The magical land : ecological consciousness in fantasy romance

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

The modern genre of fantasy romance is a relatively recent development in popular literature, and one which is gaining increasing popularity. In its contemporary form, fantasy romance has developed from earlier fantasy and romance forms, and a generic base which includes romance, comedy and pastoral can be identified. Conventional fantasy romance is concerned with the defense of a magical land, characterised in terms of beauty, health and balance, from some destructive threat. This concern with the health of the land reflects modern ecological consciousness and awareness of potential environmental destruction. Ecological awareness can be traced through critical analysis of various works of fantasy romance. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, as the text which marked the beginning of the modern fantasy romance form, shows the potential for ecological awareness in the genre, although Tolkien's cultural context of post-war England in some ways inhibits ecological consciousness in the narrative. The development of a more modern ecological consciousness is studied through investigation of the Riddlemaster trilogy of Patricia A. McKillip, which shows a more abstracted sense of environmental destruction expressed through a concern with power and identity. Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant provides a narrative awareness of generic convention which could be construed as postmodern. Derrida's deconstruction of the notion of genre allows an interesting insight into Donaldson's processes of generic mixing, although the narrative's success is ultimately compromised by Donaldson's lack of authorial control. Sheri S. Tepper's True Game series displays a highly contemporary conflation of ecological concerns with those of feminism, as the destructive impulses of largely male competitiveness are contrasted to an organic and intuitive female response to the land. Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series, in its depiction of an alternative settler America, integrates ecological concerns with those of racial harmony, while his construction of a messianic hero recalls Card's own Mormon background. Finally, some attention is given to fantasy romance as a potentially escapist genre rather than one which inspires actual ecological awareness, and links are made with popular elements in the ecological movement itself. The thesis concludes by proposing the relevance of fantasy romance's magical land as a regenerative ideal of health and beauty in an increasingly ugly and ecologically deteriorating modern environment.

Bibliography: p. 133-137.