appropriateness are required. Is interchangeability possible or impossible? C.S. Lewis thought it possible, for he once wrote, "I took a hero once to Mars in a space-ship, but when I knew better I had angels convey him to Venus." (30-31)
This was written in 1995. Back then, it was a little easier to make rigid delineations: this is Fantasy, that is Science Fiction, that thing over there is Horror (It seems Colombo is referring to what we generally think of as horror, not necessarily the "weird" as defined by the Encyclopedia of Fantasy). And yet, Stephen King and Peter Straub had already blurred the lines between Fantasy and Horror with The Talisman. Arguably, Lovecraft had blurred the lines between Science Fiction and Horror nearly a century earlier, and yet, Colombo's taxonomy isn't a bad one. Definitions aren't straight jackets: they're skeletons. In the case of fantastic literature, they help us talk in short-hand about works that don't fit into quotidian fiction.

Hence, Triple Bladed Sword: it operates both as anecdotal reference to the literary call to adventure from my teen years, but also as a metaphor for the trinity of the fantastic. We could add the further triad of my favorite media: film, written texts, and comic books.

But another way of asking this question is, why Triple Bladed Sword as another blog for Mike Perschon, a guy who's already too busy? Because I still read and teach fantasy, horror, and science fiction, in addition to my steampunk research. I don't mind being an expert on a particular facet of the speculative genres, but I don't want to be pigeonholed either. My personal blog, Gotthammer, is devoted to rants and reflections of a theopoetic and personal nature. It has always lacked a focus, and will continue to. For about a year, I've been reflecting on the need for a space to write in that is neither academic nor anecdotal. I wanted a virtual space where I could review books outside steampunk, talk RPGs, and occasionally get full-on-fanboy about what I'm reading, playing, or watching. This is that space.  

So welcome to Triple Bladed Sword, a weekly celebration of the trinity of the fantastic: science fiction, fantasy, and horror, expressed in the triad of film, books, and comics. As Talon said at the close of The Sword and the Sorcerer, "Come now, let's be off. There's a battle in the offing! We've got kingdoms to save and women to love!"

4 comments:

  1. It's good to see another scholar looking at SF/F. The only other I can think of is Shaun Duke at wisb.blogspot.com. Can't wait to read more of TBS!

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  2. I'm excited to see what you'll be looking at.

    I have an extremely beaten-up copy of the SF Book of Lists by Maxim and Malcolm Edwards that has a set of brief definitions of Science Fiction that I continually use as Interlinos and pull-quotes in my zines. I still think that it's Theo Sturgeon who gave the best definition: "A good science-fiction story is a story about human beings, with a human problem, and a human solution, that would not have happened at all without its science content."

    I'm going to start Chapter Blogging Crash by JG Ballard on Facebook in the next few weeks.
    Chris

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  3. Hi again. You've almost certainly seen this by now, but just in case - Margaret Atwood was kicking around her definition of SF in The Guardian a few weeks ago

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/oct/14/margaret-atwood-road-to-ustopia

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  4. For the type of literature you are looking for, filmwise, I would recoommend Korea, and in books as well as Japan. The Keili series which is up to the 6th book of the 9 book cycle would be a good example. But historically, whether it is the Manwa Bride of the Gods (unexpected hit for Dark Horse) or the Kingdom of Heaven series printed now in English, there is much of what the west strangely thinks exclusive.

    I study 'popular' and 'cult' fiction through the ages, and how they fare and are treated in both critical works, university courses and at the time period. Ironically, the very books which are now stamped as 'classic' or 'literature' (a term only to be applied to letters and poems, the kind of deeper works that men minds are tuned toward, not fiction and the three deckers made to boost library subscriptions), would still not win today's Booker or GG - as no science fiction/fantasy does, whether that is Dracula or Handmaid's Tale (having the narrator drunk or crippled accounts for 1/3rd, first person narrations of immigrant cultures another third - you can read the people who nominate and judge the top prizes and universities in a penguin book on 'best books' where you get to read individuals savage Tolkien endlessly (still voted #1 in read and bought for 45 years running), along with Milton, Blake, and a host of what are seen as new pretenders (really, do you know what that writer's father DID for a living?).

    If you like I could recommend several films, including the one I thought your blog was named after - probably the best example of divergent adventure storytelling, fantasy or no.

    Oh, but what of Australia and the films and writers overlooked there....? The Door as the new Goonies, for example?

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