UPDATE Thanks for all your questions! Sorry I couldn't get to them all. Hope to do another AMA one of these days. For more information about the programme: http://www.gla.ac.uk/postgraduate/taught/fantasy/ My Blog: http://fantasy.glasgow.ac.uk

UPDATE 5 Minute Warning.

UPDATE 10 Minute Warning! Almost finishing up here.

My short bio: I'm a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Glasgow (UofG), and I've been obsessed with Fantasy since birth. I've been teaching Fantasy to Undergrads for years, but last year I had the idea of starting the World's first Fantasy Masters Programme. To my surprise UofG said YES, and we're currently recruiting for the second year of the programme. Grab your swords and join us!

My Proof: http://imgur.com/weGh9Lz More Proof: https://twitter.com/UofGlasgow/status/723155952975941634

Comments: 415 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

honnator148 karma

Hi there!

I am a student at Glasgow Uni. I don't study Fantasy, but I nevertheless have a huge interest for it!

As a Professor in Fantasy literature, do you also teach your students about games in the same genre? More specifically, MMORPG and so? I'm thinking of games such as World of Warcraft, Runescape, etc.

Do you play/have played these games yourself or are you strictly a literature man?

All the best!

UofGlasgow176 karma

We already have students on the programme who are passionate gamers, and they've been asking the same question. We have a new professor in our Humanities Advanced Technology And Information Institute, Professor Lorna Hughes, who plans to get a game theory Masters course started shortly. I'll tell her you're ready and eager to enrol!

UofGlasgow135 karma

Forgot to say I'm no longer a gamer myself; I spent so much time playing in the early 90s I banished myself for thirty years. Hope to start again one day...

honnator27 karma

Thanks for your reply!

I'll make sure to keep an eye out for that! As a side note, might I ask which games (if you remember, that is) you like specifically from the early 90s?

Hope you can return to gaming at some point!

Cheers again.

UofGlasgow100 karma


BrutallyHonestDude-11 karma

Your mathematics is off by a few years.

UofGlasgow6 karma

Really? Oh yes - thirty years! True. I was always a fantasist. How fast time flies!

Frentis126 karma

Hello Dr Malsen

I have a couple of questions, I hope that's alright.

Firstly how do you see the genre of fantasy has changed, say from Lord of The Rings in 1954 till today?

What is your take on some of the "darker" fantasy being written today? Here I'm referring to literature such as Game of Thrones or Joe Abercrombie's The First Law Trilogy; it is can be seen as more morally complex then a classical fantasy tale of some young man in a little village that have to save the world, due to the moral ambiguity of most of the characters in Abercrombie's story.

Lastly what advantages or benefits do you see fantasy having, when it comes to learning and teaching with suck literature, when compared to more traditional literature being used?

Thank you for doing this AMA!

PS. If I ever find myself in Glasgow can I stop by and talk fantasy books? I'll buy the first pint.

UofGlasgow173 karma

Thanks for you thanks, and thanks for your questions! How has Fantasy changed? Well, it's become more diverse; it's much harder to find a balance of men and women and of people from different backgrounds, cultures and sexualities in the first half of the programme, which deals with the literature up to 1950. It's definitely become more urban. I think it's become more open to a range of influences; for instance, there's less of sharp dividing line between Fantasy and SF, in some circles, than there used to be. Darker fantasy: everyone loves the Dark. Er... should I have said that? The advantage of teaching fantasy is it's the books people already read, in many cases; the books they've grown up with, the books that shaped them. I started teaching it because I read it myself, and students take the course because they want to understand, as I did, why they are attracted to the impossible, the bizarre, the ineffably strange, the inscrutably ancient. What's wrong with me? I used to ask. Now I know: the same thing that's wrong with everyone else; and Fantasy is my way of exploring it.

Frentis36 karma

Thank you for replying! This is very cool to hear about.

Do you have any relatively unknown personal personal favorites, that you use as part of the program?

UofGlasgow71 karma

It's hard to know what's unknown! I love John Masefield's children's book, The Midnight Folk, and not many people seem to know about that. Not enough people have read James Treadwell's trilogy, Advent, Anarchy and Arcadia - well worth looking out. Not on the course, either of these; ones that are, and that seemed to come as a surprise, are Max Beerbohm's short story Enoch Soames; Hope Mirrlees's Lud-in-the-Mist; and Sylvia Townshend Warner's Lolly Willowes, about an ordinary woman who suddenly becomes a witch.

Frentis12 karma

Haha I apologize to put that kind of pressure on you, I just figured that if someone would know, it would be you.

Well I'll be checking the works out you mentioned, thank you!

UofGlasgow12 karma

Hope you enjoy them!

UtherDoul979 karma

Hi there Rob! I'm doing the masters this year and I have a bunch of questions, but I'll just begin with this: Do you think this programme will help to question/eradicate the high/low culture dichotomy or will it usher in fantasy to the literary establishment?

UofGlasgow108 karma

Ooh, I don't even know who you are - this is very mysterious! I think the dichotomy is already breaking down, but I have to say, the university's willingness to allow students to graduate with the title 'Masters in Fantasy' will break it down a lot further, I imagine. And when they see the quality of our graduates - every university will want to start a programme like ours!

suaveitguy70 karma

Is employability a concern? Would you accept a student who indebted themselves up to their eyeballs to take the degree?

UofGlasgow56 karma

Employability is always a concern, but I think you'd be in a good place with this programme if you chose your next step wisely. Think about the kinds of places you might show up with the degree: videogame businesses; schools chock full of kids who are mad for Harry Potter and the Hunger Games; literary festivals looking for the next big idea; I could go on.

UtherDoul965 karma

Okay, couple of lighter ones now: In which fantasy world would you most like to dwell? How does one cope with the excitement of studying the kinds of texts critics used to dismiss?

UofGlasgow104 karma

I would like to live in Earthsea, especially among the Children of the Open Sea on their rafts. Oh, but I'd also like to live in Narnia, at a time when there isn't an invasion or a wicked Witch in the offing. Actually, Oz would be pretty cool too, though a bit terrifying. I'd always be afraid of treading on a person made of porcelain.

I really can't cope with that excitement, Steven. I've stopped sleeping at night.

Jux_38 karma

Is Star Wars a fantasy story, or a sci fi story?

UofGlasgow71 karma

Both. You could ask Han Solo how the Millennium Falcon worked and he would tell you, in terms you could more or less understand if you knew about contemporary physics. Ask Yoda how he jumps so high and he'd kick you on the chin.

sixbrow36 karma

Hey Maslen!

I'm a Glasgow Uni student too!

Serious question: Has Game of Thrones really changed the genre? With its huge success have you seen a move towards the graphic/ mixed-morals/ extremely detailed fantasy?

Not so serious: Have you got any gossip about the English lit department? I hear they are randy bunch!

UofGlasgow65 karma

Hi Glasgow student! I think Game of Thrones has changed perceptions of fantasy; people no longer see it as delicate and pretty, but recognize that it can deal with complex politics, big personalities and gruesome events. Of course it always could - I'm a big fan of Gene Wolfe, who taught us this a long time ago - but now everyone knows it. I have a great deal of gossip about the English Literature department of ancient times, but nothing untoward happens here now. We're all to busy on social media.

Waqqy25 karma

Hi Dr. Maslen,

Another UoG student here. Was it difficult to get this course approved? What sort of hoops did you have to jump through to be able to create your own Masters programme? Do you plan on having any guest lecturers?

UofGlasgow41 karma

It was amazingly easy to get the course approved, actually! I don't know what they were thinking. Perhaps I ran into a series of secret Terry Pratchett enthusiasts sitting on committees. Visiting speakers: we've had a string of great ones. Our first was Arianne Tex Thomson, who wrote the Fantasy Western series Children of the Drought (published by Solaris). She was absolutely brilliant, and we're hoping to invite her again when the third volume comes out. We've also had the Head of Books at Solaris, Ben Smith, to tell us about Fantasy publishing; the brilliant Glasgow writers Hal Duncan and Neil Williamson, to tell us about the Glasgow SF Writer's Circle and getting shortlisted for the British Fantasy Awards; Professor Edward James, who's one of the top experts on Fantasy in the country; Louise Welsh, who wrote an opera based on that spooky story The Bottle Imp by Stevenson; and Adam Roberts, who came to talk with me at the Aye Write! festival. And that was just in the first year!

UtherDoul920 karma

Me again (mystery be damned, it's Steven!) Where do you draw the line between fantasy and SF? There are several texts which fit neatly into neither genre category, and as this programme is focussed on fantasy, does the programme risk creating a closed definition of fantasy or will it be open to those liminal texts?

UofGlasgow34 karma

Hi Steven! My simple answer is that Fantasy is the literature of the impossible, which contains things and/or events the reader knows to be impossible in this or any world. Science Fiction is the literature of what is currently impossible but might be one day. There's a different attitude involved in reading (or watching) each genre: when you step into an SF world - say Tatooine in Star Wars - and asked someone how, say, an interstellar drive works, they'd be able to tell you in terms you could more or less understand if you knew anything about contemporary physics. If you went to Middle Earth and asked Gandalf how his magic worked he'd take a puff of his pipe and blow smoke in your face.

UofGlasgow16 karma

But yes, the course is open to liminal texts, such as Sheri S Tepper's Beauty!

Beard_of_Valor16 karma

Have you read Name of the Wind?


UofGlasgow11 karma

Sorry, I haven't! Is it good?

OliverMilne15 karma

Hi Rob,

Genre fiction - especially fantasy - has traditionally been treated as being a little bit below traditional english literature departments. What is your Masters going to do to encourage interested people whose academic background is perhaps outside of literature to play a part and how to you establish yourself in a discipline which has traditionally failed to take an interest in Speculative Fiction?

(2nd one if you get time, why has sci-fi been viewed as more worthy of academic study than fantasy?)

UofGlasgow23 karma

Both good questions. I think one can make case for many of the most celebrated authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - and of the present, of course - as having written Fantasy. Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing sprig to mind, along with D H Lawrence and Samuel Beckett. Once you point this out to people with a low opinion of the genre they tend to change their mind. And the presence on the contemporary scene of writers like David Mitchell, Kazuo Ishiguro, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood etc etc who have written Fantasy as well as 'high fiction' makes snobbery a bit redundant.

The question of how to make the course accessible to people from a non-literary background is always preying on my mind. Writing workshops is one answer; another is making sure there are lots of good resources available to help them on the course webpages. Also as much personal assistance as possible, where this is needed.

I think SF has been regarded as more study-worthy because it's got that very serious word 'science' in it. Fantasy, on the other hand, has always been a derogatory term. That's one reason I like to use it.

jeroxy13 karma

What are the basic / core topics and themes you're going to be focusing on in this programme?

UofGlasgow26 karma

We're trying to keep it as varied as possible. The first half of the course deals with Fantasy between 1800 and 1950, and includes sessions on the Fairy Tale, the Gothic, the short story, Children's Literature, magic realist fiction from the 1920s, and a personal favourite, Mervyn Peake. The second semester starts with Tolkien and goes on to explore the explosion of fantasy literature that's hit the world since. It changes from year to year - I've not quite decided what next session will hold!

hirobmaslen12 karma

Vedui' (the internet tells me this means 'Greetings' in Elvish),

Is this programme limited to English Lit? I am in third year Classics at Glasgow and Fantasy Masters sounds really interesting. Would there be room for incorporating it with myth in a Classical context?

Diola lle

UofGlasgow18 karma

It is not limited at all! You would have the opportunity to take options in Classics, in Celtic Studies, in Children's Literature - practically anything offered in the Colllege of Arts and beyond. The basic Fantasy programme is mainly about literature, but we have a Fantasy Film Club (four films a semester), field trips, and other activities (the sky's not even the limit, I'd day).

JDavies1111 karma

Hello Dr Maslen,

I was wondering what your personal favourite fantasy works were, and which fantasy authors you admire the most?

Also have you written any fantasy works yourself?

UofGlasgow14 karma

I've answered the one about my favourites already, but could give an entirely different list here: China Mieville, Claire North, Doris Lessing, Dave Hutchinson, Russell Hoban. Any books by any of these.

I've written some fantasy works but not published them except in obscure places. You can read some short stories on my Blog.

suaveitguy10 karma

What are the most universal archetypes?

UofGlasgow18 karma

The giant, the dwarf, the elf, the dragon, the unicorn.

helios228 karma

Top five favorite fantasy books?

UofGlasgow23 karma

Ouch! How to choose? How to choose? Ok I'll try, but this is only today's list. It'll be different tomorrow. 1. Le Guin, Earthsea sequence (and I also love the Annals of the Western Shore). 2. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (though I may actually slightly prefer the Hobbit). 3. Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist 4. Claire North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and her second novel, Touch. Are these Fantasy? I'd say so! 5. Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman. And as soon as I've written those down I'm starting to disagree with myself!

themeaningofhaste6 karma

I took an English course in high school generically called "Science Fiction and Fantasy" and I think one of the very powerful points was that both genres are very useful as social commentary. While I enjoyed the fantasy portions of the course, it seems to me that the avenues for discussing such commentary are a bit more limited than with science fiction (if one is going to draw the line between the two) because of the background settings, the nature of the themes, etc. Do you think that fantasy is typically used to discuss the same kinds of social commentary with a different skin or entirely different themes of social commentary?

UofGlasgow11 karma

Fantastic question! Often the thing to do with Fantasy is to consider what's NOT being addressed - what's been left out or turned away from - and think about why that should be. What's being said about the writer's world in that act of very deliberate resistance or omission? Not addressing something that's present in your world can be a seriously political gesture, as much as addressing an issue directly. Having said this, fantasy can provide a kind of image of a better way of living without claiming that it's achievable - which makes it more realistic than some sorts of SF.

UtherDoul96 karma

What place does critical theory have in the study of fantasy? Do you approach fantasy texts with the same tools of analysis you would for 'realist" fiction, or do you need to adapt?

UofGlasgow10 karma

You can certainly use the same tools, but there's been a mass of good theory written over the years. I tend to namecheck Tzvetan Todorov, Rosemary Jackson, Farah Mendlesohn, Brian Attebery - but there are plenty more. Having said this, there's still need for more good Fantasy theory.

improbablewobble6 karma

Dr Maslen, I've recently begun reading Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth, and have been struck by the parallels between "organic" myths that have been a part of human culture for thousands of years and the kinds of archetypal stories found in modern fantasy work. For instance, Mr. Campbell's work famously influenced George Lucas during his creation of Star Wars.

Here's my question: In this day and age, do you think it's still possible to create an utterly new kind of myth (read: fantasy story), or are we doomed to rehash and repackage old tropes now that everything seems to have been done?

UofGlasgow13 karma

'Doomed' sounds grim. Myths only remain potent if they mean something to a culture - and if they're adaptable enough to take cognisance of the radical changes that culture undergoes. There have been plenty of new myths in the last couple of centuries: Frankenstein's creature, Jekyll and Hyde, Peter Pan, the Wizard of Oz - though of course myths aren't what they were when people believed in them, so perhaps the ones I've listed aren't exactly myths. they are so, in the sense that they are idea that migrate from the text that spawned them. And of those there are new ones emerging every year, I reckon.

Some people say there are only a limited number of stories that can be told, much as there are only a limited number of notes on the grand piano. But I say the magic lies in the manner of the telling.

CookyM0nster5 karma

Hello Dr. Maslen!

A couple of days ago, over on /r/fantasy there was this thread asking if Red Rising, a contemporary sci-fi novel, could be classified as fantasy.

My questions to you are:

  • Do you often run up against this sort of question from students? If so, what would you say is the main distinction between sci-fi and fantasy?

I'm not usually one to care too much about this sort of categorization, but I ask because, since your course is in Fantasy specifically, I do feel like you have real need to distinguish between them.

  • And where would science-fantasy (Dying Earth, Book of the New Sun et al.) fit in all this? Inside the course or not so much?

And of course, I want to congratulate you on the course and wish you the best of luck for the future. And thank you for the AMA!

UofGlasgow11 karma

Great questions. I've answered the one about the distinction between SF and Fantasy in an earlier response. I love books that mix the two, though. A good example would be Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter; it's based on a Fairy Tale premise but is packed with technology. For me, Fantasy is practically defined as a genre by its love of mixing genres: The Lord of the Rings is a mixture of Edwardian travel story and Old English epic; Hope Mirrlees's Lud-in-the-Mist mixes detective fiction with fairy tale (again), tourist brochure, herbal, and a few other things. So making those hard and fast distinctions isn't really so necessary.

We read The Book of the New Sun on the programme this year, and I've regularly taught the work of China Mieville... I'd teach The Dying Earth sequence like a shot, but we have to limit the number of long texts on the course - which is incredibly difficult, as you'll appreciate!

Lou_Diamonds5 karma

Have any opinion on a setting like Shadowrun, that fuses dystopian cyberpunk and fantasy?

UofGlasgow9 karma

I haven't encountered Shadowrun but have heard great things about it. I love these kinds of fusions and talked about them a bit in another answer. Urban fantasy kicks ass.

jay--mac4 karma

Hi Dr. Maslen,

I'm a history master's student in the US. I've often wondered if there are any good works which place fantasy literature into its contemporary historical context. It seems to me, in many ways, that fantasy is a reaction against modernism, urbanism, and industrialization but at the same time some fantasy seems to embrace a lot of themes built around modern ideas of consumption (William R. Leach makes this point about Wizard of Oz in his book Land of Desire).

To get to the point I guess my question is, how grounded is fantasy as a genre in contemporary politics and popular culture? What can we learn about the 1950s by reading Tolkien?

UofGlasgow3 karma

That's a brilliant question but I don't have time to answer it properly. I don't think there's yet a really great book about Fantasy and History, and I'd love to write one myself. Starting the programme has not been the best way to get started, however!

Olgilvie4 karma

Hello Dr Maslen, just a small question from me. What was the reasoning behind the red letters in the proof you posted? Are they random or is there something I'm missing?

UofGlasgow8 karma

I was trying to write like Tolkien!

save_the_pigs3 karma

I've been seeing a lot of people go low on Devonta Freeman, some are having him outside of the top 10. Where would you take him?

UofGlasgow5 karma

He wouldn't be in my team. I'd have Gandalf.

Tewks443 karma

When I first read this I thought you were referring to fantasy sports and was extremely confuse with how fantasy sports based around the masters golf tournament could be at all compelling.

But I'm much more interested in fantasy in the way you originally meant it. What do you think is the most interesting but not well known fantasy creature/race?

UofGlasgow2 karma

Gosh, I like your question! I can only think of an interesting and relatively little-known SF creature: one made of iron filings in Stanislaw Lem's The Invincible, capable of wiping a person's memory through magnetism (though they don't do it on purpose). But I also love the guy in China Mieville's Un Lun Dun who has a birdcage for a head. And the binjas. I think they're pretty well known though...

Qwintro2 karma

Hello dr Maslen,

Thanks for doing this AMA!

I've had long discussions with my brother about what the difference is between Fantasy and Science Fiction. For me Fantasy is the unexplainable, for him it's all about themes. Star Wars is Fantasy because it's about the hero's journey, family, honour; Fantasy themes. Star Trek is about exploration, civilization and technology; SciFi themes.

Could you tell me what your opninion is on this subject?

UofGlasgow6 karma

I'm with you about Fantasy being about the unexplainable. In it, the reader and the author enter into a bizarre contract whereby the author is going to make things happen which couldn't possibly happen and the reader is going to make them happen all over again in her/his head. That's not exactly how it is with SF, which often involves the writer trying to make it look like what's happening could definitely be achieved with a bit of elbow grease.

ana_storm2 karma

Hi, Dr. Rob. First of all, thank you for doing this AMA :) I would like to know: Has the programme attracted many international students? How much does someone has to know about Fantasy for studying this programme? What are some of your favorite Fantasy movies? Again thanks for doing this dynamic, and thank you for answering :)

UofGlasgow5 karma

Hi there! yes, we've attracted international students! Our first year, which was pretty small but had gigantic personalities, included an American, a Greek and an Italian among others. Next year I think half the much larger number of applicants are from overseas. ome of my favourite Fantasy movies? Love the question. I'm a massive fan of Terry Gilliam and Guillermo del Toro. But I'm also obsessed with anime movies: Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, Makoto Shinkai. Thanks for your thanks!

darkavenger19932 karma

Greetings Rob, Glasgow uni English lit class of 2015 graduate here! Delighted to hear the Fantasy Masters is going strong.

As a big fan of medieval literature as well as fantasy, my question regards the origins of modern fantasy lit. What are the seminal texts that can be seen as the progenitors of what has become modern fantasy lit? The influence of the Arthurian legends and mythos is massive of course and I'm just curious as to what others can be viewed as shaping the genre. Cheers!

Ps. who would win in a fight: Aragorn or Jon Snow?

UofGlasgow5 karma

Great question - and thanks for the good wishes! A crucial text here is Malory's Morte D'Arthur, which provided inspiration for two major Fantasy writers, William Morris (who printed a beautiful edition of Malory's work) - read his The Well at the World's End, which is written in perfect medieval English, and T H White, whose Once and Future King is a homage to his literary hero.

Ariosto is important too, as is Spenser, but they're not really medieval, are they? And then there are all those Celtic masterpieces - the Mabinogion, which found admirers in Alan Garner and Lloyd Alexander... I could go on!

Aragorn. But I would say that; I'm almost as old as he was in The Lord of the Rings.

lilmissRoja2 karma

Omg. That sounds AMAZING!

What are the prerequisites to get into this course?

UofGlasgow6 karma

A 2:1 degree or equivalent, and a sample piece of writing. The words 'or equivalent' lend that first prerequisite some flexibility; and you can discuss the nature of the piece of writing with me when you apply. You'd also need references. I hope this helps!

Stitch12882 karma

Hello, I am going to join the course next year and I would like to know: any books in particular that we should read for the core course? Do you already know what other courses are available for us? I am really looking to do Science Fiction and I would like to know what option the course is giving us. Thank you so much to have created a course like this!

UofGlasgow4 karma

Yes, read the long ones! I'll be sending out the new reading list very soon. You can definitely do the Science Fiction course. Thank you so much for coming! Email me with any further questions.

squirty_evil2 karma

Hi, Dr Maslen. I write Scottish fantasy and have a place on the CW MLitt starting this September. Are there any fantasy textbooks/novels you'd recommend I read before starting the course and are there any crossovers between the Fantasy and CW programmes? E.g. are there any fantasy modules that CW students could take? Many thanks in advance.

UofGlasgow3 karma

We've had CW students auditing the programme this year - a lot of them actually! - which means they just come along and talk, or listen (though we prefer them to join in the discussion). We've also invited Fantasy authors and editors to address us, and will do so again next session. There's a FilmClub you can come along for. We've got a great relationship with the CW team and want to build on that year by year.

PleaseDontShowMyWife-7 karma

Oh? An almost completely useless genre that only has value in escapism and is otherwise saturated with mostly racist stereotypes based on a false perception of other cultures? Literally the only thing worse than majoring in English is wasting scholastic resources on something as pointless as the study of fantasy. Literally child's play.

Source: took shittons of fantasy courses in uni

Question: Do you prefer illustrations of magic like in Grossman's magicians or something more classic like LOTR. Also what are your thoughts on Dawn Treader vs Mieville's The Scar?

UofGlasgow3 karma

I wish I'd taken those courses too. They didn't exist in my day.

Not sure what you mean by illustrations of magic, but I like both Grossman's work and Tolkien's. I love both the Lewis and the Mieville for entirely different reasons. What I love about fantasy is its diversity. No two texts need be the same; you're only limited by the author's imagination and/or your own.

BrutallyHonestDude-7 karma

Another worthless degree. How are people gonna find employment?

UofGlasgow2 karma

See my previous answer. There's a lot to do with this degree if you use your imagination.