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It is 'Urban Fantasy' - which I'd first encountered through Neil Gaiman's exquisite "Sandman" series, and then later found in a series called "The Books of Magic."
Like most of us, I suspect, I'd grown up with the fantasy fiction of people like Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis, and later discovered Alan Garner.
Enid Blyton's fantasy is whimsical and inventive - but as a grown-up I became pretty cheezed-off at how all the adults in her fantasy stories had no sense of adventure; would rather stay at home washing the dishes than see what was at the top of the Magic Faraway Tree that week. (Cripes! I was glad I never turned out to be that sort of grown-up, but this is a topic for another essay.)
C.S. Lewis was an introduction to epic fantasy in a magical other world. Enjoyable - but distant. I had little hope of ever finding a magic wardrobe. (This type of other-world fantasy, mostly set in a medieval type of place, is the most popular kind of fantasy today - but it was never my favourite sort.)
Alan Garner wrote one story partly set in another realm - the powerfully poetic and frighteningly intense "Elidor" - but his other books have been different.
In his early book "The Weirdstone of Brisingamen" (1960) I found the seeds of the sort of fantasy I like best. This book and its sequel "The Moon of Gomrath" (1963) are remarkable because they are not other-realm fantasies. They are set in the 'real' world in what was then contemporary times - and yet still manage to contain more magic & wonder than many other later tales set firmly in Fantasyland.
Alan Garner said once: "If we are in Eldorado, and we find a mandrake, then OK, so it's a mandrake: in Eldorado anything goes. But, by force of imagination, compel the reader to believe that there is a mandrake in a garden in Mayfield Road, Ulverston, Lancs, then when you pull up that mandrake it is really going to scream; and possibly the reader will too."3.
3 Philip, Neil (1981). "A Fine Anger: A Critical Introduction to the Work of Alan Garner". London: Collins. ISBN 978-0-00-195043-6.
This was the key! Bring fantasy out of the past, out of magical other realms, and childhood - and thrust it plainly into the present, the familiar, the everyday world.
Alan Garner's works 'work' because he does this so well. His books are both vividly realistic and powerfully imaginative - and he plugs straight into archetypes.
This enmeshing of the fantastic in the mundane can be done well or badly. At it's worst it is silly and I have no time for it - but at its best it is mesmerising.
How well it is done depends on the skill of the writer and the power of their imagination. Traditional other realm fantasy is 'easy' because the rules are known and we have a vast cast of stereotyped characters to play with4 - but when we are writing in the area of 'urban fantasy' we have to create many of our own rules. It is a 'harder' form of fantasy to write.
4 See: Jones, Diana Wynne. "The Tough Guide to Fantasyland." London : Vista, 1996.
But it fascinates me for archetypal reasons. I love the notion of magic and mystery at the heart of the technological world - and I believe that fantasy is potentially too important to restrict to the minds of children.
I like to think (against all reason) that the magic hasn't fled from the world, and that at its heart the world remains as marvellous and wonderful and magical as it has always been.
I want a divine integration - a transformation of the mundane shell of the world (and the psyche) by energies from within.
The flowering of fantasy in this modern age may show that people are seeking desperately for magic at the heart of the world - green flowers in the heart of the city5.
5 Fantasy could be perceived as a symptom of a desire to return to, or create, a simpler more human-oriented world, where we are allowed to express our repressed innate natures, and to at last elevate the human-being to the high pedestal now occupied by the products of science and technology. (It might link with the concept of "Biophilia." This is a topic for another essay!)
Copyright © 2000 by Michael F. Green. All rights reserved.
Last Updated: 21 June 2020