Urban fantasy(was Charles DeLint (OT))

Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk
Mon Apr 9 13:35:54 EDT 2001

Melissa, quoting me:

>>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

Fine.  But you said nothing about the context.

> 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.

Hmm.  I'd rather call that an "accepted" definition.  To me, "official" implies
the existence of an office.  Or are you now going to give me an "official"
definition of "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.

Fine, except that it's not even the only way I've seen it used on the list.

You may recall some months ago a discussion of the definition of "straight" or
"classic" fantasy.  I questioned the need for a pre-industrial setting; I was
told - I forget by whom - that a modern setting would make it "urban" fantasy.

>>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?

Eek!  I hope you believe me when I say that I had no idea even in what subject
you graduated, let alone what the department politics were!

FWIW, I am 100% against the idea of canonised literature - a year or so ago I
nearly flamed someone on this list for presupposing "a canon of 'must read'"
books.  I have probably read no more than 5% of the canon.  No, make that 1%...

> Trust me, I get the whole idea of a shifting lexicon.

OK.  Apologies for the condescension.

> 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.

Fine.  But you didn't say that at all when you were talking about "official"

(As you will probably have guessed, I am of the school that says literary
fiction is a genre in its own right, with no more _intrinsic_ merits than any
other genre)

FWIW I am an engineer who often talks about fantasy with friends and relatives
who read it, but never (thankfully) has to write about it...

> 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.

Again fine.  But like I said, "accepted" definition is a better term than

> 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.

Interesting.  A book that I haven't read in ages, but it has come up three times
now:  "Tangents" by Greg Bear.  It is a collection of short stories, of which I
mentioned the eponymous "Tangents" in my note on the 5th dimension.  The same
story is going to come up again when I get around to replying to Jacob's latest
on TotG.  And now there is another story (sorry, I can't remember the title)
which Bear himself describes as "an urban fairy tale".  I think this story has
strongly influenced how I understand the term "urban fantasy", since afaik it
was the first story I saw so described.  This is far more "of a city" than "dark
and gritty" (oops - better watch out or I'll start posting in rhyme...)

> 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)

Merci du compliment, Madame!

The trouble with you people who are always right is you think you're never

My trouble is that I don't see that the fact of you're being always right should
prevent me from disagreeing with you...

Philip.  (Who finished reading "Someplace to be Flying" at the weekend [1] and
thinks that the fantasy is much darker than the urban setting...)

[1] well, at half past midnight on Friday night actually.  But I had to go back
and read the last chapter again on Saturday morning, because I couldn't remember
the ending!)

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