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American Fantasy(?)

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  • American Fantasy(?)

    I've been pondering something off-and-on for a few years. It came from an idea sparked by something Mike said a while ago--perhaps about Skayling Tree, though I could be mistaken as my memory of these things aren't as clear as it once was--about how Fantasy literature always falls back on European motifs of pseudo-feudalism, knights in shining armor, and fair maidens derived from the old Romances (now that I think of it, it may have been a passage from one of the essays in Wizardry and Wild Romance which I read around the same time as Skrayling Tree and so has a natural association) but that there isn't a truly American Fantasy. Certainly, there are fantasies by American authors, and modern fantasies that use America as a backdrop (American Gods comes immediately to mind), as well as a few that try to capture the American mythology of the lone hero rising to destroy the evils that the established orders are too paralyzed to act; but, where are the romances of true American origin?

    Perhaps this has something to do with the very ideas of genre and fantasy being tied so closely to those medieval romances that people have trouble extracting it from its European birthplace. Just so, why is this such a problem for writers to overcome? It was already toyed with a couple times by the likes of Longfellow with The Song of Hiawatha and our own Moorcock with the aforementioned Skrayling Tree but the former is relegated to a blip (albeit a big one) in the Romantic Epics and the latter ignored by all save Elric readers and fans.

    I want something that brings to Fantasy what Jazz brought to music and what Wright brought to architecture: an original Usonian construct conceived in womb of American experience and born to the world from the tornadic winds of the prairie.

    Does such a thing exist?

    Could such a thing exist?

    PS: Mods, I just realized that this may be more appropriate in the Genre Discussion forum. If you agree, feel free to move it. Thanks! --E
    Last edited by EverKing; 04-22-2015, 12:45 PM. Reason: Added PS
    "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
    --Thomas a Kempis

  • #2
    A lot of Charles de Lint's work uses elements from Native American myth/folklore, often mixed with Celtic/European stuff. Moonheart has manitous and Taliesin.

    Craig Strete used a lot of Native American themes/traditions in his SFF work.

    But neither of those are really the great american epic like you seem to be after.

    Maybe Joseph Boyden's The Orenda is closer to what you're after, but I think it's more a literary/historical novel with some magical trappings. Also, like de Lint, Boyden is a non-Usian american.

    Manly Wade Wellman's Silver John stories are based on Appalachian folklore.

    I'm sure there's plenty more. Especially from those parts of America that don't fit into El Norte.
    Last edited by Heresiologist; 04-22-2015, 07:27 PM.


    • #3
      I consider Frank L. Baum the USA-culture fantasy writer, but his stuff is pretty out there.
      Thick as wind-blown leaves innumerable, since 1985


      • #4
        American fantasies are called Westerns.


        • #5
          Thongor, I had considered that but still not quite what I had in mind.

          To be an American fantasy it doesn't need to take place in the US but rather be built around and informed by the cultural peculiarities unique to the ol' U. S. of A. A fantasy with political systems and cultures inspired by or derived from First Nations underlying the struggle of individuality vs. societal norms and the State that is so prevalent in the American story. Loose the grand kingdoms and Holy Orders, the formalized social hierarchies within the Fantasy tale and replace them with pseudo-democracies, vigilantes, and massive ethnic inequities under the guise of exceptionalism.

          The western is a good template for it, though. Take a western story and re-frame it in an imaginary realm of magic and spirits.
          "In omnibus requiem quaesivi, et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro"
          --Thomas a Kempis


          • #6
            Heresiologist pretty much nailed it when he suggested the work of Manly Wade Wellman, then. The John the Balladeer stories could only exist in America.
            If you want to get right down to it, the work of Robert E. Howard could be considered the model of American fantasy. Though he wrote of an imaginary Hyborian Age, the adventures of Conan are steeped in Howard's upbringing in the American Southwest. Near the end of the series, he wrote 'Beyond the Black river', which is basically a frontier story featuring Conan, with Picts standing in for American Indians. There's a lot of that in 'The Black Stranger' as well.


            • #7
              I think Stephen King's Talisman and the later novels that became the Dark Tower and associated books constitute an attempt to create a contemporary American Fantasy mythos.

              Horror writers like Lovecraft and later Masterton often mined (albeit crudely) Native American myths for their demons and gods.


              • #8
                'Post apocalyptic' SF has some of what you're talking about.

                Usually stuff with all the 'old country' tropes also has an unrealistic version of old European social structures. where you have a king and nobles and then a bunch of free people.


                • #9
                  Frank L. Baum, definitely. He was writing stories with a strong transgender element, back at the beginning of the last century.The Land of Oz is as fully formed and uniquely American, as Wonderland is English. Then there's Edgar Rice Burroughs, his science fantasies could only have come out of the US.


                  • #10
                    Westerns. Some of the best Westerns are tales of chivalry and high romance.


                    • #11
                      I think Orson Scott Card has written some fantasy using North American culture elements with his Alvin Maker series, but I have not read these ( I know that the author became a cultural outcast but I like to think this happened when he got old )

                      Stephen King's Dark Tower series are a genuine example of superb North American Dark Fantasy.

                      Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" is a genuine American Fantasy work, although Gaiman is British.

                      Tim Powers Dinner At Deviant's Palace, Three Days To Never are excellent examples of North American Dark Fantasy and I guess other of his books ( which I have not read yet ) could fit into this other category like Fault Lines series and the book Declare.

                      But all these are what we might call Modern Day fantasy.
                      "From time to time I demonstrate the inconceivable, or mock the innocent, or give truth to liars, or shred the poses of virtue.(...) Now I am silent; this is my mood." From Sundrun's Garden, Jack Vance.
                      "As the Greeks have created the Olympus based upon their own image and resemblance, we have created Gotham City and Metropolis and all these galaxies so similar to the corporate world, manipulative, ruthless and well paid, that conceived them." Braulio Tavares.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Pietro_Mercurios View Post
                        Frank L. Baum, definitely. He was writing stories with a strong transgender element, back at the beginning of the last century.The Land of Oz is as fully formed and uniquely American, as Wonderland is English. Then there's Edgar Rice Burroughs, his science fantasies could only have come out of the US.
                        Transgender? Do you refer to how Mombi the witch hid Princess Ozma by transforming her into a boy?

                        Anyway, despite the royal ruler of Oz, I think Baum's fantasies have a certain democratic political flavour that's a bit unusual for fantasy. He seems to take a certain pleasure in assigning ridiculously grandiose titles (for instance The Grand Gallipoot of the Nomes) to various leaders as well as indulging a fairly generalized mocking of rank or position based pretensions (for instance, his treatment of the army of Oz -- i.e. initially it's one private and many generals).

                        Also, it's not all Oz fantasy with Baum either. Trot and Cap'n Bill, though they do venture into Oz, also journey to the undersea world of The Sea Fairies and ride a magic umbrella up to Sky Island.

                        One thing there seems to be no hint of in Baum's stories is native people. Maybe that's for the best, though, as I remember reading one rather bloodthirsty editorial of his from his earlier journalist days.

                        Originally posted by opaloka View Post
                        'Post apocalyptic' SF has some of what you're talking about. ...
                        I think Sterling Lanier's Hiero's Journey would be a good example of that, even though the hero is from north of the 49th and rides a telepathic moose.
                        Last edited by Heresiologist; 05-07-2015, 09:16 AM.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Heresiologist View Post

                          Transgender? Do you refer to how Mombi the witch hid Princess Ozma by transforming her into a boy?

                          Considering that said boy, Tip, is the hero of the book, The Marvelous Land of Oz and has a series of adventures with his magical companions, before Mombi is persuaded to return him back to his original form, yes that's what I'm referring to.

                          After following Tip on his adventures, I found the actual scene in the book quite affecting, as a youngster: Princess Ozma of Oz.

                          Extraordinarily subversive... considering.


                          • #14
                            Something touching on North America's varied collection of folklore and mythology. Incorporating such myths as the Jersey Devil, alien greys, reptilians, regional takes on the missing evolutionary link. I don't know if it exists. If it does, I never see it on the shelves at the bookstore.


                            • #15
                              I suppose many Original Americans have more important things to do than writing fantasies, but others have tried to incorporate it. For example, Roger Zelazny in one of his more important novels, "Eye of Cat".
                              "If the environment were a bank, we would already have saved it." -Graffitti.