From the 1950s to the late 1990s, the use of the word “pantasya” has acquired a number of meanings. I suppose our grandfathers and grandmothers used the word in its oldest sense, of fantasy or phantasy, which they probably labeled improbable literature. In other words, out of this world. I’ve always been fascinated by the catchphrase “Pantasya ng Bayan” (Fantasy of the nation). In Howie Severino’s documentary for GMA 7’s I-witness, I found out that it was used as a slogan for the popular mid-century comic heroine “Darna” and its movie spin-offs.

The word fantasy comes from the late Middle English which in turn comes from the from the Old French fantasie, via Latin from Greek phantasia ‘imagination, appearance’, later ‘phantom’, from phantazein ‘make visible’. From the 16th to the 19th centuries the Latinized spelling phantasy was also used. This word I encountered in reading Ioan Culianu’s Eros and Magic in the Renaissance.

Spanning the high and low of pantasya, I am thinking of probing a Filipino grammar for fantasy. The growth of comic book movie adaptations into TV series and movies has spawned a new understanding of pantasya that somewhat reflects ancient myths, epics, sagas and oral literature of the precolonial past.

Another thing happened at the turn of the millenium: the film adaptation of Tolkien’s works. This brought the long-lasting popularity of the genre to a climax which naturally resulted in TV features that aped the costume epics (GMA’s Encantadia, etc.) The cycle of epics by George RR Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire was used recently by HBO’s Game of Thrones. Parodies like Terry Pratchett’s books have become part of popular culture beyond the die-hard fan base. Even the Philippine fantasy novel which has long since left its niche existence has seen an increase in both sales figures and translations into other languages.

There is no doubt that this success at the beginning of the 21st century owes a lot to the popular staging or imagining of the Middle Ages. This results in the interest and task of literary studies, and especially media studies, to seek productive and critical examination of the texts of fantasy beyond any genre category and epoch boundaries.

The “pantasya ng bayan” was only lately corrupted in the popular imagination to mean bold stars. The usage is often mistaken to mean literally, that the entire nation is drooling over the sexiness of this somebody. This should be taken methaphorically; pantasya meaning the imagining the impossible to happen or have.

What fascinates me in the phrase “pantasya ng bayan” is the assumption that an entire nation can have a general source or concept of fantasy, or objects of fantasy. This is not hard to imagine with mass communications technology from print, cinema, and broadcast. But what was pantasya before Darna?

Philippine comic books have become an integral part of folk literacy since Rizal’s “Ang Pagong at ang Matsing,” which even in its simple plot, works explicitly with motifs and forms from the creation myths of the Southeast Asia.

I am interested in the previously largely unnoticed (by the serious study in the Philippine academe, and I hope to be proven wrong about this) specific literary mode of this popular form. It would be interesting to examine the narrative structures and plotlines, about the inventory of figures or archetypes or about the common phantasmata of the pre-colonial epics and myths expressed in modern texts. The aim is to read these texts from a scientific-medieval (900-1565) perspective and thus to explain their potential for fascination in contemporary times.

I am starting to think of the subject area of this proposed study. Perhaps begin with reviewing fantasy novels of contemporary literature in which the Medieval period, its literature, culture and mythology become a formative staging space and a surface of projection (i.e. Janus Silang by Edgar Samar?). I would like to concentrate only on works written in the native languages of the Philippines but I can make exceptions for those works that have been read and understood widely, such as Mythology Class by Arnold Arre.

In the still less-explored genre theory of pantasya, works that reference medieval period literature can are classified as a type of high fantasy, the beginning of which is said to have been Ibong Adarna, a 16th-century Filipino epic poem about an eponymous magical bird. The longer form of the story’s title during the Spanish era was “Korido at Buhay na Pinagdaanan ng Tatlong Prinsipeng Magkakapatid na anak ni Haring Fernando at ni Reyna Valeriana sa Kahariang Berbanya” (English for “Corrido and Life Lived by the Three Princes, children of King Fernando and Queen Valeriana in the Kingdom of Berbanya”), and is believed by some researchers to have been based on similar European stories but contains elements of native culture.

The story of Ibong Adarna revolves around the life of King Fernando, Queen Valeriana and their three sons, Princes Pedro, Diego, and Juan. The three princes vie for the throne and kingship, and are trained in sword fighting and combat. The most courageous would inherit the throne. The story is commonly attributed to the Tagalog poet José de la Cruz or “Huseng Sisiw”, although, serious doubts about the authorship persist.

The Philippines has several epics, legends, and myths famously gathered in an anthology by Damiana Eugenio. Every major ethno-linguistic group has at least one epic, the glaring exception being the Tagalog Epic which is undiscovered until today. Off the top my head, I can name: Ibalong, Hudhud, Darangen, Biag ni Lam-ang, and the Hinilawod. I’ve written about the origins of the Hinilawod and how it was recorded by Professor F. Landa Jocano in the 1950s. I haven’t returned to the study of that particular epic but its a possible start to identify a media grammar of fantasy. It should be recognizable through a long-term analysis, but the viability of the study remains a problem. I don’t know of any novel or movie based on the above-mentioned epics. Perhaps I should just go ahead and explore the Pantasya ng Bayan in bold movies and maybe by some serendipitous luck we find remnants of popular and ancient expression of our precolonial identity there.

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