Genre Challenged Works

During a discussion with the head of my department, we realized that I like genre challenged works.

What does that mean? It means that I like to teach, and do teach, works where the genre is either unclear or where several different genres (whatever you mean by that) are mixed up together.

Is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland adult literature or children’s literature? People argue for adult literature because of the preponderance of the minor theme of death, of the scariness of the tale, and of the narcotic using caterpillar. They argue for children’s lit because it is fantastical, was written for a child, and was originally children’s lit.

Then we have the fact that saying a work is an adult or children’s lit genre doesn’t exclude the application of other genres to the work.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is clearly speculative fiction, but is it fantasy or horror?

If it is fantasy, is it low fantasy or fairy tale fantasy? (Carroll clearly was leaning this direction himself because he added a “fairy’s” comments at the beginning of the work.)

It is clearly an implausible story, one of Princeton’s definition of fairy tale. (They also said this was told as an excuse. An excuse for what?)

And it is clearly a smaller part of folklore, as Heidi Anne Heiner at Sur La Lune indicates. It was first told to Alice Liddle on July 4, 1862 and changed at least three times even once it was written down, until its publication on July 4, 1865.

According to Tolkein’s presentation of fairy tale the work is one since the story does take place in Faerie, the diminutive size (which he says we may reject but which it is not necessary to reject in this particular work) simply emphasizes it.

And at Heiner’s site, I find a quote that details just my problem with presenting “genre” to my students, in a quote from Jack Zipes’ “Introduction: Towards the Definition of the Literary Fairy Tale.” The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Oxford: Oxford University, 2000.

…[I]n fact, the literary fairy tale is not an independent genre but can only be understood and defined by its relationship to the oral tales as well as to the legend, novella, novel, and other literary fairy tales that it uses, adapts, and remodels during the narrative conception of the author.


So, what are my other “genre challenged” favorites?

Frankenstein. Is it science fiction or horror? Is it gothic? (And is that a genre?) I would say that it is definitely romantic (tradition) gothic (sub-tradition) speculative fiction. Whether it is sci fi or horror probably depends on your definition of those sub-genres. So…

Gulliver’s Travels. It is speculative fiction and fantasy. But what kind of fantasy is it? Is it a fairy tale? It is clearly an improbable tale, but is that its main point, its focus? Is it part of travel literature? (A very popular genre at the time Swift wrote, but pretty much non-existent now.) It is satire. (That’s a genre too, but of a different type.) It’s a social statement. … But what is it specifically?

Note that I wrote my dissertation on genres and attempted to define the genre of missionary newsletter. (So I’ve been doing this a while.)

1 thought on “Genre Challenged Works

  1. And I had a hard time explaining the difference between a fable and a short story just the other day to Mark. You go girl!

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