Possible Landscapes of Fantasy

Guilherme Malta, Humberto Fois-Braga & Luiz Guilherme Castro (Juiz de Fora Federal University, Brazil)

From an immaterial and subjective perspective, landscapes represent an idea or way to view the world. Each subject (collectively or individually) interprets their surroundings in accordance with the constructions of fantasy, in which (possible) fictional worlds are built from new landscapes and realities. In Fantasy Literature, the landscapes convey sensations from their subjective, symbolic, and material characteristics. In fantasy, every landscape is potentially significant, and their descriptions reveal their structures and what they mean. In tourist products, the transposition of landscapes enables visitors’ immersion in a diegetic experience.

The landscapes characterised in these fantastic worlds are a product of the imagination and, as Tuan (1998: 114) highlights, “whatever we do or make, beyond the instinctual and the routine, is preceded by the kernel of an idea or image. Imagination is our unique way of escaping.” In this sense, it is essential to highlight that even though the representation of space and landscape in fantasy literature is full of unusual and unimaginable elements in the concrete world, such worlds maintain strong relationships with reality by reflecting, for example, problems (e.g., pain and sadness). The landscapes of the tangible world (natural and cultural), as a visible portion of space, represent a “source of inspiration for writers and poets who convert them into verbal expressions according to their vision, their imagination, their cosmology and their feelings” (Seemann, 2007: 51). 

The composition of the landscape, which in this context takes on an imaginary character, is therefore inseparable from the text. The reader is invited to read in the literary landscape and, by extension, in the possible landscape of fantasy worlds, not just an image of places or imagery of space but a reciprocal configuration of the world and the work (Collot, 2020). The central notion of a possible fictional world is also composed of the landscape, which in this context can take on a material appearance based on its form but, above all, an immaterial one based on its deeper meaning (Reis, 2018). In this sense, the landscape represents much more than just the visual and functional arrangement of phenomena to be identified, classified, mapped or analysed. A landscape is not exclusively material or immaterial, even marked by strong symbolism. Therefore, it can manifest in a visible or invisible, concrete or imagined way (Seemann, 2007).

In fantasy literature, the landscape conveys a sensation from its material, symbolic and subjective characteristics, thus assuming the status of a fundamental part of the story to be told. The realm of fantasy contributes much to the debate on the construction of landscapes, the real-imaginary relationship and, even more so, the representation of landscapes (Freitas, 2021). In tourist products, the transposition of landscapes allows visitors to immerse themselves in a diegetic experience. In this sense, fantasy writers commonly use geographic resources, such as maps and characterisation of physiographic aspects of the landscape, to build new worlds to produce a concrete image of the imagined landscapes (Freitas, 2021). As an emblematic and reference example regarding the concept of possible fantasy landscapes, the historical importance of the work of the writer, philologist and professor J.R.R. Tolkien (1892 - 1973) is mentioned, which stands out so much for its influence as a structure archetypal to fantasy narratives, as well as a contemporary pop-cultural and tourism phenomenon. In his construction of the universe of Middle Earth, the relationship between real and imaginary is notable in its basis of composition, as world and landscape. As a construction of the mind, its initial access is through imagination (Brisbois, 2005). The construction of these landscapes through description and their materialisation using maps and multi-code languages, such as the two-dimensional drawings produced by J.R.R. Tolkien himself back in the 1930s, an effort “in search of an internal cohesion and a certain verisimilitude, helped those who immerse themselves in their narratives connect through the specificities of what was produced in it” (Freitas, 2021: 184). However, even with a certain approximation of landscape elements (physiographic aspects such as vegetation, landforms, etc.) that shape Middle Earth with the concrete reality of the primary world, its composition and identity are unique due to the originality of the author who created them. Furthermore, the importance of Tolkien's work is also due to the transmedia influence of the mythical universe of Middle Earth represented in the series of films released between 2001 and 2003, directed by Peter Jackson, in video games and board games, and the launch, in 2022, of the series The Rings of Power, on Amazon Prime, etc. The Shire stands out among the various possible landscapes constructed within the fantastic universe of Middle Earth. Because of the success of the cinematographic work, the film set located in New Zealand, especially the Hobbit village, established itself as a very enticing attraction, visited by tourists interested in seeing the landscapes where the scenes were shot. Although fantasy literature and fictional possible worlds, built from the imagination, enable countless ways to contemplate and experience such landscapes, there are several efforts to seek a materialisation and transposition of these possible landscapes into the real world.

In this context, tourism appropriates the landscapes of the Shire’s fictional possible world, represented in literary works, films, and other media products, promoting visits and concrete experiences on site. In the wake of this process of transposition of landscapes and environments, which move from a possible fictional world to ours, concrete and real, there is a current phenomenon in which certain accommodation facilities have invested and continue to invest in the creation of housing units that resemble the atmosphere of Hobbit Holes. The landscape transposition, in this case, aims to constitute a market differentiator aimed at capturing an audience interested in these works; many owners of such tourist facilities seek to reconstitute spaces that are in sync with literary narratives and, above all, with the aesthetic and visual composition of the scenarios present in the films. Therefore, considering that different realities are constructed and multiplied based on that which is offered by the privileged view disseminated by the writer (Freitas, 2021), it is necessary to pay attention to the process in which the possible landscape of fantasy exists through intersemiotic translation, among different supporting structures (e.g. the page of a book, the scenery/film set, audiovisual projection, hotel architectural thematisation, etc.), to create a landscape idealised and imagined by an agent (e.g. the author, the narrator, the director, the set designer, the architect, the tourism professional, etc.) and their respective materialisation and reception by readers, tourists and the public in general.

How to cite this dictionary entry: Malta, G., Fois-Fraga, H. & Castro, L.G. (2023). Possible Landscape of Fantasy. In R. Baleiro, G. Capecchi & J. Arcos-Pumarola (Orgs.). E-Dictionary of Literary Tourism. University for Foreigners of Perugia.

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