The question is whether it is possible to distinguish between fantasy and true science fiction. I am reminded of the analogy, attributable I believe, to Theodore Sturgeon, of the elf ascending vertically the side of a brick wall. In a science fiction story the knees of the elf would be bent, his center of gravity thrown forward, his stocking cap hanging down his neck, with his feet quite possibly equipped with some form of suction cups. In a fantasy, on the other hand, the elf would simply stride up the wall in a normal walking posture, with his stocking cap standing straight out from his brow. What is the difference between these scenarios? The typical answer is that the science fiction story must play by the implicit rules of the
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He began with The Hobbit in 1937, of which he wrote to W. H. Auden, "It was unhappily really meant, as far as I was concerned, as a 'children's story,' and as I had not learned sense, then . . . it has some of the silliness of manner caught unthinkingly from the kind of stuff I had had served to me . . . I deeply regret them. So do intelligent children" (Paul 1972). It is Tolkien, in his superb essay "On Fairy-Stories," who claims the name Fantasy for the genre in which he himself aspired to work. He knew exactly what he was doing and knew what it should be called. The Lord of the Rings is the paradigm of fantasy in our time. If there is such a thing as science fantasy, we will be able to locate it by its resemblance to and difference from Tolkien's great work.
I observed earlier that the genre we have learned to call science fiction has been entangled with its other, its antigenre, fantasy, from the beginning, as Herbert Read noted in his usual blundering but perceptive manner, saying of H. G. Wells that he "comes as near as any modern writer to a sense of pure fantasy. He errs, as in The Time Machine, by imparting to his fantasies a pseudo-scientific logicality; it is as though having conceived one arbitrary fantasy he were compelled by the habits of his scientific training to work out the consequences of this fantasy" (Brian 1973). Here Read stumbled upon one of