Urban fantasy(was Charles DeLint (OT))

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Fri Apr 6 14:26:45 EDT 2001


On Fri, 6 Apr 2001 12:52:42 +0100, Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk wrote:

>>>To me there must be some sort of gritty/grainy/dark and dusty city aspect,
>>>as well as the fantasy side.
>>
>> This is, to the best of my knowledge, the "official" definition of "urban
>> fantasy."  But I also can't remember where I learned that definition.  The
>
>Ooh.  On this list.  And coming from Melissa, of all people!
>
>Melissa, you are beginning to sound like my brother as a teenager.  He was
>always looking for - and claiming to have found - things "official"...

>As far as I am concerned, no-one has the authority to impose an "official"
>definition of a term like "urban fantasy".  For example, a dictionary
>definition, to be complete, should normally give all meanings in common use.

Oh, bah.  This is not about dictionary definitions.  This is about critical
terminology.  Two different beasties.  When you're writing literary
criticism, it's vital that you have a shared context and set of terms,
unless what you're writing about is the redefinition of said terms.  There
are all kinds of critical terms that are used in ways completely unlike
their dictionary definitions, but in the critical context, it's those
limited meanings that matter.

I see that I appeared to be imposing an official fiat on "urban fantasy".
My point was simply that people like Anita and Jacob (and me) who are
arguing for the dark, gritty kind of "urban" are probably doing so because
that's what other people have called it...an "official" definition.

>> people who are mainly writing urban fantasy according to this definition are
>> all coming out of the same writing group, so maybe they're the ones who
>> started it.
>
>Exactly.  They are welcome to define the term in any way consistent with the
>words "urban" and "fantasy" - or if they've enough clout as writers, in a way
>not consistent with them (as Dickens and the phrase "mutual friend") - and use
>it that way; and other people may or may not follow them.  But neither they nor
>anyone else has the right to claim that their definition is "official"

I agree.  What I was getting at was this:

1.  Every time I PERSONALLY have heard the term "urban fantasy" used, it was
in the context as given by Jacob and Anita, describing that particular type
of fantasy and those authors.

2.  I don't remember where I first heard this--from someone outside the
Scribblies (the Minnesota writing group these authors mostly belong to) or
from that group itself.

3.  Specifically, I don't remember whether this definition was
self-appointed or the creation of someone else.

>> Much as I like the discussion of what each of us means by a particular term,
>> I would give a lot for an official lexicon of fantasy literature terms.  It
>> would make my life easier.  :)
>
>:-)  Sorry.  You sound like the people (usually newly introduced to
>Christianity) who want the Bible to contain specific instructions to them about
>dealing with each and every aspect of their life.  What they get, of course, is
>sacred texts, from which can be derived doctrines, and it is from the doctrines
>that they must find their own solutions.  With a little help from their friends,
>of course.

>In the same way, you are never going to get an "official" lexicon of terms,
>because no-one has the authority to declare it official.  What you get is
>different peoples definitions for use in different contexts, and you have to
>make your own decision as to which you will use and why.  And we on this list
>will always be happy to help...

Philip, if I didn't know you were a genuinely nice person, I would smack you
for being condescending.  :)  Or did you not know that I'm a graduate of a
literary department that was at war over the idea of canonized literature?
Trust me, I get the whole idea of a shifting lexicon.

Our problem here is that you and I have different purposes for this
discussion.  With the exception of this list, my writing and talking about
fantasy is exclusively for the benefit of non-fantasy readers and critics,
many of whom are convinced that, as a genre, it's a bastard stepchild of
REAL fiction.  Much as I'm interested in the debate, for my purposes, I just
want the most common usage so if someone says to me, "My best friend thinks
I'd like urban fantasy, what is that?" I can explain that the best friend
was probably referring to Charles de Lint.  

You cite the example of a dictionary that gives all the ways people
currently use a particular word.  It's not just altruism that makes this the
best dictionary model.  In impartially collecting all the possible ways
people use words, it also illustrates consensus.  You could use "stellar" as
an expression of profound happiness, but you'd better be aware that most
people will think you are talking about actual stars.

What I was clumsily trying to say was *not* that we should stick to the
limited definition of "urban fantasy" as represented by de Lint et.al., but
that this definition is in many circles being touted as THE definition.
What I realized was that even though I like this definition (for the reasons
Jacob said, about the polar opposites) I don't know where it came from.  And
so I think this discussion is important--for that reason alone.  What de
Lint and Emma Bull and others are writing is a subgenre with specific
characteristics, and I think it deserves a name.  What this discussion has
pointed out (to me, anyway) is that urban fantasy is perhaps too broad a
term for it, because it implies many possible kinds of story that aren't
dark and gritty juxtaposed with faerie.

So there you go.  And now I just blew my chance to respond on the OTHER
topic, because the baby is awake.  Rats.  :)

Melissa Proffitt
(who thinks if Philip did not exist, she would have had to invent him,
because he doesn't agree with her all the time)
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