M. John Harrison Is Wicked Smart, and Annoyed

I just wrote an article on urban fantasy, and wrestled with what I might say about the devolution of the term to encompass an entire range of books that don’t have anything to do with the term’s original meaning, or with the kind of torquing-the-tropes-of-the-fantastic aesthetic that many urban fantasy texts shared when the term still meant what it used to mean. Now comes MJH with this perspective:

Urban fantasy: the domestication of a few images & behavioural tics which were barely unacceptable in the first place. It was a frisson obtained not so much by glamourising or romanticising the disordered (though it did both) as by denying or correcting the trait paradigms of some common dysfunctional behaviours. It cleaned up what it claimed to be representing & always drew its conclusions from a safe space outside dysfunctionality. A normative manouevre, defining a “good” dysfunctionality (he’s an anorexic self-harming killer elf but he’s our anorexic self-harming killer elf), urban fantasy was often described as having an edge. As a result, by the late 80s, “edgy” had become the publishing synonym for “young adult”. Later, even in publishing, it came to have the same meaning as “bland”.

A bit overbroad, as polemics often are, and probably should be. There’s plenty of good urban fantasy out there, however you define the term. But Harrison is getting at an interesting idea here. Wish I’d had this to think about before I wrote the article…

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