Professor Emeritus Martin Barker (Aberystwyth University, UK)

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On being disappointed with The Hobbit: indications of the changing significance of fantasy

The World Hobbit Project (2013-4) was designed to build on the ambitions and achievements of the (2003-4) International Lord of the Rings Project.  It certainly out-topped the earlier project in terms of its scale (46 countries and over 100 researchers involved, recruiting over 36,000 responses).  But in terms of what it added to our knowledge, the later Project could be judged something of a disappointment – because, by common consent, this trilogy of films simply didn’t live up to their billing.  So, what can we learn from the sheer fact of widespread disappointment?  How might this disappointment throw light on what is now expected of ‘fantasy’?  And in turn what light might that throw on the current status of the genre?

Bio: Martin Barker is Emeritus Professor at Aberystwyth University.  Across a lifetime of research he has addressed many topics and areas including: contemporary British racism; children’s comics; media scares; the Iraq war film cycle; and livecasting to cinemas.  In the last 20 years he has particularly focused on the study of film audiences.  These have included studies of audiences for: Judge Dredd; Crash; Being John Malkovich; Alien; and screened sexual violence (funded by the British Board of Film Classification).  He was Principal Investigator for both the International Lord of the Rings Project (2003-4) and the World Hobbit Project (2014-5).  He is currently preparing for his ‘final’ major project, a study of the reception of Game of Thrones.


Associate Professor Susana Tosca (IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark


Fantasy transmediations: the art of making it real

If, as Brian Attebery proposes, fantasy is “one degree more fictional than fiction”, maybe it should just stay in the minds of its creators and audiences. Paradoxically, it does seem that fantasy stories are an excellent source of material objects (merchandise, amusement rides, film locations, cosplay…), some fan-made, some commodified. These objects become suddenly present in the world, and offer fans a feast for the senses and the imagination. But how are they real, if at all? Are they simulacra, props, identitiy symbols, performances, liminal objects? This talk is a cultural reflection on the different ways that fantasy becomes matter and what it can mean to us.

Bio: Susana Tosca is Associate Professor of Digital Aesthetics at the IT University of Copenhagen. Her Ph.D. dissertation, a poetics of hypertext literature, was awarded the summa cum laude distinction in 2001. She has worked for many years on electronic literature, the storytelling potential of computer games, transmediality and complex reception processes, with a side interest in fan activity and the distributed aesthetic formats of the Web 2 era. Her last book is the third edition of Understanding Videogames (Routledge, 2016).


Professor Emerita Liisa Rantalaiho (University of Tampere, Finland)


Using fantasy

The Finnish Hobbit Project sets out to answer empirical questions about the uses of fantasy, “the fantasy” being the Jacksonian Hobbit trilogy. Instead of the answers I wish to ask questions of what is the meaning of use, and to take fantasy more generally. First, whose use are we talking about? The project deals with respondents, uses reported or implied by the audience of the films, but certainly there are other types of users and other questions that are often asked: what is the use of fantasy by its (sub)creators? or the use of fantasy by those who finance the realization? But concentrating now on the audiences, what does it actually mean to use fantasy? Can there be an abuse of fantasy? Does using fantasy imply that fantasy ought to be useful? We hardened fantasy audiences have often been apologetic on behalf of fantasy, arguing that it is useful: it’s not escapist, but serves important and valuable purposes, demonstrates its readers and audiences the problems of oppression, gender, race, etc., and even gives hope that somebody can do something about the problems. And indeed we have a strong case. But these arguments also show that talking about uses of fantasy has an inherent moral aspect.

Bio: Liisa Rantalaiho is a Professor Emerita (Sociology of Health / Gender Studies), a member of the Editorial Board of Fafnir: The Nordic journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research, a fanzine critic, and a Finnish fandom activist.