- Guest Editor’s Column
As is well known, the early narratological approaches that were developed within French structuralism during the 1960s and 1970s already considered narrative to be not only “international, transhistorical, transcultural” but also fundamentally transmedial in the sense that it can occur in an “almost infinite diversity of forms” (Barthes 1977: 79). Overly formalistic and epistemologically naive as what often took the form of “a search for the laws which govern the narrated matter” (Bremond 1980: 387) may appear from the perspective of current literary criticism and media studies, the work of the “high structuralists” (see Scholes 1974: 157) has arguably paved the way for more “media-conscious” contributions to the project of a transmedial narratology, many of which are primarily interested in how various transmedial phenomena manifest themselves across a range of narrative media (see, e.g., the recent in-depth studies by Ciccoricco 2015; Herman 2009; Ryan 2006; Thon 2016; Thoss 2015; and the contributions collected in the first two parts of Ryan and Thon 2014).
While current narratology tends to use the term “transmediality” as referring to representational strategies whose realization “is in each case necessarily media-specific” but which are “nevertheless not bound to a specific medium” (Rajewsky 2005: 46n6), then, a rather different conceptualization of “transmediality” [End Page ix] has simultaneously been developed within media studies during the past few decades. In what is commonly described as “transmedia storytelling” (Jenkins 2006: 96)1 or “transmedial worlds” (Klastrup and Tosca 2004: n. pag.), more or less coordinated efforts are made to provide audiences with entertainment experiences that integrate more than one medium. Being both a highly visible symptom and an important driving force of the development generally referred to as “media convergence” (see, e.g., Brookey 2010; Deuze 2007; Evans 2011; Jenkins 2006; Johnson 2013; and the contributions collected in the third part of Ryan and Thon 2014), the resulting transmedial entertainment franchises represent occasionally rather complex worlds that stretch across the borders of conventionally distinct media and clearly delimited works—and it is this aspect of convergent media culture that the six articles collected in the present issue of Storyworlds aim to illuminate further.2
Marie-Laure Ryan’s article “Transmedia Storytelling: Industry Buzzword or New Narrative Experience?” begins by interrogating the notion that “transmedia storytelling is the most important narrative mode of our time.” Emphasizing that the dominant conceptualization of transmedia storytelling assumes a top-down design that tends to be at odds with the bottom-up process of aggregation characteristic of most existing practices of transmedial world-building, old and new, Ryan still acknowledges that the highly coordinated narrative experience afforded by “top-down transmedia storytelling” remains an influential ideal. After presenting a detailed examination of The Matrix and Alpha 0.7 as two very different instances of “successful transmedia storytelling,” Ryan questions the role that interactivity and participation play in transmedial world-building practices as well as the commonly held view that these practices are best suited to represent fictional and/or fantastic worlds. Concluding that there is “no reason why transmedia storytelling could not take as its subject matter realistic storyworlds, or even the real world,” Ryan’s article serves as a much-needed reminder that the representation of storyworlds across media cannot be conceived as a single monolithic practice.
Focused less exclusively on the rather rare form of “top-down transmedia storytelling” than Ryan, Jan-Noël Thon’s article “Converging Worlds: From Transmedial Storyworlds to Transmedial Universes” further [End Page x] examines the heterogeneity of transmedial world-building practices. Drawing on a conceptualization of storyworlds as intersubjective communicative constructs with a normative component, Thon proposes to distinguish between the local medium-specific storyworlds of single narrative works, the glocal but noncontradictory transmedial storyworlds that may be constructed out of local work-specific storyworlds, and the global and often quite contradictory transmedial universes that may be represented by various kinds of transmedial entertainment franchises. Based on this distinction, Thon analyzes a selection of different cases, ranging from the gradual expansion of a single transmedial storyworld in comparatively small-scale franchises such as The Matrix or Halo, via the more complex combination of redundancy...