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Rhetorics of Fantasy

Farah Mendlesohn

Publication Year: 2013

Transcending arguments over the definition of fantasy literature, Rhetorics of Fantasy introduces a provocative new system of classification for the genre. Utilizing nearly two hundred examples of modern fantasy, author Farah Mendlesohn uses this system to explore how fiction writers construct their fantastic worlds. Mendlesohn posits four categories of fantasy--portal-quest, immersive, intrusion, and liminal--that arise out of the relationship of the protagonist to the fantasy world. Using these sets, Mendlesohn argues that the author's stylistic decisions are then shaped by the inescapably political demands of the category in which they choose to write. Each chapter covers at least twenty books in detail, ranging from nineteenth-century fantasy and horror to extensive coverage of some of the best books in the contemporary field. Offering a wide-ranging discussion and penetrating comparative analysis, Rhetorics of Fantasy will excite fans and provide a wealth of material for scholarly and classroom discussion.

Includes discussion of works by over 100 authors, including Lloyd Alexander, Peter Beagle, Marion Zimmer Bradley, John Crowley, Stephen R. Donaldson, Stephen King, C. S. Lewis, Gregory Maguire, Robin McKinley, China Mieville, Suniti Namjoshi, Philip Pullman, J. K. Rowling, Sheri S. Tepper, J. R. R. Tolkien, Tad Williams

Published by: Wesleyan University Press


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p. 1-1

Half Title

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pp. 2-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4


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p. 5-5


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pp. 6-9


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pp. xi-xii

This work has been a long time in the making. It began as an impromptu way to arrange a presentation on modern children’s fantasy at the Children’s SF and Fantasy conference organized by the Association for Research in Popular Fiction and the Science Fiction Foundation in January 2002, and I am indebted...

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pp. xiii-xxv

This book is not about defining fantasy. The debate over definition is now long-standing, and a consensus has emerged, accepting as a viable “fuzzy set,” a range of critical definitions of fantasy. It is now rare to find scholars who choose among Kathryn Hume, W. R. Irwin, Rosemary...

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1. The Portal-Quest Fantasy

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pp. 1-58

In both portal and quest fantasies, a character leaves her familiar surroundings and passes through a portal into an unknown place. Although portal fantasies do not have to be quest fantasies the overwhelming majority are, and the rhetorical position taken by the author/narrator is consistent...

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2. The Immersive Fantasy

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pp. 59-113

The immersive fantasy is a fantasy set in a world built so that it functions on all levels as a complete world. In order to do this, the world must act as if it is impervious to external influence; this immunity is most essential in its relationship with the reader. The immersive fantasy must take no...

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3. The Intrusion Fantasy

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pp. 114-181

This chapter was originally planned as chapter 2, immediately succeeding the discussion of the portal-quest, of which it seemed a mirror image. It has been moved because I disagree with Brian Stableford’s comment that an intrusive fantasy ipso facto begins in a simulacrum of the real world...

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4. The Liminal Fantasy

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pp. 182-245

Liminal fantasy as I originally conceived it, was that form of fantasy which estranges the reader from the fantastic as seen and described by the protagonist (hence the original designation of “estranged” fantasy” in the original article). A vivid example is to be found in Joan Aiken’s “Yes, But Today is...

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5. “The Irregulars”: Subverting the Taxonomy

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pp. 246-272

The only real purpose of any critical study such as this is to make it possible to open up new lines of inquiry and to lay down new challenges. In the previous four chapters, I have suggested some ways in which the English-language fantasy that has been written in the past hundred years...

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pp. 273-303

Looking back over this book, I hope that I have drawn attention to a set of new questions to ask about fantastic literature. Emerging from the question with which I originally started—What happens if we consider fantasy from the way in which the fantastic enters the text?—have come issues of reader...


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pp. 275-284


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pp. 285-296


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pp. 297-306

E-ISBN-13: 9780819573919
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819568670

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2013