Panel 6.1 Mapping Political Ideologies of Fantastika


Aishwarya Subramanian, Newcastle University, UK, “The Magician’s Map: Textuality, Terrain and Imperial Possession in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Four British children travel to a new land which they are destined to rule, and whose nonhuman inhabitants welcome their new rulers. C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56) serve in many ways as classic examples of imperialist fantasy. Yet the books also contain multiple narratives of organised resistance, of anti- and post-colonial struggle against conquering forces.

This paper will discuss in detail the “Island of Voices” episode in Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952) in order to analyse the interplay across the series as a whole between these two readings of the Narnia books as both colonial and anticolonial fictions. Using the work of Farah Mendlesohn, Maria Cecire and Elleke Boehmer, among others, it will establish a connection between the literary presentation of secondary worlds and of colonised spaces, reinforcing Narnia’s status within the books as a space upon which imperial ambitions can be carried out. Through the figure of the magician Coriakin it will consider the various ways in which these ambitions are carried out through textual means such as mapping, and the larger textuality of Narnia itself. However, it will also position the Island of Voices as a site of subaltern resistance against this imperial and textual possession.

Bionote: Aishwarya Subramanian is a PhD student at Newcastle University, working at the intersection of genre studies, children’s literature and postcolonial theory. She holds a BA in English from Delhi University and an M.Phil. in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Her current project situates mid-20th century British children’s fantasy within the context of the end of empire.


Nick Hubble, Brunel University London, UK, “‘The Kind of Woman Who Talked to Basiliks’: Travelling Light Through Naomi Mitchison’s Landscape of the Imaginary”

Naomi Mitchison’s 1952 short fantasy novel, Travel Light, is an alternative version of the Oedipus story in which the child abandoned at birth is a young girl, Halla, who is rescued by her nurse in bear form and then brought up by dragons, before becoming involved with other people. Travel Light shares one of its settings, Marob, with her earlier novel, The Corn King and the Spring Queen (1931), and more generally relates to the classical backgrounds that dominated Mitchison’s pre-war fiction from her first novel, The Conquered (1923) to The Blood of the Martyrs (1939). I will briefly contextualise Travel Light within Mitchison’s oeuvre, arguing that it represents a link between that earlier fiction and her Memoirs of a Spacewoman (1962). Then, drawing on John Clute’s ‘Notes on the Geographies of Bad Art in Fantasy’, I will explore how Halla’s progression through the stages identified by Clute of Wrongness, Thinning, Recognition and Return maps out a landscape that is ‘Imaginary’ rather than ‘Symbolic’. Finally, I will conclude by suggesting that Mitchison’s concept of ‘travelling light’ generates a model of traversing the patriarchal contours of landscape that still obtrude into the Imaginary, which can be seen informing the work of subsequent writers, such as her one-time protégé, Doris Lessing’s The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five (1980).


Bionote: Dr Nick Hubble (Brunel University London) is the author of Mass-Observation and Everyday Life: Culture, History, Theory (2006), the co-editor of The Science Fiction Handbook (Bloomsbury, 2013), and has written articles for Extrapolation, Foundation, and Vector. Their chapter, ‘Naomi Mitchison: Fantasy and Intermodern Utopia’ appeared in Alice Reeve-Tucker and Nathan Waddell, eds, Utopianism and Twentieth-Century Literary Cultures (2013).


Sarah Lohmann, Durham University, UK, “Relocating Utopia: Complexity Theory and the Emergence of Utopia in Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man”

In my paper, I will employ recent insights in complexity and emergence theory to show how two feminist utopias of the late 20th century, Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, provide a radical new approach to the utopian city or community by portraying its development not as a linear process, but as a complex adaptive system that emerges from a fundamental rethinking of the nature of reality – thereby locating the utopian community not elsewhere in space or time, but elsewhere on a metaphysical level.

After examining how the idea of the city as a self-organising system or network has previously been explored by writers and urban studies scholars such as Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of the Great American Cities (1961) and Jonathan Raban in Soft City (1974), I will propose a reading of these novels as presenting the utopian city or community in the form of the complex adaptive systems described by complexity theorists such as Ilya Prigogine, Paul Cilliers and Mark C. Taylor. This reading, I will argue, contributes a crucial new perspective to the academic literature on feminist utopias of this period, which centres around monographs by Tom Moylan, Angelika Bammer and Frances Bartkowski. Drawing some brief historical comparisons, I will suggest that these novels are ground-breaking not only in their feminist approach to utopia, or even in that they describe dynamic communities that are open to change. Instead, their value lies in the fact that they are inherently dynamic by virtue of describing both their utopian communities and the quest for utopia on their narrative level as inherently dynamic complex systems. Giving a few examples, I will show how these novels demonstrate the dynamic non-linear emergent structure of their utopias and their self-organising capacity to generate the surprising and radically new, for example by employing ‘attractors’ and feedback systems to constantly bring about the emergence of utopia and by highlighting the ‘building blocks’ whose convergence generates structured utopian patterns over time.

In doing so, I will demonstrate the value of these feminist utopias as uniquely effective complex systems simulations that employ the form of the novel in new ways to explore its potential. Ultimately, I will argue that they thus showcase an imaginative new framework for how a truly sustainable, non-fictional, utopian city or community might come into being, thereby providing much-needed insights into contemporary debates on community-building, political agency, and equality-driven change.

Bionote: Sarah Lohmann is a first-year PhD student at Durham University, researching 21st-century feminist utopias under the supervision of Professor Patricia Waugh. Previously, she completed an MA (Hons) degree in English Literature and Philosophy as well as MLitt degrees in both English Literature and Philosophy at the University of St Andrews.