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NEW STUDENT ORIENTATION, 8/19/23

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Dr. Matthew Oliver discusses first book

Dr. Matthew Oliver

By Elinor Keck, student news writer, Office of University Communications

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – Dr. Matthew Oliver, associate professor of English at Campbellsville University, discussed his debut book, “Magic Words, Magic Worlds; Form and Style in Epic Fantasy” Feb. 27 in the Bright-Redmon Commons of Montgomery Library.

Oliver began his presentation by saying, “When I was doing research in the fantastic, I realized that one of the main things people focus on in literature is how it’s pieced together. With fantasy, I realized that people focus on larger thematic themes, so I asked myself ‘What would happen if I read a fantasy novel like Virginia Woolf?’”

Oliver explained his book is structured in pairs of chapters. The first chapter in each pair focuses on a common stylistic element in fantasy novels, such as elaborate syntax, archaic diction and voluble description, which is associated with empathy. The second chapter in the pair shows counters to those styles, such as simple syntax, minimalist and edited description, which questions empathy as voyeuristic sensationalism.

Oliver read a chapter of his work titled “A Necessary Subtraction: Simplicity, the Violent Emotion of Editing, and the Editing of Violence.”

Oliver said the pleasure of reading epic fantasy is often built on depictions of violence and violent emotion, but it is possible to write fantasy in a style that “employs moments of editorial simplicity.”

He used Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea “Trilogy” as an example of how to write non-masculine fantasy without writing “feminine” fantasy. One of the ways this was accomplished was through suggesting emotions by describing the situation but avoiding emotional words.

Oliver also took time to answer questions from the audience. In answering the first question, Oliver said much of his inspiration came from attending the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) every year. To keep active in the field, he would always prepare a paper to present. Eventually, he realized all of his papers were becoming an interconnected project.

At the time, Oliver said, “I have several chapters of a book that I’ve really started. Maybe I’ll just turn it into a book.”

Oliver’s book is full of fantasy novel analyses. Rather than going out and reading hundreds of books for research, Oliver said that he started by analyzing ones with which he was already familiar.

“A lot of the best projects start with the reading, and then from the reading you put together what the arguments are,” Oliver said. “A lot of the novels in the book are from what I’ve read before.”

Oliver shared the most exciting chapter for him to write was a chapter about wonder.

“Wonder is a cliche about the fantastic, but how do you study or quantify wonder?” Oliver said. “In that chapter I attempt to define stylistic traits of wonder. That was a really interesting chapter to be able to study.”

Oliver said the book was dedicated to his daughters, Lucy and Maggie.

Dr. Nathan Gower, associate professor of English, introduced Oliver at the beginning of the event and explained that since Campbellsville University is a liberal arts college, its emphasis is teaching.

“Sometimes the creative work by faculty happens behind the curtain,” Gower said. “Maybe we don’t recognize that enough and take time to celebrate when that happens. Academia energizes us and informs what we do in the classroom.”

Oliver’s book was for sale during the event, and Oliver took time to sign his book. His book is also available for purchase at Amazon.

Since 2009, Oliver has served at Campbellsville University, with a specialization in 20th and 21st century literature (primarily British). He received his Bachelor of Arts in English from Evangel University in 2000, his Master of Arts from Missouri State University in 2003 and his Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2009.

Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university that offers over 100 programs of study including doctoral, master, bachelor, associate and certificate programs. The website for complete information is www.campbellsville.edu.