Is transformation-related fiction a genre?
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©2000 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
It's another day in the never ending saga of my family's move to a different area of New York State and here I am, sitting in an empty house, making editorial comment on Phil Geusz' story Cotton Candy while only half listening to the music of the Righteous Brothers during the big love scene by the clay spinning wheel in Ghost and feeling maudlin because I miss my family -- which explains the topic of this editorial, as I will explain in a moment. Confused? Wondering what on Earth, or anywhere else for that matter, I am talking about? Allow me to explain -- and I will try not to be too pedantic.
First, let me ask the obvious question: "What is transformation-related fiction?"
Tsk. Tsk. Stop looking for a catch. Of course it is a trick question. I define transformation-related fiction, or transfiction as I call it, rather broadly. To me, transfiction involves stories involving change -- usually, but not always, physical change -- and the conflict that ensues. You will note I do not include stories that consist of only a transformation in this definition. This is not because they do not belong -- they do. It's only that, to me, they are not complete. They are story segments, parts of a story, a labor of love still waiting to be born. Without a conflict and a resolution, they are not complete. I would not care if the segment was the work of the greatest author known -- you can name him as I am not getting suckered off topic and into that debate -- it is not a complete story without a conflict and a resolution.
So, assuming you accept my definition -- you do, don't you? -- we have defined transfiction. While this is a good start, make that an essential start, we still haven't answered the question posed in the title, "Is transformation-related fiction a genre?" And no, I still have not forgotten that I need to explain how Ghost and Cotton Candy relate to this discussion.
It's time to be pedantic a bit -- just a bit, I promise. We need to define genre also, and I define a genre as subcategories of larger categories of stories with specific themes or story patterns. Using this definition, time travel stories would be a genre of science fiction as they have all the defining characteristics of science fiction and also have a pattern, in this case time travel, that is not endemic to all science fiction.
I know. You knew that. But what about that other guy? Are you sure he knew too?
I will not spoil the ending of Phil's story by explaining how Cotton Candy led me to this line of questioning, beyond saying that it is an unusual transformation. But it was the nature of that transformation, and then the transformation in Ghost that made me wonder. In the later, a man transforms into a ghost -- duh! -- as the title implies. This is clearly a transformation, but Ghost is not what I would normally think of when I speak of transfiction. It is a popular, very mainstream book and movie. Yet it meets the single primary criteria for transfiction -- a character changes, in this case from a living human being to a ghost, but nevertheless, changes.
Ahem! The congregation may now genuflect once and be seated. I shall now step down from the podium.
With Ghost clearly in the ranks of transfiction, I began to wonder what else I had been missing. A bit of judicious research, some from Phaedrus' excellent Gender Change Fiction List, uncovered a variety of movies like Tootsie, The Bird Cage, and even The Marathon Man. In Tootsie a man dresses as a woman to get a job and the role teaches him how to control his anger in order to become a better person. In The Bird Cage a man dresses and acts as women on stage, but has to learn whether he is woman enough to carry it off in real life. In The Marathon Man a naive college student is forced to become a ruthless investigator to avoid torture and death. Even Shanghai Noon has a transformation in it, as Chinese palace guard Chung Huang becomes western gunslinger and lawman John Wayne -- see the movie, I won't even try to explain that one.
Each of these movies has at least one transformation in it, albeit, not all are physical. Each would also meet the criteria above defining them as transfiction, but, each would not meet the criteria for any one single genre, certainly not science fiction and fantasy as most people seem to think when speaking of transfiction.
Anyway, now I can get on to the good stuff and try to answer the question I first posed. Is transformation-related fiction a genre? No. Transfiction cannot be a genre as it has too many elements of too many other genres. That means, to quote a commercial with William Shatner, "we're bigger than 'bigger than big'."