The currency of heroic fantasy : The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter from ideology to industry : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English at Massey University

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Massey University. School of Social and Cultural Studies
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This thesis proposes that the current popularity of heroic fantasy arises from the genre's capacity to reveal "meaning" to the alienated subject within late modernity. While consumerism potentially undermines the subject's sense of stability both as an individual and as a member of a coherent and unified social group, the hero's journey conveys a compelling model for attaining a purposive subjectivity by acting on behalf of the broader community. However, this "healing" message is in turn appropriated by multinational corporations and nation states for financial advantage. Heroic fantasy can thus be read at various points of its production and consumption as both legitimating and contesting dominant institutions and ideologies.With particular reference to the books and films of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, ontological security is discussed at both individual and collective levels across three horizons: commodification, gender, and nationalism. A combination of close textual analysis and the application of core concepts from cultural studies - particularly ethnographic study, hegemonic power relations and political economy - provides the methodological flexibility necessary to trace consumers' contradictory and ambivalent responses to the three themes: the anti-materialist message incorporated in the genre's moral economy is jeopardised by the rampant commodification of the texts; the normative masculinity and emphasised femininity common to the genre is contested by female readers; and the utopic visions of a secure and homogeneous community are exploited by the New Zealand government rebranding the country as Middle-earth. These arguments are oriented toward a New Zealand perspective; interviews with readers of Harry Potter and a discussion of the World Premiere of Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Return of the King in "Wellywood" contribute to this specific context.This thesis therefore asserts that once heroic fantasy is placed in the contexts of production and reception conflicting trends are revealed, suggesting that the social impacts of heroic fantasy are complex and equivocal. Although the genre is readily commodified by the very system that it retaliates against, analysis suggests that heroic fantasy resists reification into a single dominant discourse as appropriation is never absolute.
Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Heroic fantasy, Gender, Commodification, Brand Middle Earth