“It’s the literature of the impossible”, says Dr Rob Maslen, describing fantasy fiction. With science fiction, the events of the story could be explained in terms that relate to science in the real world. There is no explanation for the fantastical, but there are many aspects of the work that generate interest and can be studied. In response to this, Dr Maslen is launching a new Masters programme for fantasy literature, and he is full of ways to enhance the offering for students.
There are very few academics who publicly acknowledge their interest in fantasy, so Dr Maslen often gets enquiries online from people who would like to study with him. Although he began his career as a specialist in Renaissance literature, Dr Maslen’s obsession with fantasy made him want to explore the genre more seriously: “It’s very important to know why it is that a certain literary phenomenon exists – what is it used for?” He has already taught fantasy successfully at undergraduate level and supervised PhD students too, so he knew there was a serious interest. Although developing a Masters programme takes time, Dr Maslen thinks it is fantastic that the University of Glasgow are willing to try out a new direction. The course has not started yet, but there has been a great deal of interest so far.
Among other things, Dr Maslen wants to understand why people like fantasy – why do people watch films, play computer games, and read stories about things that could never possibly happen? Whatever the answer, it is clear that fantasy is a subject that brings many different people and ideas together, and offers a “box of possibilities, or impossibilities” for engagement. He thinks that collaboration is easier in this field than many others because “there’s a gigantically energetic basis to work from – the film industry, the computing industry, the publishing industry”.
Gaming in particular is a further area Dr Maslen would like to forge connections with. Video games often exist in alternative fantasy worlds that are constructed to be believable. Considering the way these environments are developed would cause students to think again about how worlds are built in a literary environment too. For example, “what signals do they present to the viewer to make you imagine that this world is larger than the screen we’re looking at?” One possibility is to collaborate with the College of Art’s Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute, HATII, who run an ‘Introduction to Game Studies’ course for undergraduates, led by Matt Barr. Postgraduates could attend this too and perhaps, in time, a tailored course could be made available for them.
Many of the applications that Dr Maslen has already received are from people “deeply versed” in gaming, that is, videogames as well as a range of other game environments. By bringing such people onto the course, Dr Maslen hopes to conduct conversations with them as “I think they’ll have as much to teach us as we have to teach them”.
Making and strengthening contacts with the gaming world is something that Dr Maslen hopes to do this year. There are large, professional gaming communities in Glasgow as well as Edinburgh and Dundee (where games such as Grand Theft Auto famously originated). The aim is to build relationships that will generate opportunities for work placements for students in the coming years in “fantasy related activities”, and students could then submit work based on their own experiences with the industry.
Dr Maslen would like to encourage people already working on aspects of fantasy to come and engage with his students too. One possible event is a discussion with Professor Louise Welch who has written the libretto for an opera based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story ‘The Bottle Imp’, a text that is studied on the course.Another upcoming event is a talk by former student Ben Smith who is now Managing Editor of Solaris, one of the biggest imprints of fantasy and science fiction in the world. There are also specialists across the university who approach fantasy from different perspectives and can contribute to the course in different ways.
Currently, Dr Maslen is looking for contacts and hoping to build bridges as the course gains momentum. If you would like to get involved in the programme, please contact the College of Arts. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Initially published Oct 2015 in Reach 07, the College of Arts Industry Engagement Newsletter.
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