The Varied World of Fantastic: Uses of Fantasy in Changing Media Landscape Seminar

 

On the 20 – 21 October our project held a seminar called Uses of Fantasy in Changing Media Landscape at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. The speeches, presentations and discussions ranged from the reception to medium and genre specific uses of speculative fiction. In the end, the seminar’s participants argued for more research on the growing significance and variety of fantastic in the contemporary world.

The seminar was opened by Professor Raine Koskimaa of the University of Jyväskylä, who in his brief address reminded the audience that fantasy offers vast universes to explore, but also that one should not forget the many levels on which technology is a part of this world building. Prof. Koskimaa was followed by the first keynote speaker of the day, Emerita professor Liisa Rantalaiho of the University of Tampere, who concentrated on the first words in the name of the seminar in her speech concisely titled Using Fantasy. Her speech keyed on the issue of use, first discussing how fantasy has been seen as useless or useful from different perspectives, for example, citing Tolkien’s thoughts on the matter. She further discussed the age old tension between escapism and estrangement that has influenced the discussion about the role of fantasy.

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Emerita professor Liisa Rantalaiho giving her keynote titled “Uses of Fantasy”.

Prof. Rantalaiho’s address was followed by the second keynote by Emeritus professor Martin Barker of the Aberystwyth University titled On Being Disappointed with The Hobbit: Indications of the Changing Significance of Fantasy . Prof. Barker took the conversation to the ending of the seminar’s name, i.e. the changing media landscape and the disappointment expressed in the reception of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. Through examining the feeling of disappointment that was strongly expressed in some of the answers to The World Hobbit Projects’ survey, he argued that there has been a change in how fantasy is received and what functions it performs in the contemporary society. He, furthermore, called for more research on this topic; this shared, varied world of fantasy that is a growing in significance.

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Emeritus professor Martin Barker giving his keynote titled “On Being Disappointed with The Hobbit: Indications of the Changing Significance of Fantasy

After the keynotes and a lunch break the seminar divided into two parallel sessions. Session I concentrated on the television serie Game of Thrones and the need to move away from the question of fidelity that has traditionally haunted adaptation studies to a more transmedial view as well as how reactions to the fate of the serie’s character Hodor can be used to discuss questions of mourning and carnivalization of death. Meanwhile, Session II moved in a varied fashion through speculative fiction with looks into gene technology and parenthood to the phenomenon of zombilution in the contemporary society and, finally, to anthropological points of view into writing speculative fiction.

After a coffee break parallel session number three discussed people using toys and social networks to create fantasies of adult life as well as how Pablo Escobar created a dark fantasy of himself through an intertextual zoo. Simultaneously, in the fourth session the discussion concentrated on questions of transmedia and intertextuality three papers discussing the reception of the films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s works and fantasy novels influenced by them. After a heavy dose of speculative fiction, the participants retired for the conference dinner at the nearby Sohwi to discuss topics related and unrelated to the day’s event.  

Friday was started by Associate Professor Susana Tosca of IT University of Copenhagen, whose keynote lecture, Fantasy Transmediations: the Art of Making It Real,  focused on transmedial objects such as clothes, figures, and amusement parks that have incarnated into our “real world” from the immaterial, non-existent fantasy world. She stated that the items can, in a manner of speaking, mimic or represent the fantasy world and carry meanings for their possessors, just as the religious objects can be taken as transubstantiated items rather than only symbols of what they represent. In addition, the fantasy stories may also offer a new kind of alternative spiritual tale for the fans. Assoc. Prof. Tosca also pointed out that despite the negative dimensions of our consumer society, the consumption of this kind of material stuff can have its positive effects due to the empowering nature of spirituality the fans  experience.

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Associate professor Susana Tosca giving her keynote titled “Fantasy Transmediations: the Art of Making It Real”

After the keynote, Professor Raine Koskimaa presented some of the results of our project Uses of Fantasy – The World Hobbit Project in Finland. For more on the results, see below:

After the keynote session and the results from the Hobbit project the crowd divided into the final parallel sessions. One session discussed the changes occurring in the adaptation process from one media to another as well as the more transmedial approaches when a product is made simultaneously onto two different media platforms. In the meantime, the other session examined comics by concentrating on how authors experiment with medium-specific possibilities transgressing boundaries between stories and story-worlds.

When the sessions ended, the keynote lecturers Barker and Tosca joined with the representatives of the University of Jyväskylä, Senior Researcher Urpo Kovala, Professor Raine Koskimaa and Researcher Irma Hirsjärvi, to discuss the future of fantasy research. According to them, it is quite apparent that the fantasy landscape is chancing and has changed during the recent years: now instead of being a genre appealing only few, it reaches large audiences, and, as someone noted from the crowd, has got rid of the nerd stigma it once had. Hirsjärvi also commented the appliances the fantasy research may have in the future, by depicting the unfortunate recent events in Finland with the refugee center attacks. Could the fantasy research help to explain why and how some of us see the world in such a different way? All in all, the field of fantasy research was agreed to be off to a running start but at the same time, in need of many new researchers and studies.

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Our keynotes Martin Barker, Susana Tosca, and Liisa Rantalaiho.

By Jani Ylönen and Mari Koskela

           

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