Showing posts with label urban fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label urban fantasy. Show all posts

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Review: Jack Williamson, Darker Than You Think (1948; Gollancz, 2003)

Last year, in one of the discussion sessions at our conference on female werewolves, the keynote speaker (Prof. Peter Hutchings) mentioned a piece of 'classic' werewolf fiction that has been sadly overlooked in the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries - Jack Williamson's Darker Than You Think. Hutchings' description of the book's content and genre sparked a lot of interest. He mentioned that the book had been out of print for several years, but had recently been reissued. I remember predicting that sales of the new edition would probably go up immediately following the conference - and, though I don't know about any of the other delegates, I certainly went out and immediately bought a copy.

Embarrassingly, despite buying the book last September, I have only just found time to read it. Mea culpa. But I've now read it, and here is my review!

Williamson's novel, first published in 1948, tells the story of Will Barbee, a former student of Dr. Lamarck Mondrick (an anthropologist/palaeontologist/archaeologist, with a background in psychiatry - bear with me on this one!) who is currently working as a journalist. The novel begins with Barbee arriving at an airport to cover the return of Mondrick and his team, who have been researching 'something' in Asia for the past two years. As he waits for the plane to land, he meets a mysterious young woman named April Bell, who is also apparently a journalist.

Immediately intrigued, attracted and frightened by April, Barbee begins to get a feeling of foreboding. As he surveys the families of Mondrick and his team, this feeling grows. Sure enough, when Dr. Mondrick arrives, the professor begins to make a startling announcement about a shocking discovery... and then promptly dies. This begins a series of frightening events, as Barbee becomes more closely involved with April Bell and slowly learns the truth of Mondrick's discoveries. As the title of the book suggests, the truth is "darker than you think".

The first chapter of the novel is entitled "The Girl in White Fur". The first description of April Bell reads as follows:

"She looked as trimly cool and beautiful as a streamlined electric icebox.
She had a million dollars' worth of flame-red hair. White, soft, sweetly
serious, her face confirmed his first dazzled impression - that she was
something very wonderful and rare. She met his eyes, and her rather large
mouth drew into a quick pleasant quirk." (p. 1)

It shouldn't be too difficult for you to guess what sort of creature April Bell is. If I add that dogs growl at her, she has an aversion to the silver jewellery worn by Rowena Mondrick and that she carries a bag with a kitten in it (the second chapter of the book is called "The Kitten Killing"), I don't think there is much room for doubt.

Sure enough, it is soon apparent that April is intent on leading Barbee into the world of "lycanthropy" (or, as is probably more accurate, shapeshifting). Much of the presentation of lycanthropy in Williamson's book will be familiar to fans of werewolf fiction. In 'were' form, Barbee and April speak of being "free", enjoying human blood and hunting, are nocturnal and murderous. Barbee's first transformation is somewhat painful, but it becomes easier and more desirable. As noted, the sexual allure of the female werewolf is made apparent throughout the book.

However, though Williamson's presentation of lycanthropy is (in some ways) a standard one, there are some interesting to note about Darker Than You Think. Firstly, and most obviously, the book is a very early example of this 'standard' representation. We might all know a lot of the tropes Williamson employs, but this is a result of the vast swathes of fiction that has come since (some of which has been influenced by Williamson's book directly, but not all).

Secondly, the novel's genre is quite difficult to define. The opening chapters have a noirish quality, with the hardbitten reporter meeting the femme fatale and getting drawn into a dangerous mystery - it should come as no surprise that Will Barbee drinks way too much whisky! Elsewhere, the book feels more like what is now known as urban fantasy, with episodes that read like science fiction, science fantasy and psychological thriller. For instance, the explanation of the mechanism of lycanthropy draws heavily on theoretical physics - though this may seem somewhat dated for those with a background in science - as well as on more traditional ideas of the animal 'spirit'.

I will confess, some parts of Williamson's novel left me less than enthused. The reason for this was that I felt that too much had been explained too soon. April offers Barbee a fairly lengthy explanation of her own circumstances early in the novel, as well as the 'scientific' explanation of lycanthropy. She tells him about the murders and why they must happen, and (apparently) what the strange box Mondrick has brought from Asia contains. Barbee's attempts to come to terms with this, and his vacillations between his 'human' nature and his murderous lycanthropy take up a large part of the novel.

However, what I wasn't prepared for was how much Williamson holds back until the final chapters of the novel. The final 'reveal' is most definite worth waiting for. Though the novel appears to be about the mystery of who the "Child of Night" actually is - and I must confess, I did work that out - what is really worth waiting for is the final 'tying together' of all the strange threads of the novel - Mondrick's research, his strange wife, the references to palaeontology, archaeology, psychiatry and physics, and the strange box that has returned from the expedition.

And I'll say no more on what that explanation is, as I think the book is well worth reading for that alone. The characters may be a little dated and cliched, and the plot a little far-fetched in places, but the final 'solution' and the novel's ending are certainly unlike most things you will find in a werewolf book. At the risk of sounding a little trite, lycanthropy in Williamson's novel really is "darker than you think".

On the back of the 2003 Gollancz paperback edition, Douglas E. Winter describes Darker Than You Think:

"It is arguably the best, and certainly the best remembered, American novel about lycanthropy."

I'm not sure I necessarily agree with this assessment, but I would certainly suggest that Williamson's novel is a must-read for any fans of werewolf fiction, and April Bell certainly belongs on a list of fascinating female werewolves.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

CFP: 3rd Global Conference: Urban Fantasies: Magic and the Supernatural

15th March - 17th March 2012

Prague, Czech Republic

Call for Papers:

Jimmy Paz. Harry Dresden. Matthew Swift. Felix Castor. Sookie Stackhouse and Bill Compton.

These are among the more recent characters that fill the shelves of “Urban Fantasy” in local or online bookshops. The novels that constitute the genre are set in cities or gritty inner-cities and contain one or more fantastic elements. Alien races, mythological characters, paranormal beings, and the manipulation of magical forces all appear in these novels. Self-esteem issues and tragic pasts often color or shape the principal characters. Although most often “contemporary,” the tales are sometimes set in the past or future as well. The books and stories demonstrate how magic or the supernatural interact with everyday quotidian life, either changing it forever (as in the *Shadow Saga*) or remaining a hidden force that protects the unknowing residents of the city (as in *The Chamber of Ten*).

This “Urban Fantasy” thread is part of a larger project concerned with Magic and the Supernatural in all its myriad forms. The fascination and appeal of magic and supernatural entities pervades societies and cultures. The continuing appeal of these characters is a testimony to how they shape our daydreams and our nightmares, as well as how we yearn for something that is “more” or “beyond” what we can see-touch-taste-feel. Children still avoid stepping on cracks, lovers pluck petals from a daisy, cards are dealt and tea leaves read.

A belief in magic as a means of influencing the world seems to have been common in all cultures. Some of these beliefs crossed over into nascent religions, influencing rites and religious celebrations. Over time, religiously-based supernatural events (”miracles”) acquired their own flavour, separating themselves from standard magic. Some modern religions such as the Neopaganisms embrace connections to magic, while others retain only echoes of their distant origins.

Papers from any discipline are welcome on any aspect of the Urban Fantasy genre as well as those concerned with Magic and the Supernatural in more general terms or other subheadings. Possible subjects include, but are not limited to, these:

* Gender and sexual stereotypes/roles in UF stories

* Updating and rewriting of traditional mythologies in UF

* Role of / interaction of magic/philosophy/religion in UF

* Magical practice as religion in UF

* Changes in UF as reflections of /opposition to contemporary culture

* Cultural and racial stereotypes in UF

* Comparison of UF and other fantasy sub-genres

* Importance of geographic location (ex. London, Salzburg, Venice) in UF

* Importance of historical accuracy and fidelity in UF

* Explanations for how “magic” functions/operates in varying UF stories

* Magic as “paranormal,” anything alleged to exist that is not explainable by any present laws of science

* the distinctions between “magic” and “religion” and “science”

* Magical thinking and the equation of coincidence with causality

* Folk magic and “traditional” systems of magic

* “Magick” and “Wicca” as religious systems in modern society

* Witchcraft in the European context

* “Witchcraft” and animism in African or Asian contexts

* Magic as illusion, stagecraft, sleight-of-hand

* Magic in modern literature (ex. Harry Potter, Harry Dresden, the saga of Middle Earth, the Chronicles of Narnia, etc.) and in traditional literatures (folk or fairy tales, legends, mythologies, etc.)

* Magic in art and the depiction of magical creatures, practices or practitioners

* the associations of magic with the “monstrous” or “evil;” does one imply the presence of the other?

* the portrayal of magic, magical creatures, and magical practices or practitioners on television and in film

* the roles or uses of magic in video games, on-line communities, role-playing games, subcultural formations and identities

* the similarities and differences of magical creatures across societies and time periods

* the interplay of “magic” and “religion” as well as “science”

* the “sciences” of demonology and angelology

* the role of divination or prophecy in societies or religions

* the use of “natural” vs. “supernatural” explanations for world events

* Magic and the supernatural as coping mechanisms for individuals and societies

The Steering Group also welcomes the submission of pre-formed panel proposals. 300 word abstracts should be submitted by Friday 30th September 2011. All submissions are minimally double blind peer reviewed where appropriate. If an abstract is accepted for the conference, a full draft paper should be submitted by Friday 27th January 2012. Abstracts should be submitted simultaneously to the Organising Chairs; abstracts may be in Word, WordPerfect, or RTF formats with the following information and in this order:

a) author(s), b) affiliation, c) email address, d) title of abstract, e) body of abstract

Please use plain text (Times Roman 12) and abstain from using footnotes and any special formatting, characters or emphasis (such as bold, italics or underline). We acknowledge receipt and answer to all paper proposals submitted. If you do not receive a reply from us in a week you should assume we did not receive your proposal; it might be lost in cyberspace! We suggest, then, to look for an alternative electronic route or resend.

Organising Chairs

Stephen Morris
Hub Leader (Evil)
Independent Scholar
New York, USA

Rob Fisher
Network Founder and Network Leader
Freeland, Oxfordshire, UK

The conference is part of the ‘At the Interface’ programme of research projects. It aims to bring together people from different areas and interests to share ideas and explore various discussions which are innovative and exciting.

All papers accepted for and presented at this conference will be eligible for publication in an ISBN eBook. Selected papers maybe invited for development for publication in a themed hard copy volume(s) or for inclusion in the Perspectives on Evil journal (relaunching 2011).

For further details of the project, please click here.

For further details of the conference, please click here.

Please note: Inter-Disciplinary.Net is a not-for-profit network and we are not in a position to be able to assist with conference travel or subsistence.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Review: Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Raised by Wolves (Quercus, 2010)

Raised by Wolves, published by Quercus in 2010, is a YA urban fantasy novel, which tells the story of Bronwyn (otherwise known as Bryn), a girl raised by a werewolf pack. When she was four years old, a lone "Rabid" werewolf - the "Big, Bad Wolf" - attacked and killed Bryn's family. She only escaped by hiding in a cupboard until the Stone River Pack arrive to kill the lone wolf and save the girl's life. Bryn is then taken into the pack by powerful alpha Callum, who "Marks" her and raises her. When human woman Ali arrives - searching for her sister who has run off with a werewolf - she is given Bryn as a surrogate daughter, despite being only a few years older. This semi-stable family set-up continues until Bryn is seventeen, when the arrival of newly-converted "Were" Chase causes Bryn to question everything she thinks she knows about the pack and her place within it.

Barnes' werewolves are of a recognizable type: presented as a sort of cohabitation of human and wolf within one 'shifting' bodyt; 'born' not 'made' (on the whole); subject to the strict regulation of a hierarchical pack structure; and telepathic via a "Pack bond", a shared consciousness that links all members of a particular pack. The societal organization of the pack is utterly patriarchal, reliant on obedience to the alpha male. Bryn is doubly subject to this patriarchy; as a woman, but also a human, she has ostensibly little power to rebel against the rigorous and controlling influence of alpha Callum. The novel begins with Callum chastizing Bryn for three transgressions: she has 'borrowed' a motorbike from a classmate [What is it with YA heroines and secret motorbikes??]; her Algebra marks are low; she hasn't fully complied with her curfew. These circumstances may be reasonably familiar to readers of YA fiction. However, on eof the strengths of Raised by Wolves is that Barnes extends this marginalized, powerless situation of the heroine to a wider presentation of women within the werewolf world.

It is made clear throughout the book that there are very few female werewolves. This is presented as a fluke of werewolf biology: "Something about the chemistry involved in werewolf conception made it impossible for girl embryos to survive the first trimester, unless they were half of a set of twins and had a brother to mask their presence in the womb." This 'scientific fact' has a series of deep repercussions for the female characters in the novel. It makes female werewolves very rare: Bryn's foster-sister Kaitlin and close friend Lake are unusual, and thus highly prized members of the pack. As werewolves are 'born' and not 'made', the only way to breed 'purebred' werewolves is for these females to mate with male members of the pack. Their relative scarcity means that they are the focus of an undercurrent of sexual violence and coercion. In the later chapters of the novel, Bryn becomes aware of this when Lake - a rebellious tomboy of breeding age - hides in the mountains when a group of alphas visit her home. As Lake's father explains: "Some Weres, especially the dominant ones, get real funny around females, and Lake's not a kid anymore." Not only is the fifteen-year-old Lake now at risk of the "real funny" behaviour of dominant males, she may also be subject to "bartering" by her own alpha. Bryn comes to a realization that her friend - and, evenutally, her younger sister - will be seen as "commodities" by Callum.

One of the ways alphas exert power over each other is through the size of their pack. The more members to a pack, the more power the alpha has. As there is no way - apparently - of converting humans into werewolves, breeding is an important concern for the pack. The rareness of female werewolves results in most werewolves taking human wives. Barnes is fairly stark in her portrayal of these women - they are little more than breeding machines, and maternal mortality rates are ridiculously high. At one point, the narrator Bryn comments on mass, unmarked graves of female women who have died giving birth to werewolf children. The cumulative effect of this focus on reproduction, mating and mortality is to create a world in which to be female is to be inferior, fragile and vulnerable to patriarchal violence and control. Barnes sustains this throughout her novel, adding to the tension and precariousness of Bryn's situation.

Nevertheless, Bryn is not the sort of heroine who will simply compel with such monolithic societal controls. As Lake's father comments, she is "scrappy". The characterization of Bryn, and her determination to rebel against and subvert the world in which she lives, is one of the most compelling aspects of the novel. Bryn is adept at finding loopholes in pack rule, and discovers a number of skills and attributes that allow her to fight back against the injustices she has faced. (And I will say no more on these, as they are integral to the development of the plot.) Moreover, Bryn configures an alternative society, at odds with the traditional pack, made up of the marginalized, the disenfranchised and the powerless. This social group includes Chase (the werewolf convert who 'shouldn't' exist), Lake and Bryn's close friend Devon - "the world's only metrosexual werewolf". This group - also incorporating Bryn's strong and principled foster-mother Ali and adorable wolf-cub Kaitlin - is likable and sympathetic. The reader sides with them easily against the rigid and brutal pack patriarchy.

Although, as I have said, Barnes' werewolves are of a reasonably familiar type, the author plays around with the usual formula. For example, the "Pack bond" shared by the werewolves can also be enjoyed by humans who have been "Marked". Bryn and Ali have the opportunity to share in this bond, but choose to close off their minds to it. This leads to some consideration by Bryn about what exactly separates humans from "Weres". Though she realizes that she is not actually a werewolf, Bryn doesn't feel or act fully human either. Snarling in anger and revelling in the unrestrained physical freedom of "running with the Pack", Bryn seems to be part-werewolf, despite the impossibility of this. This all raises an interesting question: is it nature or nurture that makes a werewolf?

Raised by Wolves is an enjoyable and gripping YA fantasy. Believable characters and a well-handled and suspenseful plot make for a great read. While the basic premise of the book (and its werewolf world) may seem like well-trodden territory, Barnes' handling of these ideas is original and fresh. The writing bears favourable comparison with other bestselling examples of YA fantasy - and, indeed, is an instance of the genre at its best. Definitely recommended.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Review: Naomi Clark, Silver Kiss (QueeredFiction, 2010)

Naomi Clark's novel, Silver Kiss, is an urban fantasy set in a world where humans and werewolves live side by side. The narrator is Ayla Hammond, a werewolf who lives with her human girlfriend Shannon. Ayla has recently returned home (with Shannon), after years of self-imposed exile from her pack. Shannon works as a private detective and is asked to investigate the disappearance of a teen werewolf named Molly Brady. This investigation, and the consequences of what Ayla and Shannon uncover, forms the main plot of Clark's novel. However, other issues - such as Ayla's reintegration into her family/pack, and Shannon's lack of ease with this homecoming - also surface over the course of the narrative.

Clark's work weaves together elements of various genres, which is not an easy feat. She does this well, though the novel's heart belongs to urban fantasy. In-keeping with this generic context, Clark creates an alternative 'reality' in which werewolves are integrated into human society. The establishent of this world is done with subtlety; 'reality' is conveyed through character and action, and Clark avoids using lengthy exposition. For example, early on in the story, the reader is given a glimpse of the television news Ayla is watching: "Then the final headline went past: Teen werewolf still missing in Yorkshire." This matter-of-fact way of presenting the 'alternate reality' of Silver Kiss adds depth to the fantasy. The reader is immersed in the world without constants breaks to have things explained. This is, of course, due to the fact that the story is told through the first person narration of Ayla herself. Exposition would seem somewhat odd from a character who is living the reality! Notable exceptions to this are Clark's explanations of how the police force and hospitals have adapted to accommodate and make use of werewolves. Nevertheless, both of these (appropriately brief) clarifications are necessary to the plot.

What becomes apparent, however, is that this accepted integration of humans and werewolves is a vulnerable status quo. Hints appear early on of a more troubled relationship between the species. Ayla works at a tattoo parlour - a common trope of urban fantasy, and often a place of refuge and safety for 'other' beings - but her colleague Kaye isn't "keen on lesbians or werewolves". Kaye's hostility towards Ayla speaks of a prejudice based on a long shared human/werewolf history: "When I was a kid, my brother used to tell me that you guys hunted humans down at Lupercali... you'd steal little kids and chase them through the woods on full moons." Ayla responds to this by offering a lycanthropic point of view: "My granddad used to tell me that human hunters went after us on full moons."

The uneasy relationship between humans and wolves becomes more and more threatening as the novel progresses, and is an important aspect of the central plot. By the brutal final confrontation, Ayla has become lost in a more "primitive" understanding of human/wolf dynamics: "For as long as there had been forests and prey to stalk them in, man and wolves had been enemies." Drawing on the generic conventions of detective fiction and thriller, as well as those of fantasy, Silver Kiss has Ayla and Shannon drawn into a dangerous circle of drugs, violence and anti-werewolf hate crime. Although the women are gay, many of the difficulties they face are due to Ayla's species, rather than her sexuality. Affiliations with the "Pack" are also a source of tension for a number of characters.

Clark's werewolves are a familiar type. Born, rather than made, the lycanthropes of Silver Kiss lives in packs that resemble extended family structures, but which are maintained with hierarchical structures and codes of conduct. Thus, we are told, there "was no law against abortion in the Pack, same as there was no law against homosexuality. But there was an unspoken, acknowledged rule that it was not done." Wolves who do not follow these acknowledged rules risk being outcast. Other wolves, like Ayla, may choose to sever their own ties with the pack and become a "lone wolf". This type of self-imposed banishment entails the danger of becoming "feral". In addition to rigid pack structures, Clark's werewolves are also influenced by the (feminized) moon, although they are able to transform at will; they are also quick to heal and adversely affected by wolfsbane. As in most fantasy fiction, the metamorphosis into wolf form is presented as easy, near-painless and swift. It is something to be desirec, as being a wolf brings with it freedom, harmony with nature, and beauty. There is also no break in consciousness between the human and the wolf: memories and rationality are not changed with the shapeshift occurs.

Though the werewolves in Silver Kiss are of a recognizable variety, Clark does offer some exploration of the darker side of these lycanthropic identities. The questions of savagery, brutality and wildness are never far below the surface. In the opening chapters of the book, we are introduced to the "Lupercali", a werewolf festival celebrating pack loyalties and the coming-of-age of cubs. This is first presented as a cultural and social experience, one which cubs learn about in "Lupine Studies" at school. However, within just over a page, we see a female wolf approaching with a sacrificed lamb: "Its throat had been recently cut and the lamb still smelled warm, its blood perfuming the air." Ayla acknowledges this inherent violence of the werewolf, but is at pains to relegate this to a dark vision of the "Middle Ages". Nonetheless, it surfaces in Silver Kiss, culminating in the degeneration of many of the wolves into creatures controlled by their "bloodlust".

Clark juxtaposes the wildness and brutality of wolves with the violence inherent in human beings. The "Alpha Human" group that terrorizes and attacks werewolves is a sinister organization that carries out acts of 'inhuman' cruelty - such as the murder and subsequent skinning of Ayla's young cousin. At the climax of the novel, both werewolves and humans are prey to their "bloodlust" (a word which Clark repeats to emphasize this parity). While feral wolves pose a distinct threat, so too do feral humans.

While the fantasy world of Silver Kiss is certainly interesting, what really made this book for me was Clark's characterization of Ayla and Shannon. Ultimately, the two women are likeable and easy to relate to. Their relationship is strong and convincing, and, despite the (insidious and overt) homophobia they face and the fact that they are different species, Ayla and Shannon seem well-matched and grounded. As the events of the novel unfold and put a strain on the women's relationship, the reader is able to identify with both sides of the wolf/human divide growing between them. One of the reasons I found Silver Kiss compelling is that I genuinely cared and wanted to find out what happened to the protagonists.

So, to conclude, Silver Kiss belongs to a specific genre - one that is not everyone's cup of tea. But for fans of urban fantasy - or those who just like any well-written werewolf stories - it is strongly recommended. Clark's writing is tight and well-paced, and her narrative is enjoyable. The final plot reveal is shocking, and I found myself sincerely hoping that Ayla and Shannon would get through it together. Overall, Silver Kiss is a welcome addition to my werewolf library.

Silver Kiss was published in 2010 by QueeredFiction. It is available to buy direct from the publisher or on Amazon.

QueeredFiction is an independent small press publisher, specializing in LGBT genre fiction. For more information about their publications and forthcoming titles, visit their website by clicking here.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Werewolf Literature and Native Wolves

A question was asked in one of the sessions at the She-Wolf conference that has got me thinking. In our panel on contemporary fantasy fiction, one delegate asked why so much of the current crop of werewolf fantasy is coming out of the US and Australia. Another delegate suggested that it was related to the fact that wolves (and other wild dogs) are native to these countries. This sparked some debate, as traditionally werewolf literature has been more common in countries where wolves are not native.

My own work is on European literature of the 12th-14th centuries, but also on 21st-century fiction, so I thought I'd give the question some thought. Feel free to comment!

Medieval werewolf literature (and by this I mean entertainment literature, rather than church texts) was generally produced in areas in which there were (are) no wolves. I remember once giving a paper on Marie de France's Bisclavret at a conference and being asked whether this text was influenced by the fact that folkloric belief and a 'fear of wolves'. It's hard to imagine the 12th-century aristocratic Marie, who was possibly residing at the Plantagenet court in England when she composed her poem, actually being frightened of wolves! Chances are she'd never so much as seen one.

However, medieval romance is a genre characterized by nostalgia. If we look, for example, at the 14th-century William of Palerne, the relationship between this generic nostalgia and the werewolf becomes apparent. Having been helped by the friendly werewolf to escape a forced marriage, William and Melior flee to the forest. Once there, they intend to live a rural and simple existence - Melior suggests that they survive by eating berries that they find. The werewolf and the forest form part of a rural idyll for which the lovers long.

Yet, as critics such as Corinne Saunders and Gillian Rudd have shown, the forest of 14th-century England (the country in which William of Palerne was produced) did not spread as far as has been previously believed. The forest had already been cut back, removed and urbanized in many areas. As is clear from romance texts, a fond folk-memory of the days when the entire country was covered by forest remained in the later Middle Ages - might we not also assume that this folk-memory also involved wolves? Though there were still some wolves left in Britain at the time when William of Palerne was produced, they were being hunted by the 'civilized' court. Thus a memory of wolves may also have been a 'memory' of a time when human beings lived in 'harmony' with nature, the forest and the wolves. Whether or not this 'harmony' ever actually existed is another question.

In medieval romance what we find is a nostalgic view of the 'olden days' - once upon a time, all this was forest and wolves/werewolves roamed free. And those of you familiar with Marie de France's Bisclavret will recognize that this is a fairly close approximation of the opening lines of the poem.

Jump forward to the 21st century...

Contemporary fantasy fiction also concerns itself with a certain type of nostalgia. However, the generic concerns are, in many respects, distinctly different to those of medieval romance. While a discomfort with urbanization and the destruction of 'nature' is apparent in both genres, this manifests itself in quite different ways.

Ecological concerns and the issue of how human beings impact on the natural world are common themes in contemporary urban fantasy. In Maggie Stiefvater's Shiver, the problem of hunting is raised, as the werewolf Sam is shot by Tom Culpeper - who believes he is simply hunting wolves. Werewolves are thus moved from the the 'once upon a time' world of the romantic forest, and into an arena in which the natural world comes into (often violent) confrontation with the urban.

One of the defining characteristics of contemporary urban fantasy is that it is set in the 'here and now'. It distinguishes itself from other types of fantasy fiction through its thoroughly 'realistic' setting in the modern world. Thus, it is harder to imagine a world in which werewolves might wander freely without running into problems of verisimilitude and believeability. It makes sense, therefore, that such fantasy takes place in a world in which there are already wolves - making it only a small imaginative leap to the existence of werewolves.

Both medieval romance and contemporary urban fantasy imagines a space in which werewolves could conceivably exist. Romance utilizes its generic tropes of nostalgia to conjure up a vast forest in which supernatural beings walk; urban fantasy depicts the 'realistic' world of the US/Australia, where people really do live alongside wolves or other wild dogs, before adding that some wolves may not be what they seem. By comparing the generic concerns and characteristics, it is clear that the former would be more common in areas where there are no wolves, whereas the latter (by necessity) is likely to be produced in areas where human beings live alongside native wild dogs.

That's my take on the problem. I'd love to hear other people's thoughts.