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From Brian Shapiro

Published before 2005

NOTE: All the letters regarding this subject have been brought together into one article, and lavishly illustrated. Click HERE to read Illustration is to fine art as poetry is to prayer.

Novels inspired by folklore aren't the only type of fantasy. Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland and other novels are considered an extreme form of fantasy, and though they take the form of a children's story they aren't childish but often have meaningful allegories and commentary on the use of language. For example, there's one passage about whether 'you mean what you say' is equivalent to 'you say what you mean'. Many of Kafka's stories are also fantasy, though are meant to have meaning behind them. Parables, and 'fairy tales' in the tradition of the Brothers Grimm, though may not be considered high literature, have meaning.

But, if you want to discuss the type of fantasy Tolkein was involved in; I think it would be superficial to think of him as merely interested in telling fantastical stories. I don't think he so much confused myth and fantasy -- he wasn't trying to create a myth, he was using literature to reflect on the meaning of its narrative for people, and this was connected to his study of language. I only read some of Tolkein when I was young and didn't read too far into his books. But I remember Tolkein meticulously studies the habits and customs of his characters, even at the start of The Hobbit; then his novels go into how people relate to the narrative of myth. Tolkein's work is very 'postmodern' and anthropological in the sense of postmodern concerns and not in terms of the literary theories.

Some of academic art also has ties to fantasy, and this is one reason its sometimes criticized as escapist. There were even certain works, with satyrs and nymphs, etc. which were given the description 'fantasie'. Academic art also at different times focused on innocence, sentiment, melancholy, and youth. Whether it was Tchaikovsky's ballets based on fairy tales or Bouguereau's paintings of young children. But I don't think its necessarily superficial. There is a way that fantasy can be meaningfully addressed in art as so far as its a real human pleasure.

You don't have to reduce all fantasy to the most tasteless use of the subject .. its not all women in little clothing and barbarian men having action packed fights against large monsters.

Some people in this group I think are using really extreme examples which can't stand for any possible use of a genre. Not just with fantasy but with commercial art. Someone mentioned something that implied all commercial art is as absurd and cheap as something like Michelangelo's birth of man with Adam holding up a Coca-Cola. But there is no commercial art at all like this, except when the point is a joke. Some 19th century artists did commercial art, including Mucha who did designs for companies, and some Pre-Raphaelites (I forget which but one did a painting which was later used as an advertisement for soap). I don't want to argue for their greatness, but you should look at real examples.

Also, there are many commercials on television, which if not great art, are at least tastefully done. And in so far as they advertise a product they do so by connecting the product to human sentiment or other values around it. There was a Coca-Cola commerical where a bride was preparing for her wedding with people around her, and in the middle of the fuss she took a moment to sip from a coca-cola that a child was holding up for her. Its not necessarily incredibly meaningful as art but it was nicely done and tasteful. Because people do appreciate many consumer products in this way in that they sometimes make life more pleasant. The tagline was 'life tastes good'. It wasn't something cheap like claiming if you drink coke women will go out on dates with you. Again I'm not arguing for its value, just that you should take these examples instead of bad ones. The bad examples one can say even fail as good advertisements.

Art should be serious but it shouldn't be too pretentious about seriousness its not always mythological symbolism and anyway people who get too involved in that often get ideological and miss the point of whether the myth really addresses anything real.