Anthony’s Notes: “Howl’s Moving Castle”

Corey already did an excellent review, so this is just my personal impressions after having just finished the film.

“Howl’s Moving Castle”, going by reviews and the Rotten Tomatoes score, is considered “lesser Miyazaki”, as Corey said. This utterly baffles me. Thus far in the Miyazaki retrospective it’s one of my favorite films.

I think it’s that people miss the point of it. I’ve seen people criticize the ending before; “Howl’s” ends on a  happily ever after note after several scenes that seem to make such an ending completely impossible. Some people thought it was a cheat, or a cliche, or a cop-out.

This is because they do not understand fairy tales. Fairy tales end in two ways: They either have grotesque endings (see much of the Brothers Grimm if you want examples of those), or they have happy endings. That’s it; there’s no in-between ending for a fairy tale, no “mostly happy” ending. Fairy tales exist to make a particular point: True love conquers all. Work hard and persevere and the universe will reward you. Be lazy or evil and suffer horrible consequences.

And the point of “Howl’s Moving Castle” is that Sophie’s love for the people of Howl’s Castle, and Howl’s love for Sophie, redeemed and saved them all. That’s the message, and to not give it a fully happy ending you lessen it. People who argue that it’s overly simplistic don’t understand what Miyazaki was doing. When you look at the ending of “Howl’s Moving Castle” from the perspective of the fairy tale, it not only succeeds, it succeeds brilliantly. The ending couldn’t be more perfect.

Some criticize the story as over-complicated. I suppose that’s a matter of taste; I was never at a loss as to what was happening. Some of the stuff that happened to Sophie near the end of the film seemed to come sort of out of nowhere, but again, it’s a fairy tale; in fairy tales, a certain amount of coincidence or randomness is allowed so long as it services the main point – like the animals in “Cinderella” coming together to help Cinderella with her chores.

And yes, the anti-war message was more simplistic than it was in “Princess Mononoke”, but fairy tales exist to make simple points, and there’s no denying that the imagery of Howl’s transformation into a hideous bird-monster was powerfully effective.

The film was not as good as “Princess Mononoke” or “Spirited Away”. It didn’t have the moral or metaphysical depth of either of those films. But looked at from the perspective of what Miyazaki was attempting to accomplish, it was a smashing, brilliant success, and for that reason – to me, anyway – it is not only NOT lesser Miyazaki, but in fact stands as one of his very best films.

The Miyazaki Retrospective: Miyazaki Got Game

A guest post by my sister Mariel Marchetta, assistant editor and co-writer of “God, Robot”.

So as a woman, and a young one at that, it might not be surprising that I tend to be a fan of a good romance in my stories. I’m certainly no fan of The Notebook by any means, but there’s nothing like a well executed romantic subplot. My recent foray into Miyazaki has been three movies so far–Castle in the Sky, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke, in that order–and each one has included a romance, and each one has caused me to reflect on the way we approach romance in western animation. I’m not an anime fan, so I don’t know if it is a culture-wide difference, but whatever the reason, there is something about Miyazaki’s approach that is just fundamentally different; something that I think a lot of aspiring storytellers could learn from.

Let’s start with the most obvious: there is no Big Damn Kiss. At first I thought this might be attributed to the characters’ ages. After all, Pazu and Sheeta are at most 14, just on the border of being too young for romance, and Chihiro is only 10 in Spirited Away. But the trend continues in Princess Mononoke, with protagonists that have to be at least 16 years old, and probably older. Despite their obvious deep devotion to each other, despite other characters commenting on how in love Ashitaka is, the most the two get is a hug. And yet, you find yourself rooting for them just as much as any couple in a Disney movie. So what is it that makes this work?

The secret lies in two things. The first is that Miyazaki never puts the focus on the romance. There is no moment in those films that feels like it was put there to show their compatibility. For example, in Tangled, there is a scene where Rapunzel and Eugene explore the kingdom of Corona; it’s basically just a montage of them having fun together and Bonding, all to lead up to the Oscar bait love song they share. Western movies have these kinds of things all the time; here’s a falling in love montage, here’s them getting a moment to just talk to each other to show their chemistry.

Miyazaki doesn’t do that. The romance doesn’t come in big moments, but in small gestures during the big moments. One of my favorite moments in Castle in the Sky is when Pazu and Sheeta are keeping watch together while staying with the Dola gang. Pazu shares his blanket with her, tells her that it’s great that they could keep watch together, and promises that when they find Laputa he wants to go back to the place she grew up. But narratively its purpose is for Sheeta to give exposition that sets up how they defeat General Muska at the end; it is never about Pazu and Sheeta’s relationship. Even the scene of them laughing and rolling in the grass together after landing on Laputa is really an excuse to show off the stunning visuals of the floating city. Likewise Spirited Away uses scenes of Haku imparting important exposition to Chihiro interspersed with small gestures like giving her food and having a genuine smile on an otherwise cold face. Even in Princess Mononoke most of the romance comes from the intensity of Ashitaka’s devotion to protecting San during climatic battles.

That’s not to say ‘bonding moments’ are bad, of course. Where would Aladdin be without ‘A Whole New World?’ Or Lion King without ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’ But there is something authentic and refreshingly organic about the way Miyazaki weaves together small moments to let the viewer figure it out for themselves. When Pazu begs Dola to let him join her to rescue Sheeta from the army and exclaims that ‘Sheeta means everything to me!’ after knowing her all of a day and a half (maybe), we believe him. Not because we were given a montage of them falling in love, but because they’ve had each other’s backs 100% of the time up until that point. You don’t need a declaration of love when Sheeta gives up her freedom and throws herself into Pazu’s arms before tearfully sending him away to protect him. It feels more like the romance happened because that’s just who the characters are, not because he wrote it intending one from the start.

There’s something else about a Miyazaki romance that I think really speaks to the superversiveness that permeates his work. Love is never, ever a weakness. Now that isn’t to say that it’s portrayed as a weakness in a Disney movie, per se, but it’s certainly an obstacle at times. Hercules almost dies because he gave up his strength for Meg’s freedom, Eugene almost dies because he cuts off Rapunzel’s hair rather than letting her be Gothel’s prisoner, etc. But this isn’t ever the case in a Miyazaki movie.

 

Pazu’s love for Sheeta gives him the courage to do everything from fighting the army to joining a gang of pirates. Not once does he waver in his mission to rescue her. Not once does he look scared, even while being shot at; after all, the most important thing is that Sheeta is in danger. Haku is injured by a witch’s spell and healed by the power of Chihiro’s love for him. One of the most powerful moments of Princess Mononoke is when Ashitaka falls into the water during a battle, while San is being suffocated by the demon tendrils of a boar being consumed by his own hatred. Ashitaka hears a voice ask him: what will you do for the one you love? And Ashitaka bursts out of the water with renewed strength to rescue San from the demon boar. Princess Mononoke is practically a Romeo and Juliet story where they bring together their feuding families instead of dying. Love never hampers anyone’s ability to achieve their goals. Love is never an inconvenience. Instead it’s a weapon in the arsenal, providing healing and strength. So how can the viewer come to any conclusion but that their connection is just as deep and meaningful as any western romance?

When it comes to Miyazaki himself, he says:

I’ve become skeptical of the unwritten rule that just because a boy and girl appear in the same feature, a romance must ensue. Rather, I want to portray a slightly different relationship, one where the two mutually inspire each other to live – if I’m able to, then perhaps I’ll be closer to portraying a true expression of love.

I offer a challenge to any writers that are thinking of adding a romance to their stories. Do not frame the question as ‘how can I show these characters are in love with each other?’ Or even ‘why are they in love with each other?’ Don’t worry about if they get a kiss. Instead, ask ‘how will they inspire each other to live?’ And work from there. I guarantee that if you do, a kiss is the least important thing they’ll need. I know I would take Pazu and Sheeta flying off into the sunset together over a peck on the lips any day of the week.

Ruining Beauty

I have seen very few movies in the theater, compared to the average America. The number of movies I have seen twice is even smaller. The number of movies I have seen more than twice could be counted on one hand.

There is only one movie that I saw in the theater six times: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Why did I—or I should say, we, for I saw it each time with my husband—love this movie so much? A bit of history…

I grew up out of step with the kids I went to school with, partially because I lived in the world of imagination, and many of them did not. My greatest joy was a trip to the local library, from which I would return with a stack of books as high as I could carry. I could read a book back then in a day or maybe two, and every new book was a journey into wonder.

As a bookish, imaginative person, my childhood was a lonely place. Very few of the other kids understood why one would bother with such foolish things. Books did not make them “burn with the bliss and suffer the sorrow of all mankind.” * Daydreaming was a thing that was mocked.

Things changed drastically when I reached college. St. John’s offered an entire campus filled with people who wanted nothing more than to lose themselves in a good story. I used to joke that the entire student body was made of from “that one kid from your high school who never did well in gym class.” (This is unfair, as SJC sports some excellent athletes.) After years of feeling ostracized, it was amazing to live and study in a place where I felt like I fit in. I might be friends with a fellow student or only a passing acquaintance, but I felt like we understood each other in a way that had been lacking in my home town. It was as if we breathed the same air.

I met my husband (author John C. Wright) at college, though we did not date until later. He, too, was a bookish sort, both writing and reading in all his spare time. We lived in the world of stories and books.

When it came time for our wedding, John drew the illustration for the invitations himself. He put on it a frog and a cat—figures from a story he had told me in our early courting days. Our wedding cake sported a black cat and a frog with a crown instead of a bride and groom figure.

For the thank you card, John drew a svelte cat in a wedding dress…and a handsome prince—as if the kiss of the cat-princess had transformed the frog into a prince.

This was John’s own feeling of what had happened to him when I came into his life.

I think you can see why the two of us fell in love with the cartoon movie, Beauty and the Beast. That small town girl who felt out of place and sang about her love of books and stories could have been me. The huge beast, alone and outcast, whose life was transformed by love, could have been John.

The moment when, wishing to please her, the Beast shows Belle a library filled with books from floor to its towering ceiling…practically nothing else they might have chosen to put on stage could have been so magical for us.

Fast-forward four children and many years, and word comes out that Disney is making a live action Beauty and the Beast with the charming girl from Harry Potter and that handsome, delightful actor from Downton Abbey. Remakes can be a chancy thing, but the Cinderella remake, staring another Downton Abbey alum had been totally delightful.

They had managed to update the story slightly, to appeal to modern sensibilities, without ruining any of its charm or magic. And Lily James was so sweet and innocent and appealing. Frankly, I liked her version more than the original.

They had done such a beautiful job with Cinderella, they could do Beauty and the Beast well, too, couldn’t they?

I was hopeful.

Very hopeful. And my daughter was so excited about the movie.

I think the moment I began to worry was when I found out that Emma Watson, the actress playing Belle, was some kind of Feminist Ambassador to the U.N.—and she had been allowed to update Belle.

Update Belle? How could you improve on the most wonderful heroine ever.

Then, I read this:

“Emma Watson noted how in the original Beauty and the Beast
didn’t provide much of a reason for why Belle was an outsider
other than she simply liked books…”

I think this may be the most tin-earred statement I have ever come upon. Is it really true that modern youth are so separated from the past that they don’t know how alone, how ostracized, how out of place intellectuals have always felt in small villages? Could she really not know?

I lived that life—the life Belle sings about so eloquently. I was that girl.

Because I read books.

That is why I loved Belle so much, too. Because she was such a perfect portrayal of the bookish girl.

I saw elsewhere that Watson picked inventor for Belle because, otherwise, “What did she do with her time?”

Again, that shows such an egregious lack of understanding of life in the past as to be truly alarming. There was a reason every man used to need a wife. Taking care of daily needs was a full-time job. Either you had servants to do it for you, like the Beast, or you had a wife—or in this case, daughter—who saw to the daily needs while you worked, or you did it yourself, and probably could not make a good living, as these things took so much time.

Even in the movie, we see Belle go shopping—a daily task, as there is no refrigerator, feed the chickens, and perform other daily tasks. Believe me, if Belle found time to read in among the responsibilities of daily life, that was quite amazing.

Also, Watson so misunderstands the bookloving mind that she decided that the only reason Belle is not traveling to go on adventures like that herself is: because her father is too overprotective and won’t let her go.

Never mind them being too poor to travel widely. Everyone knows the only reason Medieval young women were not jetsetting around the Continent was—overprotective parents.

How booklovers see everyone else

But daily life aside, let’s return to Emma Watson and Belle. Since reading books couldn’t possibly make Belle so odd, and she had to fill her oodles of free time, Feminist Ambassador Watson decided to make Belle the inventor.

Before I go on, I feel constrained to say: female inventors are wonderful. Everyone loves Girl Genius. And one could write a wonderful version of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale where the beauty was an inventor.

But that is not the story Disney told. And Disney’s story cannot become Inventor Belle’s story and still work.

Why? You say, Why not just watch the movie and see?

Well…think about it. Think about the structure of the story–a story I know so very well, having watched it so many times.

If Belle is an inventor, then books are not the sole bright spot in her dreary village life. So, why the song? Why does it matter that “she doesn’t know it’s him till Chapter Three?” Why does the bookseller give her a book she loves—if inventing is the center of her life?

If Belle is the strange beast, a female inventor in the Middle Ages, then that should be what stirs her heart. Making things, tinkering, bringing ideas to life should be what she sings about—what lights her inner candle.

Either Inventor Belle has no time for books, and they are just a side hobby and the song should be about inventing.

Or, Inventor Belle loves books, and inventing is a side hobby, in which case, it is a distraction and unneeded for the story.

Worse…what happens later?

To cartoon Belle, seeing the library was the answer to everything she desired.

But to Inventor Belle? She has to like the library not for itself, but for what it can teach her about inventing. In which case, a workshop filled with the right tools could have done just as well.

The library is no longer as important to her.

Worse, in the cartoon, Belle’s father is an inventor, and his problem is eventually solved by one of his inventions.

But if Belle is the inventor, she has to solve her problem with one of her inventions—totally changing the story.

Or the story ends the same way it did before, and her being an inventor is now just frosting, in which case, she really wasn’t an inventor in any important way, was she? She could just as easily have been a painter or a pastry cook.

Or a girl who loves books.

 

*–quote from the Hindu holy book, The Mahabharata. This was one of my father’s favorite quotes.

 

 

 

 

Professor Jorden Peterson on the Horror of Living Without the Past and Pinocchio

Fascinating piece on the horrors of no culture and how the story Pinocchio is a surprisingly-perceptive guide to life.  A wonderfully-insightful piece for Last Crusaders and others who care about Western society.

Some Responses

…To my last post.

  1. The idea that I’m not responding to the bulk of Daddy Warpig’s case is perfectly true. In fact, I don’t know nearly enough about the history of sci-fi to dispute his case even if I wanted to. I was – as he correctly pointed out – responding to a very specific point that I objected to. Indeed, I said as much.
  2. Incidentally, in the comments, my point was vindicated. Acknowledge that sci-fi and fantasy are clearly not the same thing, even if people can and do (and should) bend genres, and his whole case DOES work! Don’t do that, though, and it fails.
  3. That said, I do find it rather unfair to imply I’m responding to some minuscule, unimportant point. I mean, when we have quotes like this (linked to in the previous article):

Fantasy & Science Fiction is one genre, separate and indivisible*. Some stories have technology and aliens, others magic and nonhumans, others technology and magic, and so on and so forth.

People who try to disavow 95% of the genre are free to do so. If I need to speak their language to make my point understood, fine. But I don’t have to accept the validity of their mistaken beliefs, or cater to them.

And also this:

SF kicked out Fantasy. Got rid of it. Built an Iron Curtain between the two, and began a long program of sneering at the magical stuff.

You don’t get to disavow a huge category of stories for 80 years, then claim their successes as your own when it becomes inconvenient. Sorry.

(Incidentally, those two comments directly contradict each other!)

And when Jeffro just bluntly says this:

The genre delineations are useless.

Or DW says this (a repetition of his earlier comment, but with a different tag at the end):

Fantasy & Science Fiction is one genre, separate and indivisible. Some stories have technology and aliens, others magic and nonhumans, others technology and magic.

Yes, it’s worth it to salvage the good pieces from technology-centric F&SF, and to ensure that stories like that still get told. Even if we have to call them “SF” so the obsessives can understand.

Or a whole article written making the claim that hard SF doesn’t exist, which I still can’t help but think is just obviously wrong (and John C. Wright agrees with me).

…I think it’s safe to say I’m responding to a real, repeated, insisted upon point. DW can insist it doesn’t impact his overall thesis, and that’s true…IF he concedes the point and acknowledges a distinction between sci-fi and fantasy.

Because there is, and there has to be, or the whole thing fails.

So why AM I harping on this (and, again, it’s worth noting that I really am responding to something very specific here, the one point I disagree with, not the whole argument. And, again, I have great respect for both DW and Jeffro)?

Because a whole post was spent on the claim hard SF doesn’t exist.

Because ink has been spilled over and over on the claim that there’s no distinction between fantasy and SF, and that it’s all one genre, separate and indivisible. And it’s sparked arguments and disagreements and claims from many intelligent people, including John C. Wright, Josh Young, and myself, who all see comments like that and say “Wait, you’re saying the things I like to read don’t actually exist? But how is that true?”

And it doesn’t matter. It’s irrelevant. Totally besides the point. If people say “I like sci-fi more than fantasy”, or “I prefer hard sci-fi”, who cares? We have bigger fish to fry: The loss of the superversive in fiction*.

Not changing genre distinctions.

*Incidentally, this is the reason I consider myself a part of the superversive fiction movement more than I would identify as a specific part of anything else, like the pulp revolution or blue sci-fi or red sci-fi or whatever. I believe that the issues we are attempting to tackle and correct here transcend the others in scope and importance; bring back superversive fiction, and the rest falls into place like a well-played game of Tetris.

The Laws of Fiction

Fiction is indeed a vast universe, but it follows laws not dissimilar to those laws we take for granted in the physical universe around us. Knowing something about these laws, we can predict the ebbs and flows in culture throughout history, including our contemporary culture.

Canadian academic Northrop Frye was one of the first to try to discover and record those laws in the modern era. Taking Aristotle’s aspects of poetry – mythos (plot), ethos (characterization/setting), and dianoia (theme/idea) – Frye devised a spectrum ranging from plot driven, as in most fiction, to idea driven, as in essays and lyrical poetry. One of his major essays begins by exploring the different aspects of fiction (subdivided into tragic and comic).

Tragic, comic, and thematic literature are divided into five ‘modes’: mythic, romantic, high mimetic, low mimetic, and ironic, based on how the protagonist is portrayed in respect to the rest of humanity and his or her environment.

Tragedy, Frye says, is concerned with the hero’s separation from society: mythic tragedy deals with the death of gods, romantic tragedy mourns the death of heroes such as King Arthur, high mimetic tragedy presents the death of a noble human such as Othello, low mimetic tragedy shows the death or sacrifice of an ordinary human being such as Thomas Hardy’s Tess and the ironic mode often shows the death or suffering of a protagonist who is weak relative to his or her environment as in Franz Kafka’s work.

Comedy, on the other hand, is concerned with the integration of society: mythic comedy tells of acceptance into the society of gods, as with Hercules, whereas in romantic comic modes, the hero joins with an idealized simplified form of nature. In high mimetic comedy a strong central protagonist creates his own reality, like Shakespeare’s Prospero, whereas low mimetic comedy often ends in marriage. Ironic comedy, according to Frye, is more complex, embracing tales of murder and sacrifice but including satire.

Frye was right – but (and this might seem presumptuous, but bear with me) he didn’t go far enough: in looking for patterns in literature, he can be completely forgiven for missing something that would have made even more sense of the categories and genres that he proposed.

What was missing?

The missing thing.

That sounds like nonsense, but in fact fiction is driven by what is not there, as much as by what is there.

Aristotle’s aspects of poetry are founded upon a further level, out of sight: mythos (plot), ethos (characterization/setting), and dianoia (theme/idea) are all driven by things that are missing: both protagonists and plots, both settings and ideas, are pulled along by unknowns, mysteries, absences, wounds, gaps, losses and holes. The book How Stories Really Work explains this in greater depth.

Frye’s modes are observable and are part of the picture, but there are four basic genres, not two: instead of just Tragedy and Comedy, there are also Epic and Irony.

Tragedy, concerned with the hero’s separation from society, builds upon the Epic genre in which society and the hero are not separated: mythic Epic deals with the rebirth of gods (as in the Norse Ragnarok), romantic Epic with the immortal transcendence of heroes (as in the legends of King Arthur), high mimetic Epic presents the triumph of kings (as in many medieval tales and in much modern high fantasy), low mimetic Epic shows the role of ordinary human beings in bringing about order (as in most Victorian novels), and ironic Epic often shows the overcoming of impossible odds by a protagonist who is weak relative to his or her environment (The Lord of the Rings is an obvious example).

These themes and patterns can be clearly seen whenever we look closely at a piece of fiction, and it is to Frye’s credit that he was one of the first who could see that fiction formed a universe of its own and had laws like physics.

But how does this fit in with superversity?

Entire cultures can incrementally move into these modes. In ancient times, myth was a common mode of expression; in the Middle Ages, the Epic romance formed the template. As the Renaissance took hold, so did tragic and comic genres of Shakespeare and his contemporaries; then, with the rise of the novel came the triumph of the high and low mimetic and, as the Twentieth Century dawned, Irony triumphed.

Irony as a cultural pattern is based on undermining the stable and positive templates provided by the Epic: the protagonist, instead of being a young and usually male orphan who finds a set of companions and is guided to victory over evil, becomes an anti-hero, often female, beset by overwhelming odds and doomed to failure, disgrace and sometimes a fate worse than death. Think of the horror sub-genre in modern times, as an extreme example -but the influence of Irony is more subtle and pervasive. This isn’t just in novels: we see failure aggrandised throughout the culture. We see twisted versions of what was part of Western culture wherever we now turn, whether in books, theatre, films, fashion or art in a more general sense. No longer is the culmination of humanity’s efforts a triumph over the forces of darkness – now we are supposed to embrace the darkness and succumb to it. Order collapses into chaos, and the chaos is welcomed.

To try to turn this ship of culture around and to restore icons and images to their proper place is a big task. But it could be argued that the need for positivity, for hope, for genuine stability and love in today’s world is greater than ever.

Hence the need for superversity.

Grant P. Hudson B.A.(Hons.)

Grant P. Hudson is an editor, management consultant, founder of Clarendon House Publications, an online venue for independent writers, self-publishers and others around the world, and the author of several books including How Stories Really Work and the 12-week e-course How to Write Stories That Work – and Get Them Published!

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Yes Virginia, there is Sci-Fi

Okay, down at the Castalia House blog, there’s something of a brouhaha going down.

One where I’m something of a devil’s advocate.

Before I start this, I want to make clear, as I always do: I have great respect for Jeffro Johnson, Daddy Warpig, and all of the Castalia House people. They’re smart guys who make good arguments. They’ve done a great job making their case and provoking discussion. I agree with them far more often than not.

But I think it’s time I start taking the discussion off-site, and talk about where I DON’T agree.

Let me start off with this:

There is a difference between science fiction and fantasy.

And furthermore, everyone knows it, including DW and Jeffro.

Not only that, seeing this distinction is crucial to their argument. It’s critical. If this distinction does not exist, then the arguments DW and Jeffro are making fall flat on their face immediately. They fail miserably.

Let’s start here:

There’s a sickness in SF, it’s very nearly terminal, and Doctor Warpig is in the house to diagnose the disease and prescribe a cure.

Some of you may be in denial: “Science Fiction is NOT a ghetto! It’s not struggling. It’s just as popular as anything else!”

Let’s put it to a test. Take these three books:

The Three Musketeers. Alice in Wonderland. Treasure Island.

You’ve probably heard of them. And movies and TV shows based on them. And allusions to them. EVERYBODY has.

Now name some post-Pulp prose SF works of equal or greater stature in popular culture. Spoiler alert: You can’t.

From the Silver Age? Nothing. In the Bronze Age? Nothing. And the Iron Age? Nothing. Then the Clay Age? Nothing. (The Golden Age? Tarzan, Batman, and Conan, for starters.)

Okay, fine. Except…

The Three Musketeers is not sci-fi or fantasy.

Treasure Island is not Sci-fi or fantasy.

Tarzan is not sci-fi or fantasy (if you want to count the later books, maybe, but the Tarzan of popular culture is a character of adventure fiction, not sci-fi or fantasy).

But wait! The genre distinctions are artificial, you say! Indeed, that is exactly the claim used to make the case:

Fantasy & Science Fiction is one genre, separate and indivisible*. Some stories have technology and aliens, others magic and nonhumans, others technology and magic, and so on and so forth.

People who try to disavow 95% of the genre are free to do so. If I need to speak their language to make my point understood, fine. But I don’t have to accept the validity of their mistaken beliefs, or cater to them.

Cool, fine. And yet…

Superhero comics had a huge impact on culture, for reasons I may go into because they bear directly on the discussion (and directly support my thesis). But they’re not SF, even though they too borrow props, scenery, and costumes from SF.

So to be clear here…

“The Three Musketeers”, which features no magic and no speculative science, apparently is applicable to a discussion about fantasy and sci-fi.

“Spider-Man”, a story about somebody bitten by a radioactive spider and as a result having his genetic code altered so as to take on some of said spider’s abilities – that doesn’t count.

Tell me this: If I point out those two books to you and say “Which one of those is fantasy or sci-fi? Which one is an adventure story?”…what is your answer going to be?

Right. We all know what you’re going to answer, right?

And here is the reason the distinction needs to be made:

If the distinction is not made, it is impossible to identify what needs to be fixed.

If sci-fi needs to be fixed, then sci-fi needs to be fixed! Fantasy is selling well, as Harry Potter proves. Adventure fiction seems to be selling well, if we put thrillers in that category. But they’re not sci-fi, which is why we say sci-fi isn’t doing well. We can’t have it both ways.

What we need to do is not eliminate the differences between fantasy and science fiction, or eliminate genre distinctions. The problem is not that, but what Josh Young pointed out – we’ve lost something higher. We’ve lost something bigger, more important.

Is it the fault of the Campbellians? I’m sure at least partially, though I’m suspicious that his influence might be being overrated. Is it the fault of the New Wave guys? Actually, possibly even more so.

But none of that is the point.

The problem isn’t the splitting off of sci-fi and fantasy.

The problem is not the loss of blurred genre categorizations.

It is the loss of heroism. It is the loss of love, and philosophy. It is the loss of courage. It is the loss of the transcendant – a loss that can be seen in hard and soft sci-fi, in fantasy and science fantasy.

In short, it is the loss of the superversive.