Amy H. Sturgis

If scholar Amy H. Sturgis‘ projects were spheres that she juggled in the air, it would appear at times that she was juggling a solar system. The following is a rundown of just some of the work recently released (or soon to be released) by the Native American Studies and Science Fiction/Fantasy Studies scholar.

In 2007, Sturgis edited The Magic Goblet by Emilie Flygare-Carlen {early feminist Gothic novel} [first English edition in over 100 years, first scholarly English edition ever]; and edited Past Watchful Dragons: Fantasy and Faith in the World of C.S. Lewis, an anthology of essays about Lewis, Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling, based on a conference she directed.

For 2008, she wrote Tecumseh: A Biography for Greenwood Press, due out in late Spring; wrote Art in Its Most Essential Sense’: H.P. Lovecraft and the Imaginative Tale book chapter in forthcoming anthology of stories that inspired H.P. Lovecraft, due out from Apex Publications in late Spring; co-wrote Sexy Nerds: Illya Kuryakin, Mr. Spock, and the Image of the Cerebral Hero in Television Drama with Cynthia W. Walker, due out later in 2008 in Common Sense: Intelligence as Presented on Popular Television in Lisa Holderman, ed., Lexington Books; and is co-editing a book on the intersection of Fantasy and Native America (due out with Mythopoeic Press in 2009).

Tim O’Shea: You’ve edited translations of The Magic Ring (1825) by Baron de la Motte Fouqué and most recently The Magic Goblet (1845) by Emilie Flygare-Carlén–how soon before you edit a translation of The Who’s Magic Bus (1968)?

Amy H. Sturgis: That will come after I edit a translation of The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour (1967) and before my edition of Queen’s A Kind of Magic (1986). I’m working chronologically, you see. *laughs*

O’Shea: Seriously though, how soon after you finished editing the Magic Ring translation did you realize one of your next projects would be the Magic Goblet?

Sturgis: I took on The Magic Goblet quite soon after completing The Magic Ring. The timing was right, and I had fallen in love with the book. And yes, we made jokes about it – and still do. As a matter of fact, it feels rather odd not to have a “Magic project” on my desk at the moment!

O’Shea: I was interested to read (regarding The Magic Goblet) that the work was considered “controversial in the 19th century for its depiction of the callous anti-hero Seiler and its honest treatment of the subject of divorce“. When a work of controversy is translated into English is some of the controversial aspects downplayed or eliminated. In this instance, were there any scenes or aspects of the modern translation that restored anything (that might have been left out in previous translations)?

Sturgis: Translating a work can alter meanings and subtleties, and so I think it’s entirely possible for a translation of a work to be less shocking and provocative than the original text. Fortunately, for this edition I was restoring the excellent first English translation of the novel, which was published only four years after the original Swedish version of the book. This English edition caused excitement in its own right. Just to give you an idea of this translation’s controversial nature, North American Review in 1845 called it “a wild phantasmagoria of unmixed and unaccountable evil.”

O’Shea: What is the biggest challenge to editing a project like The Magic Goblet?

Sturgis: I would say there are two: one physical, the other intellectual. The physical challenge is reconstructing and preserving the text itself. One of the reasons I felt so strongly about doing this project was that few surviving copies of the book remained intact. If interested scholars, students, or other readers wished to read the book – and it is worthy of reading and rereading! – they had very little opportunity. The copy from which I worked was one of a handful left in good shape, and yet its pages were brittle and discolored, and it required very delicate handling. The very act of saving the text – scanning it (an imperfect art form with faded nineteenth-century pages, I assure you!), formatting it, and proofing each line against the original text multiple times – threatened the original. It was a sensitive operation. Logistics with world libraries also came into play when passages were too badly corrupted to be identifiable and another rare original copy proved necessary to cross-check its contents. So I would identify the act of transferring the endangered text into a proofed electronic copy to be the biggest physical challenge of editing such a work.

The intellectual challenge for me was to put The Magic Goblet in its context so those who now discover it will be able to appreciate its story, themes, and relevance. For example, much of the controversial nature of the story comes from Flygare-Carlén’s consideration of class and gender. She uses a Gothic sense of claustrophobia to highlight the places in which her protagonists seem to have very few options, even as she creates some rather remarkable and powerful characters (and manages to assemble quite a body count, as well!). Her ideas come into focus much more clearly, and thus the story becomes much more meaningful, if we realize what an outsider Flygare-Carlén was, a woman from a poor fishing village who became her country’s first professional novelist, a woman who first had married out of obedience and not from love, and then later given birth out of wedlock to a child she was forced to surrender. As fantastic and sensational as the book might first seem, in fact it represented a world that Flygare-Carlén knew. In the introductory materials I wrote for this volume, I hoped to convey what a pathbreaking novel this is, and how much of the author and her experience breathes in every page.

O’Shea: As noted by your publisher “Flygare-Carlén has long since fallen into obscurity”. Have you heard of any professors that have incorporated the newly edited edition into their syllabus. Do you have hope that attention from U.S. scholars might pull Flygare-Carlén out of obscurity?

Sturgis: This edition is so new, I expect it is only now making its way to scholars and libraries. While the ink was still drying on its pages, however, I incorporated this Valancourt Books version in my upper-division seminar History and the Gothic Imagination at Belmont University for the Fall 2007 semester. I was extremely gratified by the enthusiastic reception of my students, many of whom expressed their surprise at how contemporary the psychology and situations of the characters seemed to them. Because the individual subplots of the story are bound up quite ingeniously in an overarching mystery, the tale easily takes hold of a reader and demands attention, which is another benefit of using the text in class. I do hope more professors will adopt the book and expose new readers to it, and use its publication as a springboard for further study of Flygare-Carlén and her literary career. The woman and her works deserve additional analysis and appreciation.

O’Shea: In editing Past Watchful Dragons: Fantasy and Faith in the World of C.S. Lewis, you have an anthology of essays about Lewis, Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling. I can see the shared link between co-workers and contemporaries like Lewis and Tolkien, but I was wondering if you could speak to the shared themes and subtextual connections that brings Rowling’s work to the Lewis discussion mix?

Sturgis: Good question! Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien used the building blocks of existing world stories and societies to build new mythologies through which they could explore their own understandings of right and wrong, good and evil. You can see the influence of classical legends in Lewis’s Narnia and medieval epics in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, for instance. Their writings remain beloved and relevant today, I would say, in part because they utilized such tried-and-true building blocks that had already spoken to centuries of audiences, and in part because their main focus was the human condition, a subject as timely today as when they wrote. I think a number of later authors – the late, great Madeleine L’Engle, for one – followed in the footsteps of Tolkien and Lewis and created similarly deep fantasy worlds through which they could comment on the morality and meaning of our own. I would say J.K. Rowling is definitely an inheritor of the storytelling tradition of Lewis and Tolkien because of this. She draws from a deep well of inspiration – classical myths and legends, Arthurian traditions, etc. – to create something new, in which she can tell modern morality tales. For that matter, Rowling’s Harry Potter universe bears the unmistakable footprints of Lewis and Tolkien, and she has acknowledged her direct debt to them both. I could go on at length about the connections I see between Lewis, Tolkien, Rowling, and the themes of their works, but your readers might appreciate a quick link instead of a long ramble; my CSL article “Harry Potter is a Hobbit: Rowling, Tolkien, and the Question of Readership,” which is available online here, goes into my thoughts on this in more detail.

O’Shea: One comment of praise about the Lewis essays anthology notes it is a “welcome collection of reflections on C.S. Lewis by both seasoned and fresh voices on a wide range of topics…” What are some of the fresh voices and/or wide-ranging topics that are represented in the anthology?

Sturgis: My goal when compiling this anthology was to include essays that investigated Lewis and his legacy from all sides. I had an embarrassment of riches from which to choose, because a number of able scholars from a variety of different disciplines had attended and presented their work at the “Past Watchful Dragons: Fantasy and Faith in the World of C.S. Lewis” event, an international conference at Belmont University in November 2005, for which I served as manager. I’m extremely proud of the range of works represented by the book. For example, Past Watchful Dragons includes essays by scholars of literature, law, popular culture, theology, and history. Some deal with Lewis’s main writings, such as The Chronicles of Narnia, while others consider secondary works made from them, such as audio and film adaptations. Some go beyond Narnia to consider the perspectives on education, love, and religion that Lewis shared in other writings. Additional essays make connections between Lewis and related writers such as Tolkien and Rowling.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of fascinating connections made by contributors to this volume. On the issue of global politics, Dr. Karen Wright Hayes uses insights from George Orwell to analyze Lewis’s science fiction as commentary on the nature of imperialism in her article “Surprised, but Not by Joy: Political Comment in Out of the Silent Planet.” On the subject of fantasy and gender – a topic that recurs repeatedly in any discussion of Lewis’s Narnia – Dr. Kathryn N. McDaniel reads the house-elves of the Harry Potter universe as metaphors for house-wives in “The Elfin Mystique: Fantasy and Feminism in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series.” I hope that this anthology will invite readers to have a broader appreciation of Lewis and his legacy while inspiring new discussions and debates about his work and relevance.

O’Shea: Biographies like Tecumseh, where your subject has been dead since 1813–with the passage of time, how many misconceptions were you able to dispel and what major new information were you able to uncover about him and his legacy?

Sturgis: In the case of a man like Tecumseh, the man and the myth are nearly inextricable. Even during his lifetime, Tecumseh’s personal story grew intertwined with legend, and he, his allies, and his enemies all played roles in managing and manipulating the mystique that developed around him. After his death, published works about him in the nineteenth century were as likely to be heroic epic poems or highly imaginative novels as researched biographies. Recent scholars have tried to disentangle Tecumseh’s reality from fiction, only to see that his story can only be fully understood when both the man and the myth are taken into account. This apparent paradox – that learning the truth about Tecumseh requires us to go beyond the facts about him – is one of the themes I try to explore in my work. He is a fascinating figure full of seeming contradictions: the symbol of “the noble savage” and yet the diplomatic practitioner of realpolitik, the dedicated servant of unity and the practical artist of compromise, the principled champion of peace and the terrible instrument of war.

Beyond examining these paradoxes in Tecumseh’s story, my primary goal was to bring together much of the excellent scholarship that has been published recently about various aspects of Tecumseh’s life and death, to create one updated and informed narrative for interested readers. I also hoped to answer the question of why Tecumseh remains a figure of such resonance today in popular memory and culture. Although he did not pioneer either the idea of pan-tribal resistance to colonial and U.S. expansionism or the concept of a multi-tribal confederacy, Tecumseh proved more visionary, adaptable, and capable than other leaders who came before him in working toward these goals, and he forged a Native American alliance that shaped world events from Canada to Spanish Florida. The fact that he is today invoked by activist groups, claimed by an international community of admirers, and repeatedly resurrected in works of literature – including an astounding amount of science fiction – tells me that his story and legacy is well worth revisiting in a single-volume, accessible work.

O’Shea: How long have you been researching this Tecumseh book?

Sturgis: The long answer is that I was preparing to work on this book for quite some time before I actually accepted the invitation from Greenwood Press to write it, because much of my past research and writing (both books and articles) on American Indian topics put me in an ideal position to focus on Tecumseh’s story. The short answer is nearly two years.

O’Shea: In a political world where people are distracted by homeland security, Iraq, the rising cost of gas and immigration issues and whatever else you can think of–how hard is it to get the public interested in Native American current issues?

Sturgis: It is a source of continual frustration for me. However, I am very heartened by the use of new media such as blogs, and the energy of independent artists, filmmakers, and other voices in this struggle. For example, the Oglala Sioux passed an ordinance separating the cultivation of industrial hemp from its illegal cousin, marijuana, in the hopes of providing their people with a chance for an economic future instead of third-world poverty. The U.S. federal government confiscated the property of those who tried to cultivate the hemp and destroyed their crops. Few paid attention to the controversy that had raged from the Pine Ridge Reservation to the U.S. Federal Court of Appeals, until two young filmmakers realized the importance of this conflict. The produced the 2007 documentary Standing Silent Nation, which went on to be chosen for inclusion in the award-winning PBS series “P.O.V./American Documentary.” This is encouraging. If these issues are to reach and move a mainstream U.S. or world audience, I think those of us who know about them must continue to discuss them, and publicize them, and explain why people should care. Thanks to the modern mediascape, though, even a very few voices crying out in the wilderness may reach a number of ears.

O’Shea: On a semi-related note, how long have you been blogging at the Liberty and Power blog?

Sturgis: I accepted a kind invitation to join the blog in March 2006, and I’ve been there ever since. I am very pleased to be a part of the Liberty and Power Group Blog and the larger History News Network.

O’Shea: You recently moved from Tennessee to North Carolina. You are a scholar who seems to relish getting involved in local literary/cultural organizations. What kind of groups have gotten your interest in North Carolina so far?

Sturgis: I spent the first six months we were in North Carolina more or less sequestered with my Tecumseh project, but I am now thoroughly enjoying putting down new roots in this beautiful place. Thus far I’ve had the good fortune to become involved with a couple of exciting groups.

I have joined the committee that produces the excellent biannual Voices Film Series for the Hickory, NC community, a project that is co-sponsored by Lenoir-Rhyne College and the Women’s Resource Center in Hickory. Our next program, which is free and open to the public, will take place on the evenings of February 27 and 28, 2008, and will focus on Native America. We will be showing two Native-produced films over two nights: first the award-winning 2006 film Four Sheets to the Wind paired with a live performance, and next the award-winning 2006 documentary Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy paired with comments and a book signing (of The Trail of Tears and Indian Removal) by yours truly. I hope those who are interested will visit here to learn more. We would love to have you join us for these two evenings!

I also will be a guest at ConCarolinas in Charlotte this year, which promises to be a very energizing and exciting convention. I’m looking forward to making further contacts in the regional science fiction and fantasy community and learning even more about the literary and cultural groups in the area.

It’s been a delight talking with you, Tim. I invite you and your readers to visit me at my official website. Thank you so much!

6 thoughts on “Amy H. Sturgis

  1. I met Amy Sturgis at the J.R.R. Tolkien conference, Gathering of the Fellowship 2006 (GOTF 2006) in Toronto, Canada, and I’m very pleased to say that whatever part of her enthusiasm you can deduce from the transcript of this new interview with Ms. Sturgis pales in comparison to the ebullience that she communicates in person! I very much appreciated reading the interview, but listening to her in person is much like the difference between reading a play and seeing it performed. A true scholar with great breadth and depth, but an even more charismatic speaker and teacher!

    Thanks for the transcript!

  2. John–thanks for stopping by and hopefully I’ll make it back to Midsouthcon one of these years. Congrats on the Indiana Jones adaptation and continuing Star Wars work.

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