Panel 1.2 – Narrative Structures of Fantastika


Thomas Tyrrell, Cardiff University, UK, “‘Milton said it. And he was blind.’ Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Paradise Lost

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy has attracted critical interest by rewriting Paradise Lost, but comparable work by writers in the comic book medium has been neglected. Focussing particularly on the work of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, this paper explores the introduction of Miltonic motifs and locations into the DC Universe, arguing that Milton’s own War in Heaven anticipates the Manichean narrative of early comic-book narratives. Meanwhile, the generic challenge posed by Paradise Lost, which has led some critics to refer to it as an ‘anti-epic’, parallels Moore and Gaiman’s innovations in the comic book medium.

My particular focuses are Alan Moore’s ‘Footsteps’ in Secret Origins: #10, which draws heavily on Paradise Lost and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman: Season of Mists, wherein by overhearing and absorbing Milton’s Satan, Gaiman’s Lucifer is freed to veer away from his Miltonic character, and become - for the first time in centuries - dramatic, surprising and unpredictable. The paper concludes by discussing Gaiman’s ‘Murder Mysteries’, produced outside the auspices of DC comics but within the Sandman canon. His structure parallels Paradise Lost, but his substitution of murder mystery for epic warfare highlights the innovation he brings to the familiar narrative pattern.


Bionote: Thomas Tyrrell is a PhD student at Cardiff University. His thesis is entitled Remapping Milton: New Cartographies of Influence. He wishes this bionote was as witty as the ones in the back pages of The Sandman.


Chris Hussey, University of Cambridge, UK, “And to stretch from UnLondon to London  is a very long way indeed”: Exploring Relationships with Real and Fantastic Place in China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun

Place is essential in our lives, grounding and locating us, and our lives are lived through it. Similarly, within fiction, every text requires a place for the narrative or action to occur, whether real or imagined. The limitless affordances of the fantasy genre give authors the chance to construct places that capture the imagination, like Wonderland, Narnia or Hogwarts, but presents questions of how a reader may relate to or identify with intangible places. Does the basis therefore of a fantastic place upon a real place help facilitate engagement for a reader?

Stemming from my doctoral research on relationships with real and literary place, this paper extends further into theorising how readers’ relationships with the fantastic may be mediated through the textual portrayal of real places, considered through the lens of the urban contemporary novel Un Lun Dun (2007) by China Miéville. The text bridges London and the fictional UnLondon, a quirky subversive parallel city that draws heavily on its real counterpart’s landmarks.

Driven by a fantasy quest narrative that sees both cities endangered, I believe the basis on real place allows Miéville to draw upon London’s diversity and multiplicity to create a setting that allows for the exploration of pressing social issues that are influential in the lives of readers today. Engaging with how Miéville constructs UnLondon through his subversion and parody within the novel, I will explore how he demarcates both cities as distinctly individual, whilst exploring the way in which they intersect. I will consider how this interconnection and basis on one another influences the reader’s relationship with place, as well as how their separation creates what I believe to be a liminal space in between in which the relationship with fantastic place is conceived, and where notions of place-identity are formed that help to locate us.


Bionote: I’m embarking on my PhD journey at the University of Cambridge, exploring real and literary place in children’s literature, questing to continue collecting letters after my name. I balance part-time study with working for the charity Early Education, indulging both my love of children’s literature and education at every opportunity.


Tim Jarvis, University of Bedfordshire, UK, “‘A Perichoresis, an Interpenetration’: Place and the Representational Praxis of Weird Fiction”

China Miéville has characterized the description of the monstrous in the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, its ‘frenzied succession of adjectives,’ as being, ‘in its hesitation, its obsessive […] stalling of the noun, an aesthetic deferral according to which the world is always-already unrepresentable, and can only be approached by an asymptotic succession of subjective pronouncements,’ (Miéville 2009: 511-512).

In Lovecraft’s work, these moments of weird description occur in a context of meticulous mimesis, in fact the weird effect relies upon the clash of different strategies; the ‘frenzied succession of adjectives’ is weird, rather than surreal or fantastic, because of its realist context, because we attempt to read the jumble of incommensurate senseless descriptors as realism and our brain baulks. As Lovecraft argues in his ‘Notes on Writing Weird Fiction’ (1936), ‘[i]nconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to overcome, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel,’ (Lovecraft 2009: unpaginated).

The key argument of this paper is that weirdness in fiction can, in part, be defined by a combination of disparate representational praxes, that weird fictions are texts of fantastika that are chimerical hybrids of mimetic and fantastic approaches. It is claimed that this is what gives rise to what Miéville has termed weird fiction’s ‘radicalized sublime backwash,’ the Weird’s chaotic infection the world, its demonstration that things were never what we thought them to be, but were always already Weird.

This paper will explore why the Weird’s particular representational strategy means that place, setting are crucial to weird texts, something that explains the strong ties weird authors often have to particular settings, both real and invented. It will also explore how representational praxes in fiction are related to different philosophical models of our relation to the world and why the Weird might be allied to ideas that have sought, without falling back on conventional materialism, to challenge the twentieth century critical theoretical orthodoxy that the world is linguistically constituted.


Lovecraft, H. 2009. ‘Notes on Writing Weird Fiction’, on The H.P. Lovecraft Archive [accessed 03/04/2015]

Miéville, C. 2009. ‘Weird Fiction’, in M. Bould, et al (eds) The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction. Oxford: Routledge, pp.510-515)

Bionote: Tim Jarvis is a writer and a lecturer in Creative Writing. He has research interests, as a practitioner and critic, in the fields of the Gothic, experimental and innovative fiction, contemporary literature, and Creative Writing pedagogy. His debut novel, The Wanderer, was published in summer 2014.


Farah Mendlesohn, Anglia Ruskin University, UK, “The Structural Narratives of the SF Short Story”

This paper argues that there is a distinct structure to the science fiction short story which emerges from the embrace of Reason as the underlying ideology of the genre. This paper will explore the Reasonable Structure in a number of classic science fiction stories.


Bionote: Farah Mendlesohn is the Head of the Department of English, Communication, Film and Media at Anglia Ruskin University.