Fantasycon 2018 19th - 21st October.
The Queen Hotel Chester, UK
Fantasycon 2018 is delighted to
announce our Guest of Honour:
Farah Mendlesohn was editor of Foundation; the international review of Science Fiction from 2001-2007, went on to co-edit the BSFA and Hugo Award winning Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction and its sequel, the Cambridge Companion to Fantasy, with Edward James. Rhetorics of Fantasy (2009) won the BSFA award for non-fiction and a Hugo nomination. An Introduction to Children’s Fantasy Literature, with Michael M. Levy won the World Fantasy Award and the Mythopeic Award for criticism. In 2019, The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinelein will be released from Unbound. In a change of direction, Farah Mendlesohn is currently working on a book on novels written about the English Civil War, and has taken over as Managing Editor of the queer historical publisher Manifold Press. Farah is also the convenor for the Historical Fictions Research Network and co-convenor for the Diana Wynne Jones 2019 convention in Bristol next year.
Although I was aware of Farah's academic work, I first came across her personally in social media in her roles behind the scenes at conventions, where she can frequently be found. Among other roles, she is active in supporting access for disabled people to conventions of all kinds and in particular championed an issue I had with access at Worldcon 75.
Reading Farah Mendlesohn
Farah has written and edited a large number of books, articles and papers, primarily literary criticism and understanding of the science fiction and fantasy genres, including looking at genre works for children and young adults.
Many of her works have been award nominated, but I will focus on the ones that received the most accolades; Rhetorics of Fantasy (2008) authored by Farah, The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, edited with Edward James, and Children’s Fantasy Literature: an introduction, with Michael M. Levy along with other seminal fantasy texts she has written.
Farah co-edited The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction in 2003. This is a collection of essays from academics and authors that discuss and define science fiction. Within the essays are discussions of themes and sub genres, the history of science fiction, a section on religion and science fiction authored by Farah herself and also presents four critical approaches looking at the genre in relation to Marxism, postmodernism, feminism and queer theory. Those who read critical articles will recognise the names of many of the academics including John Clute, Andrew Butler, Damien Broderick and Gary Wolfe in addition to some of the science fiction authors.
Rhetorics of Fantasy (2008) is a detailed study of the fantasy genre that attempts to provide some critical frameworks drawn from a selection of genre stories over the last sixty years. It is refreshing in that some of these frameworks are not immediately welded to other genres, such as science fiction or horror, giving us a sense of fantasy as a unique entity. Farah's four groups of fantasy stories are arguable, but in many ways that is the point. Rhetorics is the start of a conversation and sets the table for a discussion on the qualities of the fantasy genre beyond the considerations of horror and science fiction.
Rhetorics of Fantasy demonstrates the depth of scholarly research done to ensure its findings. Of particular interest is a detailed engagement with popular late twentieth century and early twenty-first century stories, which are often absent from other critical tomes or sneered at with a passing reference or two.
This theme is continued in A Short History of Fantasy (2009) which Farah co-authored with Edward James. In this, we have a roadmap of the genre from the beginning of the twentieth century right up to the end of the last decade. Again, there is a waying of the critical frameworks. What is fantasy for? How do we define it? Once we have a working definition, we are away and can follow the path through a vast array of stories that provide innovative and unique contributions to our genre.
In 2012, Farah and Edward James shared editorial duties again on The Cambridge Companion To Fantasy Literature (2012). This collection of essays from some of genre fiction’s most notable scholars, explores a range of fantasy and its differing flavours.
Children’s Fantasy Literature, co authored with Michael Levy, is a look at the history, themes and relevance of books in this area, drawing on examples from familiar and less well known authors. Farah's interest in literature for children and young adults, shown in this and her other publications, demonstrates a recognition that we all need to think about the qualities of fiction aimed at this group and step beyond the texts that were impressionable to us at this age.
In Farah’s work there is a keen sense that the author understands the work she is studying and is weighing up each text to create a critical tapestry of the genre's qualities. Her understanding does not feel static, but instead acknowledges the need for continual update, reassessment and change.
Farah's support of other critical writers in the genre is also noteworthy. Many books cite her work and many more offer testimony and dedication to her for help and encouragement, this caring approach is also reflected in the sections of her website offering help and support to PhD students and others in academia.