"'More Than Human': The Queer Gothic Scientist of the Fin-de-Siècle"
Mark De Cicco
"'A Sort of Mouse-Person': Radicalizing Gender in The Witches"
"The Aesthetics of Risk in Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later"
Jordan S. Carroll
"'Ta'mey Dun, Bommey Dun' (Great Deeds, Great Songs): The Klingon Opera U as Ethnodramaturgical Performance"
"'You Have Grown Very Much': The Scouring of the Shire and the Novelistic Aspects of The Lord of the Rings"
"I Am Not Philip K. Dick"
Jason P. Vest
Jason Fisher’s Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays
Rev. by Emily E. Auger
Ina Karg and Iris Mende’s Kulturphänomen Harry Potter. Multiaddressiertheit und Internationalität eines nationalen Literatur- und Medienevents [The Cultural Phenomenon of Harry Potter: Multiple-audience Directedness and Internationality of a National Literary and Cultural Event]
Rev. by Bruce A. Beatie
L. Andrew Cooper’s Realities: The Impact of Horror Fiction on Modern Culture
Rev. by Ralph Beliveau
Tom Duggett’s Gothic Romanticism: Architecture, Politics, and Literary Form
Rev. by Elizabeth Massa Hoiem
Peter Y. Paik’s From Utopia to Apocalypse: Science Fiction and the Politics of Catastrophe
Rev. by Dale Knickerbocker
Paul Kerry’s The Ring and the Cross: Christianity and the Lord of the Rings
Rev. by Corey Latta
Gregory Jerome Hampton’s Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler: Slaves, Aliens, and Vampires
Rev. by Isiah Lavender, III
Masood Ashraf Raja, Jason W. Ellis, and Swaralipi Nandi’s The Postnational Fantasy: Essays on Postcolonialism, Cosmopolitics and Science Fiction
Rev. by Isiah Lavender, III
Dimitra Fimi’s Tolkien, Race and Cultural History: From Fairies to Hobbits
Rev. by Jennifer L. Miller
Douglas A. Anderson, Michael D. C. Drout, and Verlyn Flieger’s Tolkien Studies: An Annual Scholarly Review, Vol. VII
Rev. by T. S. Miller
Stephen A. Mitchell’s Witchcraft and Magic in the Nordic Middle Ages
Rev. by Rikk Mulligan
Philippe Met’s La Lettre tue: Spectre(s) de l’écrit fantastique [The Letter Kills/Silences: Spectres of Fantastic Writing]
Rev. by Amy J. Ransom
Cynthia Sugars and Gerry Turcotte’s Unsettled Remains: Canadian Literature and the Postcolonial Gothic
Rev. by Amy J. Ransom
Mark Williams’s Fiery Shapes: Celestial Portents and Astrology in Ireland and Wales 700–1700
Rev. by Don Riggs
Sarah Larratt Keefer, Karen Louise Jolly, and Catherine E. Karkov’s Cross and Cruciform in the Anglo-Saxon World: Studies to Honor the Memory of Timothy Reuter
Rev. by Piers Michael Smith
Arthur B. Evans, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Joan Gordon, Veronica Hollinger, Rob Latham, and Carol McGuirk’s The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction
Rev. by Jason P. Vest
Umberto Rossi’s The Twisted Worlds of Philip K. Dick: A Reading of Twenty Ontologically Uncertain Novels
Rev. by Jason P. Vest
Ingrid Thaler’s Black Atlantic Speculative Fictions: Octavia E. Butler, Jewelle Gomez, and Nalo Hopkinson
Rev. by Monty Vierra
Srdjan Smajic’s Ghost-Seers, Detectives, and Spiritualists: Theories of Vision in Victorian Literature and Science
Rev. by Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
Brigid Cherry’s Horror
Rev. by Matt Yockey
"Introduction: In Praise of Anticlimaxes"
Nicholas Birns’s article in this issue deals with the chapter in The Lord of the Rings called “The Scouring of the Shire,” one of the most famous anticlimaxes in literature. Conventional wisdom says that it’s best to stop when the action is over: have the shootout at high noon and then fade to a clinch. Peter Jackson’s film version of The Return of the King left out the scouring chapter entirely. I want to voice a contrary opinion. I like some anticlimaxes. I like the part of a Jane Austen novel when the heroine and hero have finally reached an agreement and then everything else has to be worked out: telling their news, working out where they are to live, settling everyone else’s problems. We are usually too polite to refer to these endings as anticlimaxes, of course. We have come to the denouement; things are being wrapped up; the author is providing closure. Nevertheless, in comparison to the preceding anxiety and misunderstanding, they are anticlimaxes, and the novels would be much the less without them.
Ray Bradbury’s sketch “The Anthem Sprinters” describes Irish movie-goers who make a dash for the door at the end of the film, lest they be forced to listen to the national anthem played after the credits. I have the feeling that many contemporary writers believe all readers to be anthem-sprinters. Creative writing texts no longer make much of the idea of a climax, especially for short fiction, favoring instead the understated and elusive epiphany and the less directed narrative structure often associated with women writers such as Virginia Woolf. In genres such as romance, science fiction, Westerns, and fantasy, though, readers still seek that apex of urgency, that payoff in sex or violence, and the corollary seems to be that after the boom or the bang, all else is wasted words. Following up on the sexual metaphor that underlies the word climax, the denouement of a story is cuddling and conversation, and who wants to stick around for that?
If I like the author’s voice, I want to hear more of it. If I find the imagined world worth visiting, I like the chance to poke around a bit without worrying about the ticking of the narrative clock. I don’t believe that the key to narrative interest is conflict anyway—at least in its primary sense, which compares stories to battles. What keeps me reading is more often a sense of discovery and delight rather than of tension and conflict: the journey rather than the confrontation.
Reading fantasy, I often find myself frustrated at what seem to me to be rushed and ill-considered endings. Perhaps I am looking for more anticlimaxes—at least of the sort constructed by Tolkien, that immeasurably deepens and complicates the story’s moral structure. Tolkien was fond of such endings: he was as interested in the “back again” as in the “there.” Other writers who have provided extended after-the-apocalypse endings include Gene Wolfe and Ursula K. Le Guin. In terms of the central action of the Book of the New Sun, the whole fifth volume of The Urth of the New Sun is an anticlimax. The events and concerns of Tehanu, the fourth book of Earthsea, are entirely outside of the scope of the original trajectory. In both cases, attention shifts to new, formerly secondary characters and unforeseen issues that turn out to be already implicit in the earlier trilogy. Both find a new kind of narrative urgency that is based in something other than the hero’s journey to maturity and mastery.
A better word for this part of a narrative is probably coda, from the Latin word for a tail. In music, a coda is usually in a new tempo or even a new key. It takes the themes of the preceding movement and burlesques them, or sometimes introduces a new theme entirely. Its function is both to counterbalance all that went before and to throw a new light on it. In effect, the coda shifts everything that came before. The tail can wag the dog.
None of the articles in this issue could be considered anticlimactic, nor do most focus particularly on denouements, yet in a sense all critique is a kind of coda. It follows up, reconsiders, and redefines what came before, ideally in interesting and illuminating ways. We begin with Mark De Cicco’s study of that strange coda to the Victorian era known as the fin-de-siècle. His study looks at the late nineteenth-century Gothic revival that blended post-Darwinian science with spiritualism and other pseudoscientific fads to produce some of our most memorable stories of strangeness, or, to use the loaded term deliberately employed here, queerness. An earlier version of De Cicco’s essay won the 2011 Graduate Award at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, and we are pleased to publish it here.
A very different sort of queering takes place in Jennifer Mitchell’s examination of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Mitchell reads the book as a study in transgendering, arguing from considerable textual evidence that we can read “mouse” as an alternative to “boy” and “witch” as a transgressive alternative to “woman.” This reading would, no doubt, have been disavowed by Dahl himself, but he often liked to cover his creative tracks, as in the debate waged in the pages of The Horn Book Magazine between him and Eleanor Cameron, who tried to take him to task for the cruelty implicit in many of his plots. His response was basically, “I couldn’t have written mean stories. I’m a good person.” As Mitchell demonstrates, the stories themselves may be signaling us behind the writer’s back, telling us things that the writer chooses not to know. In this case, those secrets have to do with the way gendered identities are constructed, and can therefore be re- or deconstructed by changing the terms.
Jordan Carroll’s “The Aesthetics of Risk in Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later” looks at the monster that seems to have supplanted the vampire in the popular imagination, the zombie. Carroll focuses on the way present-day anxieties about disease, financial collapse, and crumbling social and physical infrastructures all seem to coalesce around the image of the zombie. Monster movies in general, and zombie stories in particular, encourage us to see the world in terms of risks and risk management, but Carroll suggests that some recent films invite us to look outside that model. The coda here is a post-risk world.
The original Star Trek has had not so much a coda as a whole series of reprises and revivals (with some incarnations, such as Star Trek: Enterprise, being more zombie versions than genuine rebirths). One of the more surprising legacies has been the transformation of a comically villainous race into a fan subculture that goes beyond role-play and costuming into original creative endeavors such as the Klingon opera U. Jen Gunnels combines her interests in theater and ethnography in a study of both the opera itself and its surrounding circles of performance. Since not only the performers onstage but also the spectators are engaged in a complicated simulacrum of scholarly reproduction of an imaginary event from an invented culture, Gunnels’s examination of the opera in its performative context reveals a great deal about our contemporary awareness of cultural difference and the conventionalized and mediated construction of reality.
Finally (of course), we have Nicholas Birns’s study of Tolkien’s “The Scouring of the Shire,” in which Birns argues that by ending his epic fantasy with a decidedly non-fantastic, non-epic series of scenes, Tolkien invokes conventions of the realistic Victorian novel as a way to reframe the preceding actions and themes. In the context of the Shire, heroic deeds and archetypal villains grow smaller, more recognizable, more problematic, and arguably more profound. The ending of The Lord of the Rings shows us that apocalyptic battles are all very well, but someone needs to go on planting gardens, raising children, and dealing with cranky neighbors. Rather than undoing the story’s messages about despair, comradeship, and sacrifice, the ending—or the ending after the ending—is what validates those messages.