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Guest Post: One Possibly Useful Way of Categorizing SciFi/Fantasy: Northrop Frye’s Theory of Modes by Jack Teng


Jack is a recovering academic, ashtangi, and grammar nut. He has one published novel Okanagan Messiah Cometh with Permuted Press, and one upcoming novel The Promise of a Battered Moon with Kristell Ink. Check out his website www.mybossisadroid.com and follow him on twitter @mybossisadroid.

One Possibly Useful Way of Categorizing SciFi/Fantasy: Northrop Frye’s Theory of Modes

by Jack Teng

First, let me offer my sincere apologies to any English majors and academics who have actually studied literary criticism — something I cannot lay claim to. In fact, if you’re familiar with Northrop Frye, I fear you’ll be horrified by my (very amateurish and likely highly inaccurate) interpretation of his Theory of Modes and how I use it to interpret cultural trends. But hey, thank heavens I no longer have any stakes in academia! Honestly, this is just my way of looking at thematic trends in science fiction and fantasy, which I thought could be at least entertaining due to its crackpot-ness or a nice conversation starter.

The Gist

I was introduced to Northrop Frye’s Theory of Modes and his Anatomy of Criticism about ten years ago when I was having a discussion with a former partner about the existence of cycles in history. I can’t remember what I was saying, but I suspect it was largely bullshit because at the time I was studying the soporific field of theoretical ecology, and I had taken exactly zero classes in history (or English). On the other hand, my partner (who was at the time pursuing a doctoral degree in medieval English literature) had started talking about the historical progression of Western literature through a series of literary “modes” that seemed to be repeating themselves. Continue reading

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