I’ve been meaning to point to Michael Drout’s post on Fanboys and Scholarship for over a month now, so here it is. As Drout argues, scholarship requires the focus of the otaku (yes, I realize that otaku traditionally refers to an obsessive interest in anime and manga and is considered a negative term by many. (Otaku, fangirl/boy, geek, and nerd are all contentious terms).
On my medievalist side, I’ve got a fairly stereotypical fanboy background as described by Drout. During the summer between 3rd and 4th grade I came across the The Chronicles of Narnia, and by the time I’d finished The Lord of the Rings in 5th grade, I began devouring fantasy and started playing Dungeons and Dragons. Fantasy led to science fiction and Dungeons and Dragons led to other role-playing games (I more or less gave up gaming upon starting graduate school, though I’d love to still play Ars Magica, a game set in “mythic Europe” and designed by people with degrees in medieval studies). As I mentioned during my 2004 MLA presentation on the Victorian reception of Old Norse literature and its influence on 20th Century heroic (i.e., sword and sorcery) fantasy, some of my aunts and uncles worried where these obsessions with fantasy literature and role-playing games would take me. Academia, naturally. After all, my 11th grade learn-how-to-write-a-research-paper research paper was on the development and use of heavy cavalry during the Middle Ages….
Upon starting graduate school, my gaming and most of my fantasy/science fiction reading stopped. Outside of the Tolkien courses I took and then TAed for during my MA studies, I usually read a couple of fantasy/SF novels during the summer and one over winter break. At some point during my Ph.D. studies I fell back into reading both. Quite inevitable, possibly, when one teaches courses such as The Lord of the Rings and its medieval context and science fiction and when one’s dissertation director has not only written and edited such books as Poems of Wisdom and Learning in Old English, The Critical Heritage: Beowulf, and The Shadow-walkers: Jacob Grimm’s Mythology of the Monstrous, but The Road to Middle-earth, Fiction 2000: Cyberpunk and the Future of Narrative, and both the The Oxford Book of Science Fiction Stories and The Oxford Book of Fantasy Stories.
Come to think of it, I can pinpoint this return to SF and fantasy to two events. While we were browsing in some used bookstore while in Kansas City for a conference, Shippey handed me a copy of Stephenson’s Snow Crash and told me I needed to read it. And then, sometime later, while sitting in on Shippey’s class on The Alliterative Tradition, he made the offhanded comment about Terry Pratchett, and when all he got was blank stares, he said, “Everyone should read Terry Pratchett.” A few weeks later, a copy of the first book in Pratchett’s Discworld series fell into my hands–literally, a friend lent the book to my wife, who doesn’t read much science fiction or fantasy and she brought it on a trip back home to Colorado for Christmas and had finished it in the airport before the flight. Trying to be good, I’d only brought a scholarly book, which I couldn’t concentrate on during the flight, so she handed it to me.
Academically, my obsessions are memory (rhetorical memory, literature as social memory, the technologies of memory, and memory and cognition); orality-literacy studies and media ecology (with a particular interest in oral-manuscript transitional culture, digital culture, how it pertains to the history and theory of rhetoric and composition, and literary reconstructions and representations of media cultures such as in A Canticle for Leibowitz, Early in Orcadia, The Tale of Old Mortality, and Ridley Walker); and traditions (the traditions of oral/manuscript/print/digital culture, rhetorical traditions, social memory and practices of memory, the traditions of composition, and medievalism, which, in its broadest sense, also includes speculative fiction (i.e., fantasy and science fiction)).
Of more traditional fanboy fare, I’ve currently got obsessions with Ghost in the Shell, and the works of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Speaking of which:
-I’ve just finished recording to DVD the 26th (and final) episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and I think I know which episodes I’m going to use in my science fiction course next term. I want to watch them in order to decide if 1) they make sense when viewed out of the larger narrative, and 2) if they really do represent the issues I want to touch on).
–Thud! The Boardgame, which is essentially the Discworld’s version of a fox game (the two best known fox games are the English Foxes and Geese and the Scandinavian Halatafl, both of which I own versions of because while I have no desire to play the medieval á la the Society for Creative Anachronism (role-playing games of the non-live variety are a different thing), I do enjoy playing a medieval game now and then):
THUD– Officially Licensed DISCWORLD boardgame
Mongoose Publishing is proud to announce the release of THUD, an exciting DISCWORLD boardgame based on the battle between dwarfs and trolls, where players take the field in an all-out attempt to defeat their opponent. The fast-moving dwarfs must form up into defensive blocks as quickly as possible, before hurling their crazed axe-wielding comrades at the trolls. The slower, more ponderous, trolls must catch and clobber these whirling axe dervishes before they have a chance to properly organise…
and both Pratchett and Gaiman have released the New Year’s resolutions, the demon Crowley and angel Aziraphale, Hell and Heaven’s representatives on earth who team up to stop the apocalypse in Gaiman and Pratchett’s comic novel Good Omens. My favorite from Crowley is
Resolution #7: On the orders of Head Office I will encourage the belief in Intelligent Design, because it upsets everyone.
and my favorite from Aziraphale is
Resolution #10: On the orders of Head Office I will encourage the belief in Intelligent Design – despite the fact that the human airway crosses the digestive tract. Who thought that was intelligent?
And since I’m on the subject of being a otaku/geek/nerd: I watched The Brothers Grimm last night, and I’m pretty sure Angelica was carrying a seax (in the OED as sax), a Germanic bladed tool/weapon that, linguistically, dates back to at least the proto-Germanic period and may have its roots in the proto Indo-European period (see Gustav Hübener’s “Beowulf and Germanic Exorcism” in Review of English Studies 11 (1935): 163-181 and “Beowulf‘s ‘Seax’, the Saxons and the Indian Exorcism” in Review of English Studies 12 (1936): 429-439). A nice touch for a movie playing with two figures who helped invent the fields of comparative philology, comparative mythology, and folklore.