Thursday, July 11, 2013


I wrote this short review some months ago, and put it aside for posting with other partially-written things that presently remain unfinished for reasons I needn’t go into here. In the meantime I’ve pulled out this review to post separately.   

Mark J.P. Wolf’s new book, Building Imaginary Worlds: The Theory and History of Subcreation (Routledge), snuck out without much fanfare late last year.  It basically looks at subcreation from a very broad perspective, covering the subject not only chronologically (from the Odyssey to the present day), but also across multiple forms of media—that is, not just as literature but also as films, television shows, various types of games, etc., as well as what is now called the modern media franchise.  Thus the focus, though there are some chapters on the literature of imaginary worlds, turns more to the various ways in which a modern person can experience and share in these imaginary worlds.  The theory of creating literary imaginary worlds is not shirked, and Wolf builds upon earlier examples such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Macdonald and J. R. R. Tolkien.  Indeed, the latter provides Wolf with the basic terminology (primary world, secondary world, subcreation) that recurs throughout the book. Wolf notes that imaginary worlds “need not rely on narrative structures” but that narrative is the best way for someone to enter an imaginary world, and that the purposes for creating an imaginary world can be very varied (e.g., satire, entertainment, escape, etc.), just as the forms.  While a novel might give rise to a subsequent film or television series, the opposite can happen too (witness Star Trek and Star Wars, which began as a television series and film respectively, yet branched out to novels, graphic novels, etc., and to various considerations of the lesser aspects of world-building, like the books on the Klingon language and the blueprints to the various starships).  People enjoy studying and sharing-in invented worlds from many angles, and the most traditional way—via literary criticism—is shown to be just one way of many. There is much food for thought in this pioneering and thoroughly readable book, which will broaden the way one views the experience of  imagination in the twenty-first century. Highly recommended.  (My sole complaint is that the book is priced too high:  $39.95 retail for the trade paperback, $175 retail for a hardcover.)

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