Panel 2.2 Landscapes in Fixidity and Flux
Christina Scholz, University of Graz, Austria, “‘Lost in the Back Yard Again’: Uncertain Landscapes in M. John Harrison
“There are experiences of landscape that will always resist articulation, and of which words offer only a distant echo. Nature will not name itself. Granite doesn’t self-identify as igneous. Light has no grammar. Language is always late for its subject” (Robert Macfarlane, quoted on M. John Harrison’s blog).
In M. John Harrison’s fiction we encounter wayward landscapes: from the ruins of future cities in the Viriconium books via the rugged peaks shaken and transformed in “Running Down” to the surreal Saudade event site in the Kefahuchi Tract sequence. These landscapes cannot be mapped, categorised, understood, let alone adequately described. They often enable political readings but cannot be reduced to allegory. The earthquake in “Running Down” coincides with a radical change in British politics. On a larger scale, the post-war ruins of Thing Fifty in Empty Space, echoing the name of a ruined city in Viriconium, are rendered like the hallucinatory explosion in Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, like the sky over Harrison’s alien event site inspired by the Strugatskys and Tarkovsky: the description is that of itemised destruction, a list of mundane objects turned alien. In the aftermath of a battle we never witness, Harrison creates a geography of wrong angles, illogical shadows, and erratic physics that remind us of German Expressionism, of Bruno Schulz’ Street of Crocodiles, Lovecraft’s R'lyeh and Carroll’s Wonderland. “Everything was entangled. There was no ground plan.” […] ”You didn't know where to assign value”. Language, maths, physics fail. Nothing matches our memory of how things were. We are left stranded with no direction home. There is no meaning, no order, no working map. Our world has been shattered. Thus, Harrison illustrates one of Weird (Science) Fiction’s strongest points: to show our universe on a rational scale that reveals us as meaningless dots entangled in our own fictional rules of how things work.
Bionote: Christina Scholz is a Research and Teaching Associate at the Centre of Intermediality Studies at the University of Graz, Austria, where she is also writing her PhD thesis on M. John Harrison’s fiction. Her fields of interest include the further theorisation of Weird Fiction, Hauntology and the Gothic imagination, the interrelation of genre fiction and other forms of art, and depictions of war, violence and trauma in the arts. She has a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature.
Karen Graham, University of Aberdeen, UK, “There’s no Place like Oz: Oz Reimagined On Screen and Off”
In the introduction to their short story collection Oz Reimagined, John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen identify L Frank Baum’s Oz as ‘one of the greatest fantasies of our time.’ Oz Reimagined collates stories inspired by L. Frank Baum’s series of children’s books. First published in 1900, Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz spawned thirteen sequels of his own and countless literary and film adaptations. This recent collection of short stories features work from some of the most recognisable names in fantasy fiction and is evidence of the versatility and power of this fantastical land.
Tad Williams’ Oz is a corrupted computer simulation, while Robin Wasserman’s Oz is the psych ward of a mental institution. Rachel Swirsky offers us Oz as reality TV show, whereas Orson Scott Card’s reimaging urges us to look out of the corner of our eyes to reveal Oz lurking behind the ordinary world on Aberdeen, Dakots in 1889. Beyond this recent short story collection, we have the SyFy channel’s mini-series Tin Man where we find our Dorothy in the Outer Zone, or the 1978 musical The Wiz where Oz is a recognisable, if stylised, New York City. And the terrifyingly gothic Return to Oz where Fairzua Balk’s Dorothy is chased around a crumbling Emerald City by creaters called Wheelers.
Each and every version presents the reader with a different Dorothy, a different yellow brick road, a different Oz. And yet, each one remains palpably recognisable as Oz. In this paper, I intend to explore these different Oz’ in order to discover what it is about this fantastic location that proves to be such a fertile space for our imaginations.
Bionote: Karen Graham is a PhD student at the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy, University of Aberdeen, Scotland. Her thesis focuses on the form and transmission of myth in contemporary fantasy literature, using the fiction of Gregory Maguire as a case study. She has undertaken a number of volunteer positions within creative and academic publishing and is an experienced editor of both creative short fiction and academic research anthologies.