Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Essay: Filipino Secondary Worlds

Every Wednesday, I'll have an essay or a feature on any topic that catches my fancy!

One of the reasons why I dislike the term "speculative fiction" is that to most people, it's jargon. When I mention fantasy, science fiction, or horror, people immediately have a preconception (whether true or erroneous) of what the said genre is. Having said that, the term "secondary world" is even more precarious. Outside of the genre, people have no idea what it means and perhaps the ironic thing here is that it's probably the most common type of fantasy.

I bring up the issue of secondary worlds because there's a recent call for submissions for local authors. It's even aptly titled The Farthest Shore: Fantasy from the Philippines based on Ursula le Guin's famous Earthsea series (which happens to take place in an archipelago and guess what, that's exactly what the Philippines is). Unfortunately, some prospective writers aren't sure what secondary worlds is (I even got an email asking me to explain it). And honestly, the guidelines doesn't tell you much (or rather, concrete examples would have been better). Well, to the uninitiated, secondary worlds are settings which don't take place in the "real world." That's everything from Middle-Earth to Narnia to your weekly D&D game. World building is another term that gets lobbied with it ever since readers got a taste of Tolkien. Most likely, if your story takes place in a magical world or in an alien setting, it's most likely a secondary world.

When I first got into the fantasy genre, I was actually reading secondary world fiction although I obviously didn't call it that (nor was I aware there was such a term until two years ago). Terry Brooks, Raymond E. Feist, Robert Jordan, R.A. Salvatore--all of these authors usually write in such a sub-genre. For the most part, fantasy for a time was probably synonymous with secondary worlds. Personally, the only reason I see the need to make a distinction is due to the recent proliferation of urban fantasy (in the mainstream sense of the word) which doesn't usually qualify.

As far as local literature is concerned, Ibong Adarna and Florante at Laura is classified as secondary world since they don't take place in the real world (and definitely not the Philippines with its medieval Europe vibe). More recently, the works of Dean Francis Alfar and Vincent Michael Simbulan take place in a recurring secondary world. When it comes to the former, there's Hinirang which is a re-imagined Philippines and has a heavy Spanish colonialism tone to it. Examples of such stories include "The Kite of Stars", "Terminos", and "The Middle Prince". Vincent Michael Simbulan on the other hand has been working on his Forlorn setting which is a fantasy/science fiction world that is experiencing its own Ragnarok. He isn't as prolific as Alfar but a few locally-published stories take place in that cosmology such as "The Wail of the Sun" (Philippine Genre Stories Vol. 1) and "The Last Stand of Aurundar" (Philippine Genre Stories Vol. 4). Even Alfar has written a Forlorn story entitled "In the Dim Plane" (Philippine Genre Stories Vol. 4).

Not all secondary world stories however have to be as grandiose or as epic as those mentioned above. Dominique Cimafranca wrote a riveting action/adventure story entitled "Twilight of the Magi" in the Philippine Genre Stories: Christmas Issue. In my Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler, "The Singer's Man" by M.R.R. Arcega is quite the emotional piece.

Perhaps an interesting discussion is whether secondary worlds can be "Filipino" if they don't take place in the Philippines or if they don't have Filipino characters. I think Ibong Adarna manages to qualify as a good example since there's nothing claiming that the characters are Filipino yet there's a quality about it that is distinctively ours.


Dom Cimafranca said...

Thanks for the mention, Charles. I hope to add another one soon ;-)

Pipe said...

Hi Charles,

Just a heads-up: I linked to this essay at Bahay Talinhaga:

As always, thanks for airing your thoughts :)