Home > cultural commentary > Fantasy, all over again

Fantasy, all over again

Call it a reductionist, reified, economic determinist argument if you like. But I find it interesting that a bunch of TV and film productions in the last year or so have featured retellings and reinterpretations of fairy stories and folk tales.

The most obvious ones are Once Upon a Time (currently on UK’s Channel 5, but first broadcast in the US on ABC at the back end of last year); Grimm (police based but drawing on the Grimm fairy tales; currently on a UK satellite channel and first broadcast on NBC in the US late last year); and Mirror Mirror, a comedy fantasy just about to be released and based on Snow White. Several other films including Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Jack the Giant Killer are scheduled for release later this year, or next year.

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to make a lot of sense of the competing figures for book and ebook sales because categorisations and descriptions of genres are so variable, but I’m willing to speculate that ‘fantasy’ is a fast-growing market especially for ebooks.

The thing is, so much fantasy chimes with the current social climate. A sinister world manipulated by strange beings who hold questionable values and don’t care about ‘ordinary people’? Threats lurking in unexpected places? Well, that would be the recession-hit world we actually live in. And if you look back at the roots of fantasy and folk tales, they constitute a body of warnings, parables and moral stories that encapsulate advice about how to survive in uncertain times. Watch out for seductive monsters with big teeth; for deals that appear to be too good to be true; for those who offer to fulfill your desires in exchange for your immortal soul, and so on. Yes, I know ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ can be deconstructed as a story about sexuality, but you get the idea…

So all the old folk tales are suddenly relevant all over again, because they respond to our current perceptions of the world, our concerns, and maybe even offer advice on how to battle ‘monsters’, however you might want to define them – demons, bankers, demon bankers or whoever. It’s unsurprising that TV and film production companies would catch on to that; it’s equally unsurprising that several competing series/films would go into production and onto our screens at around the same time.

The kind of argument I’m advancing here is hardly original: it’s been around for a long while. Try Lucien Goldmann’s Towards a Sociology of the Novel (originally published in French in 1964, in English in 1975, since reissued in different editions); or the more explicitly Marxist analysis of Georg Lukacs (the introductory book on Lukacs by George Lichtheim is a good starting point).

But I guess the interesting question is: what new stories, fantasies and moralities will come out of the current situation? Are we all condemned to our own personal Hunger Games? Or can there be a less horrific route to a happy ending?

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  1. April 12, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    What an insightful look into why we are mythmaking. Overall, a really good post.

  2. June 28, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Sorry to be late picking up on your comment, and thank you for commenting! It occurs to me that one way forward is this: one thing humans do supremely well is imagine the future, and then go and build it. The current climate, though, is all around trying to make old narratives and logics continue to work when they’ve been shown to be damaging to the way most people want to imagine their lives. So I’m spending time, at least occasionally, thinking about what the new narratives might look like.

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