Genre prejudice

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Thu Jul 17 16:57:22 EDT 2003


Roger asked:

>>[2] "What?", "What If?" and "What Then?" make a
>>pleasing sequence.
>What I'm failing to see, I think, is the distinction between "What If?"
>and "What Then?". Can you suggest examples of stories that are squarely
>in one camp or the other?

"What Then?" isn't a chronological thing, as far as I could make out (maybe
that would be called "What Next?" fiction, and would apply to the book that
is obviously part of a series that will go on...)  I suppose it might be
better if it were  "What, Then?" or something.  It means "what follows from
that?" in the sense "what's the next logical step?" rather than the sense
"what's going to happen on the day after the one they all live happily
ever..."

Oh, um... Like all categorising of fiction, this is purely subjective, and
anyone else's ideas will be just as valid as mine.  But I can try.  I would
suggest that

*Wilkins' Tooth* is a "What If?".  It sets a problem, provides an answer,
and  mostly gives questions that are inside the book, with answers inside
the book.

*Howl's Moving Castle* is a "What If?*, because it too sets a particular
problem, and providing the answer to that problem is within the book, and
doesn't raise too many further questions outside it.

*A Tale of Time City* is a "What Then?"  There's a whole lot of stuff left
over as one reads that still needs to be considered, like whether or not
Time City and its rulers are justified in the way they manipulate
everything, and whether sorting out the immediate problem has been enough,
or there are going to be ramifications from that.  And all the way through
there are possible side-tracks that don't get followed up, but which are
there whilst you read it.

*The Homeward Bounders* is a "What Then?" too, I think.  There are big wide
bits of question apart from just "How do we stop the world from being a
nasty-chess board for demons?"  It's about a lot of other things as well...


Most of DWJ is "What Then?", as far as I am concerned, perhaps excepting
the work for younger readers like "Yes Dear".  (And even that... the
ungendered nature of the child is a thought-provoker: why do small-children
books have a boy or a girl being a boy or a girl at an age when mostly they
are more "child" than they are either?  How many other books have a central
figure who is simply boy-or-girl-doesn't-matter the way Kay is?  At what
age do children start having to have their role-models being of their own
sex?)

In fact, I think Jenne put her finger on what it was coming round to when
the original discussion got sidetracked into Tolkien and stories going on
forever but one stops telling them at some point: "What Then?" fiction is
the stuff that challenges one's mind...  (hunts for the quote)

"In other words, does this book make me conceptually _think_?"

In the Encyclopedia of Fantasy in the entry "genre fantasy", John Clute
suggests that "on being confronted by a genre fantasy book, one
/recognises/ it; one has been here before, and the territory into which the
book takes one is familiar -- it is Fantasyland."  (He goes on to say that
"the purpose of the full fantasy [...] is to release or even to catapult
the reader into new areas of the imagination.")  As with genre fantasy, so
with Genre any-label, I suspect, including Genre Literary.  That's why one
needs something as a type that is outside or above or beyond any of the
genres, to signal the books that are a cut above yer usual thriller (or
whatever) and make the reader Think.

Minnow


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