Monday, December 01, 2003

World Creation, World Consumption

One of the highest praises that can be sung of speculative fiction authors is that they are accomplished "world builders;" that they can paint a portrait of a fictional world (Earth or otherwise) so convincing yet so innovative that readers are caught up in it and find it difficult to believe that it isn't real. Tolkien's Middle Earth, of course, but also Anne McCaffery's Pern, Robert Silverberg's Majipoor, Walter Jon Williams' Metropolitan, etc.

There's another version of this, people who can imagine parts of our world that seem like they must be real: fictional companies, countries, products, etc., that we expect to see on supermarket shelves or wherever. (In a weird inversion of this, I was convinced that James Blaylock had invented a cereal called "Weetabix" for one of his novels. One day I did see it on the supermarket shelf and received a rather large shock.) But of course these things don't exist, and part of the wonder of the book is that they don't exist, and we wonder at the author's skill. At the same time, these products (or whatever) serve as important signifiers in the book that we are reading about something somewhat magical.

What, then, of the commercial forces that bring this fictional items into existence? Three examples: Willy Wonka candies, Buzz Lightyear cartoons, and sundry products from Harry Potter (Bertie Bott's Every-Flavour Beans, Butterbeer, etc.). Now that children encounter these products as part of the everyday world, will the inventiveness of the authors seem as great? Will the novels seem as fantastic? Every time I see another cherished fictional product brought into the world in the name of profit, I feel like a little bit of magic has not entered the world, but left it.