Benjamin Szumskyj, editor, Studies in Fantasy Literature (Issue #1) (Seele Brennt Publications, 2004)

Studies in Fantasy Literature is a new journal devoted simply to what its title describes: critical and scholarly studies in the area of fantasy, with an all-inclusive purview. As editor Benjamin Szumskyj puts it in his first editorial, the journal "is dedicated to and honoring the works of any author who has ever written a story in the genre of fantasy."

The first number of Studies begins with an article by Aaron R. Davis on the Catholic Christian basis for J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. Davis bases his premise on his assertion that Tolkien described LOTR as "a 'fundamentally' Catholic work," although, unlike the works of C. S. Lewis, LOTR is not in any sense a religious allegory. While it is well known that Tolkien was a devout Catholic, it is difficult to justify Davis' reading on that basis alone, although he does make a good case for the underpinnings of Middle Earth and its history being intimately tied to Christian ideas of the universal order. Although marred by at least one major misstatement of fact (Davis states, in discussing the role of sacramental objects in LOTR, that Eowyn uses the sword that Merry took from the Barrow Downs to slay the Witch King, when in fact she used her own sword and it was Merry who wielded the enchanted blade from the Barrow Downs to deal the blow that made Eowyn's deed possible), he does highlight some interesting parallels.

Davis' offering is followed by a lively essay from Steve Tompkins on Cark Ashton Smith's Hyperborean stories ("Coming In From The Cold: 'Incursions of Outsideness" In Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborea"). For those not familiar with Smith's works, Tompkins' article will leave you determined to fill in this unforgiveable gap in your fantasy background.

Jennifer D'Elia offers an analysis of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere in "Sometimes There Is Nothing You Can Do: A Critical Summary of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere," an intelligent essay that deals substantively with Gaiman's treatment of perception and reality. Likening Gaiman's London Below to Lewis Carroll's Wonderland (and quite properly so), D'Elia delineates the way in which Gaiman uses literalness and our willing ignorance of the unpleasant to create a world with a potent mythical dimension.

Sociologist Dr. Harold Dorton offers "Michael Moorcock, Postermodernism, and (Not) Fantasy: A Primer," a dazzling essay relating Moorcock's fantasy to the tenets of postmodernism on the basis of his themes, forms, and characters. This is one that could easily be expanded, with implications that are truly exciting. A must read, whether you know Moorcock's work or not.

Studies in Fantasy Literature shows a great deal of promise, and one can only hope that it makes the impact it deserves. I have long maintained that fantasy is one of the freest and potentially most substantial areas of literature, able to examine questions and propose answers that "mainstream" literature is ill-equipped to consider. This journal, with its view of the possibilities — and substance — of the genre, echoes my own feelings. The tone is generally intelligent, but not jargon-laden, and the ideas presented are often thought-provoking. It is worth noting that of the contributors to this number, two (D'Elia and Dorton) are properly "academics"; Davis is a student, and Tompkins has been a writer and editor. Although physically slim, there is a gratifying degree of substance here.

For those interested in contributing, it is stipulated that you should first contact the editor with an inquiry. The editor is quite clear that essays not preceded by an initial inquiry will be rejected.

[Robert Tilendis]

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