Most readers of this blog will already have read the news that, after a long debate within the community of fantasy writers and readers, H P Lovecraft is to be replaced as the face of the World Fantasy Award. Not everyone is taking the news gracefully, not least critic S T Joshi who performed an epic flounce, returning his World Fantasy awards and asking never to be nominated again!
I have no intention of rehashing the Lovecraft debate here, it has been had and decisively won, and my feelings on old HP are already on record. The really valuable discussion now is what we replace the existing trophy with. It’s interesting because it cuts to the heart of a very important question for fans and writers of the fantastic – what IS fantasy?
“Fantasy” as a category of storytelling means many things to many people. Even putting aside his explicit racism, Lovecraft was a poor choice as the “face” of a world fantasy award because he represents only a narrow – very narrow – range of fantasy’s broad meanings. But, this isn’t just Lovecraft’s problem, it’s equally true of ANY single author. (And, I would argue, any single iconic fantasy character.) For this reason I also do not support Daniel Jose Older’s widely popular nomination of Octavia Butler to replace Lovecraft. Fantasy contains many great writers, none of whom should be the face of the award.
I also understand the general reluctance of many to embrace any of the prototypical fantasy symbols – wizards towers, dragons, unicorns etc and onward. Dragons definitely have profound significance in epic fantasy, but mean very little in horror, for instance. I’d have no problem collecting a dragon shaped WF award one day, but understand that others might feel differently. However, I do think there is one iconic symbol of fantasy that can stand for the entire field.
The portal connecting one world to another is more than just a staple of fantasy stories. Yes, a magical gateway opened by a sorcerer, and CS Lewis’ magical wardrobe, are tropes within their respective narratives. But the importance of the portal to all fantasy writing reaches much further than that. In The Rhetorics of Fantasy writer, critic and academic Farah Mendelsohn makes a compelling case that all fantasy revolves around the relationship between reality, and the created fantasy of the story. In a sense, whether a portal is explicitly presented or not, all fantasy is about the act of moving through portals between worlds. It seems to me that when we ask what fantasy is, the portal is the most universal of answers.
How would a portal be represented as a three dimensional trophy? There’s really no end of possibilities for skilled artists to explore. It could take a traditional form as a magical gateway, the more horrific image of the shadowy doorway (how many horror stories turn on a decision to walk through the wrong door?), or a more abstract form as a circle or ring.
If you’d like to see the portal chosen to represent the field for the World Fantasy Award then please spread the word, link to this post, and please leave a comment if you have thoughts to share.