A photo of 葫芦影业 English Professor with her book of fantasy fiction

In the world of higher education, is there a place for magical worlds?

葫芦影业鈥檚 Jennifer Pullen, Ph.D., thinks so.

The associate professor of creative writing recently authored the only collegiate-level textbook on fantasy fiction writing. Published this spring by Bloomsbury Publishing, 鈥淔antasy Fiction: A Writer鈥檚 Guide and Anthology,鈥 seeks to expand the academy鈥檚 literary canon to include an often overlooked鈥攜et culturally-relevant鈥攇enre.

鈥淭here is a long history of fantasy and science fiction essentially being sort of ghettoized, and not treated as real literature with a capital 鈥楲,鈥欌 explained Pullen. 鈥淭olkien and C.S. Lewis got let into the canon, but no one else.鈥

A photo of Pullen on a bench

Pullen is committed to evangelizing the literary value of fantasy fiction. If she has her way, the discipline would be more widely taught at colleges and universities. It鈥檚 a lofty goal that鈥檚 personal, she explained.

鈥淚 essentially wrote the textbook I wish had existed when I was an English student.鈥

Her foray into fantasy fiction started with Grimms鈥 fairy tales as a small child. She was then enthralled with the 1982 animated film 鈥淭he Last Unicorn,鈥 watching it so many times she wore out the VHS tape. In her pre-teens, she read the book based on the film, by author Peter Beagle, and wept at the end.

鈥淚鈥檝e spent the rest of my readerhood chasing that feeling of a story that is filled with sadness and wonder at the same time,鈥 she said.

What differentiates fantasy fiction from other genres is 鈥渋mpossibility,鈥 according to Pullen. Stories unfold in make-believe worlds where impossible things happen鈥攎agic, dragons, wizards, whatever creatures the imagination can conjure鈥攂ut those things are naturalized to that world.

The genre is experiencing a 鈥淶eitgeist in the last 15 years or so,鈥 she explained, due to the popularity of 鈥淟ord of the Rings,鈥 鈥淗arry Potter,鈥 鈥淕ame of Thrones,鈥 and others.

In troubling times, people crave an escape from harsh reality. Fantasy fiction also provides a safe space to process overwhelming human emotions鈥攍ike grief, longing, fear鈥攂ecause the characters and the world aren鈥檛 鈥渞eal.鈥

鈥淔antasy has its roots in Romanticism in its search for extreme emotions鈥攖hat which is awesome and awful. It takes real human problems and magnifies them in ways that lets you see them anew,鈥 Pullen added.

Her childhood fascination with fantasy fiction led her to pursue a bachelor鈥檚 degree, MFA, and Ph.D. in English. In the course of her studies, she realized that her beloved genre had no home in the academy. For her Ph.D. dissertation, she researched why, uncovering a confluence of political and cultural reasons dating back to the 1940s that have managed to persist despite changing times.

Pullen came to 葫芦影业 because the University offered the rare opportunity to teach fantasy fiction to budding authors, as well as any student who wants to develop skills in imagination, writing, history, and empathy, inherent to the process of writing fantasy fiction.

As Pullen鈥檚 reputation as a fantasy fiction expert grew nationally, Bloomsbury Publishing approached her with the invitation to write the first collegiate textbook on the subject.

鈥淗ere was an opportunity to talk about something I鈥檇 spent my whole life talking about and thinking about,鈥 she said. 鈥淭his book enabled me to sort of get on my soapbox and explain the value of fantasy and why we should include it within our understanding of the canon of literature, and why it should be appreciated.鈥

After three years of research, writing, and editing, Pullen is delighted with the positive reception 鈥淔antasy Fiction: A Writer鈥檚 Guide and Anthology鈥 is receiving from English colleagues across the country.

The book provides history and background on the genre along with writing strategies, such as prose style, how to world build, and how to do character development. Additionally, it includes an anthology of stories that she chose by contemporary writers.

Pullen hopes her textbook opens a magical door of possibility for aspiring fantasy fiction writers and teachers.

鈥淚 want there to be fewer students who come into the creative writing classroom interested in fantasy fiction and their teacher doesn鈥檛 feel equipped to teach them,鈥 she said. 鈥淗opefully, this book makes those aspiring writers feel legitimized.鈥