Postcard from Middle Earth

Ruins of a great castle or something...

Ruins of a great castle or something...

One question that is asked repeatedly, of me and of Australian fantasy in particular, is why Australian fantasy fiction is largely so European and so medieval. Putting aside the fact that Australian fantasy is vibrant and diverse (short fiction, for instance, rarely follows the “epic” fantasy model; and increasingly Asian images and themes are making their way into our fantasy fiction), the answer to this question is relatively simple: Australian epic fantasy fiction, like most fantasy fiction, is influenced/derived from Tolkien. So the whole genre has rather embraced its secondary nature, as Stephanie Trigg pointed out so eloquently to me at a conference.

This means, of course, that Australian fantasy is incongruously unAustralian. Our big names are loose in the European medieval playground with the world’s other big names in fantasy. Few people question US writers doing this: at least they are in the correct hemisphere. And yet…

Here I am in the South Island of New Zealand, where Rivendell and Pelennor Fields are marked on the road map along with Queenstown and Aoraki. Here I am in Middle Earth, and all I had to do was cross the Tasman. At every turn, I can see why Peter Jackson wanted to set his epic movie adaptation of Tolkien here. It is breathtakingly spectacular, and has an ancient dampness about it that is perfectly suited to the fantasy imagination; more suited, in my opinion, than Europe itself.

Now I’m not doing the typical thing here of claiming New Zealand as an outpost of Australia (though I do have plinty of rillies in NZ–hillo, you lot!). But at least I can claim to be in the correct hemisphere for once. If Middle Earth is in the antipodes, then the question of antipodean fantasy fiction can simply dissolve; and we can all get on with what we love writing and reading best, without having to conform to a national paradigm of “suitable” literature.

4 responses to “Postcard from Middle Earth

  1. And let us not forget that NZ did such a good job of standing in for classical Greece back in the halcyon days of Hercules and XenađŸ™‚.

    I saw all of Jackson’s LOTR films just because I thought I should, but all I really know about Tolkein’s worlds I learned from Blind Guardian. Who says metal can’t be educational?

  2. Hillo in the Sth Island… I’m in the process of planning my *first* holiday over there in a month’s time and found this post describing the wonder of it all. I just hope I’ve allowed enough time in the Fiordland region to soak it all up and take it back home with me.

    If you have any hot tips (aka: a particularly outstanding, must-see, cannot leave the Island until you have been here kind of tip) I would love to know about it.

  3. Hi Jenaveve, we’ve had to cut out a large fjordy portion of our trip due to my daughter’s unrelenting car sickness. My must-see (in my limited experience) would be Arthur’s Pass, on the drive from Christchurch to Greymouth.

  4. it seems that australians are grilled whenever they do, wear, smoke, or write something not set here. it’s very distracting.

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