(Excerpt) Locating Fantasy in Filipino Literature

Here’s another teaser from my chapter of Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction (Editors: Gabriela Lee and Anna Felicia Sanchez, UP Press pre-publication) which was entitled “The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” (you can also read the chapter intro here). For this section, I tried to identify the earliest known Filipino works that could be reasonably argued as Fantasy or Proto-Fantasy, but excluding Folk Literature.

Hope you find this interesting:

One of the earliest novels that could be characterized as proto-fantasy fiction is Ramon L. Muzones’ Margosatubig: Maragtás ni Salagunting (“The Land of Margosatubig: The History of the Hero Salagunting”) written in Hiligaynon from 1946. This is the cover of the English translation by Ma. Cecilia Y. Locsin-Nava (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2012).

Navigating the genre of fantasy can sometimes be difficult and confusing as “fantasy” is not a single definite category but rather a cohesion of many diverse, often wildly different, sub-genres. Wikipedia defines “fantasy” as “a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often inspired by real world myth and folklore[1]”.

Fantasy proper takes place in a world other than our own (second world fantasy), whereas the sub-genre of magical realism (also known as magical realism or marvelous realism) focuses entirely on an ordinary “real” world where everything is normal, “except for one or two elements that go beyond the realm of possibility as we know it[2]”. To date there are at least 58 named sub-genres of fantasy[3] including urban fantasy, Christian fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, mythic fantasy and vampire fantasy, just to name a few.

In the Philippines the roots of the fantasy genre begin in folklore – particularly in local tribal myths and legends, as well as in pre-Hispanic ethno-epics of which over 20 oral narratives have been recorded and translated (many more remain to be transcribed and/or translated – Palawan alone has sixty-three)[4]. It should be noted that while the natives of what would be eventually  named las Islas Filipinos had little by way of books in codex form, the inland tribes and early maritime polities in the archipelago possessed a remarkable level of literacy and a strong literary tradition[5].

Myths and legends still figure prominently in modern speculative fiction works, albeit in reimagined or subverted forms, such as the graphic novel The Mythology Class by Arnold Arre (Quezon City: Alamat Comics,1999).

Epics (in the Philippines we speak of ethno-epics[6]) are considered the most direct ancestor of the fantasy tale. These long stories essentially consist of an oral narration of the adventures and trials of a revered folk hero. Sadly, as important as they are to Filipino culture, they have been less of an influence on modern speculative fiction compared to indigenous myths and legends. One of the few to have any impact was Biag ni Lam-Ang which is pre-colonial in origin.

Biag ni Lam-Ang (“Life of Lam-Ang”), tells the story of his extraordinary birth, his various quests aided by magical animal companions, as well as his death and resurrection. It became the subject of a metrical romance in the early 20th century, as well as various comic book adaptations in the 1970s, a movie, an animated film and even a musical theatre production.  

Lam-Ang, from “Kagitingan at Pag-asa” by Crisanto Aquino in the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art: Philippine Literature, Volume 9 (Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994)

Let’s Start with (Philippine) Metrical Romance

The most popular genre of fiction during the 18th and 19th centuries was the metrical romance or chivalric romance, a type of narrative poem which in Europe developed from traditional myths and fables and was typically centered on courtly love, knights, and chivalric deeds. This genre wholeheartedly embraced fantastical elements and was a forerunner of the modern fantasy genre.

In the Philippines, metrical romance in vernacular languages (particularly Tagalog) took on two forms: the awit (a poetic narrative verse set in dodecasyllabic quatrains) and the korido (a poetic verse narrative set in octosyllabic quatrains). Like the epics that preceded them, these tales of chivalry were made to be sung and chanted.

 Numerous works in Tagalog (around 200 titles were known to have been published[7]), Bicolano, Ilonggo, Kapampangan, Ilocano and the Pangasinan language were written during this period. Interestingly, while metrical romances are not speculative fiction per se, there has been no other time in Philippine history where fantasy-adjacent genre stories were the most accepted and feted literary works.  


[1] Wikipedia Foundation Inc., “Fantasy”,  Wikipedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasy  (accessed 17 December 2020)

[2] Burlington County Library System, “Focus on Genres: Magical Realism”, Fantasy (accessed 17 December 2020)

[3] BestFantasyBooks.com, “Fantasy Sub-genres Guide”, 2015, http://bestfantasybooks.com/fantasy-genre.php#urban-fantasy  (accessed 17 December 2020)

[4] Eugenio, Damiana L., “Introduction: The Philippine Folk Epic”, Philippine Folk Literature: The Epics (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2001), p. xi

[5] Jesuit friar Pedro Chirino notes, ‘All islanders are much given to reading and writing, and there is hardly a man and much less a woman, who does not read and write in the letters used in the island of Manila They used to write on reeds and palm-leaves, using as pen an iron point’. However, writing was used mainly for the exchange of letters. Religion, government, and literature were founded on oral tradition. In Chirino, Pedro, Relacion de las Islas Filipinas (Rome: Esteban Paulino, 1604) as translated and reproduced in Blair, Emma Helen and Robertson, James Alexander, The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898: Volume XII, 1601-1604 (Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1904), p. 169

[6] As opposed to national epics like Germany’s Niebelunginlied, ethno-epics are “histories” of ethnic groups or small maritime polities that consider themselves “nations”. As per David-Maramba, Asuncion, Early Philippine Literature: From Ancient Times to 1940, (Mandaluyong:  National Bookstore, 1971), p. 21. See also Godinez-Ortega, Christine, “The Literary Forms in Philippine Literature”, GOV PH, https://ncca.gov.ph/about-ncca-3/subcommissions/subcommission-on-the-arts-sca/literary-arts/the-literary-forms-in-philippine-literature/, (accessed 15 November 2020).

[7] Jurilla, Patricia May Bantug “Tagalog Bestsellers and the History of the Book in the Philippines”, doctoral thesis submitted to the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 30 August 2006 p. 52


The Mythology Class by Arnold Arre. Originally published by the author in four issues in 1999, it was collected into a special edition by Anino Comics in September 2005 and Nautilus Comics in 2014.

(Excerpt) The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines

As promised, here’s a teaser from my chapter of Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction  (Editors: Gabriela Lee and Anna Felicia Sanchez, UP Press pre-publication) – This is the first-ever collection of non-fiction essays and think pieces about about Philippine Speculative Fiction, written by many authors, academics and critics who are active in the field. My research on “The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” grew from my 2014 attempt at documenting the early days of local Science Fiction (check out my original post here). For this chapter, I tried to identify the earliest known Filipino works that could be reasonably argued as Fantasy, Horror, and of course, Science Fiction.

Here’s the introduction:

Stories of the fantastic have existed in the Philippine Islands for as long as there have been people to tell them. From the earliest folk tales born in the depths of pre-Hispanic history, to the forms of literature that were introduced and evolved during the colonial period, to the rise of modernism and post-colonial writing that arrived after the birth of the republic, “speculative” fiction that explores the human condition through the unreal or the otherworldly continues to thrive and to grow because it speaks to something deep within readers that cannot be addressed by realism.

Cover of Doktor Kuba by Fausto J. Galauran M.D. Manila: Limbagan Nina Ilagan at Sañga, 1933

Contemporary “Filipino speculative fiction” as a category and domain of cultural activity can be said to have properly begun only in 2005, with the arrival of its first deliberate and sustained platform – the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology series (edited by Dean Francis and Nikki Alfar). But what about texts that were not explicitly labeled “speculative fiction” by their authors, or were published prior to the first Philippine Speculative Fiction (PSF)? Let’s take a look at how deep the roots of the literature of the fantastic have dug into our history. How far back they go may surprise you.

I. Defining Speculative Fiction in the Philippine Context

“Every enthusiasm aspires to respectability,” Science Fiction Grandmaster Isaac Asimov once said about his chosen field of writing, “and one way of getting it, is to demonstrate that it is old, even ancient.[1]

He goes on to say that by broadening Science Fiction’s definition to encompass “the branch of literature that deals with the imaginative and the unfamiliar”, it could be induced that Science Fiction is as old as literature itself.  

Although Asimov walks this back to a more narrow definition later, his initial, expansive definition of science fiction to include everything non-realist and fantastical is, in fact, one of the accepted historically located meanings for the term “speculative fiction”[2]. In this context, speculative fiction is defined as a supercategory of literature that includes fantasy, horror and science fiction, as well as their derivatives, hybrids, and cognate genres like the gothic, dystopia, weird fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, ghost stories, superhero tales, alternate history, steampunk, slipstream, magic realism, fractured/subverted folktales, and all their related sub-genres. It encompasses, what fictionist and editor Dean Francis Alfar noted as “at its core, the literature of the fantastic[3]”. 

Marek Oziewicz, the Marguerite Henry Professor of Children’s and Young Adult Literature at the University of Minnesota, said that a story falls under the realm of speculative fiction if it has “speculative fiction sensibilities” i.e. it contains speculative elements that are based on conjecture and do not exist in the real world. These non-realist stories can also be filed under one of the genres covered by the speculative fiction umbrella.

Excluded from our definition of speculative fiction are ethno-epics, tribal myths and legends, as well as traditional fairy and wonder tales which fall under the category of folktales. These are anonymously authored literary artifacts, passed primarily through oral narratives. Also excluded are children’s stories and juvenilia, which is a branch of literature on its own.

Philippine speculative fiction is simply the spectrum of all genre work in fantasy, horror and science fiction (as well as their sub-genres) united by a Philippine identity and a coherent Filipino aesthetic.

Prior to the arrival of the first volume of Philippine Speculative Fiction in 2005, the term “Philippine speculative fiction” didn’t exist. Realism was (and remains) the most popular literary mode. Any work that existed outside this scope was marginalized[4]. As both PSF founding editors, the Alfars, lamented in the introduction to the first volume of PSF:

“If you look for speculative fiction in the Philippines, you will be dismayed. Science Fiction and the literature of the fantastic are in very small numbers and are still looked down upon as inferior…”.

Yet despite this realist bias, there are many pre-PSF works of Filipino literature that demonstrate speculative sensibilities that can readily be classified under speculative fiction’s umbrella genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction.  


[1] Asimov, Isaac, The Birth of Science In Fiction (New York: Knightsbridge, 1981), p 9

[2] Oziewicz, Marek, “Speculative Fiction”,  Literature, Oxford Research Encyclopedia, 29 March 2017

[3] Alfar, Dean Francis, “Introduction”,  Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 2 (Pasig: Kestrel, 2006), p IX

[4] Alfar, Dean Francis, “An  Introduction”, Philippine Speculative Fiction Volume 1 (Pasig: Kestrel, 2005), p vii

Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction (Editors: Gabriela Lee and Anna Felicia Sanchez, UP Press pre-publication – likely the end of 2022 or early 2023).

BTW, I’ve decided not to post my unedited original text for the Science Fiction section due to — reasons. Instead I will (eventually) post the intros to Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction sub-sections, as well as the chapter intro you see here.

Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction: Update

It’s finally finished! So proud to be part of this seminal work on PH Spec Fic – “Mapping New Stars: A Sourcebook on Philippine Speculative Fiction,” edited by Gabriela Lee  and Anna Sanchez . Thanks for inviting me to be a part of this!

I spent the first half of 2021 working on this massive project and my poor editors had to edit out so much material. Please watch out for the launch later this year or sometime in early 2023.

Congratulations to all my fellow TOC mates!

My chapter on “The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” grew from my initial stab at documenting the early days of local Science Fiction. This time, I attempt to identify the oldest known Filipino works of Fantasy, Horror, and of course, Science Fiction.

As a teaser, I shall be posting an updated and super-remixed version of the section on Philippine Science Fiction here on my blog very soon (Likely after my upcoming eye surgery). 

The beautiful cover below is by Hans Dimapilis

Check out the amazing , powerhouse TOC:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgements

Introduction: A Beginner’s Guide to Cartography

A Brief Visual Timeline of Developments in Philippine Speculative Fiction

“Waiting for Victory: Towards a Philippine Speculative Fiction” by Anna Felicia Sanchez

Reading Philippine Speculative Fiction

“The Speculative Impulse” by Michaela Atienza

“Sapantaha: Isang Tangkang Depinisyon” by Luna Sicat Cleto

“Ang Kagila-gilalas na Haka kay Mariang Makiling Bilang Bukal ng Paglikha” by Edgar Calabia Samar

“The Roots of Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” by Victor Fernando R. Ocampo

“Tracing the Trajectory of Children’s Speculative Fiction in the Philippines” by Gabriela Lee

“Free and Open Spaces: Komiks and Speculative Fiction” by Francis Paolo M. Quina

“Philippine Speculative Fiction on the International Stage” by Charles Tan 

Writing Philippine Speculative Fiction

“Where Do Stories Begin?” by Vida Cruz 

“Choosing Your Genre: The Novel or the Short Story?” by Eliza Victoria  

“Building Worlds” by Dean Francis Alfar 

“Character Creation, or How to Get Away with Murderers” by Nikki Alfar  

“Planning the Narrative Journey” by Isabel Yap  

“Setting Up a Magic System” by Christine V. Lao 

“First World Dreams, Third World Realities” by Emil Francis M. Flores

“Considering Speculative Poetry” by Kristine Ong Muslim 

“Publishing Like a Pro” by Nicasio Reed 

Works Cited 

End Notes

Further Reading

Author Bios

Three Quick Reviews of The Infinite Library And Other Stories

A great big ‘Thank you!” to everyone who has read my book and and an even bigger shout-out to those who have sent me kind words over social media — especially to the three excellent folks below who took the time to write me reviews:

(1) First there is vlogger Rachel Tan who does her Rachel’s Now Reading reviews on Youtube.  You can check out here video here .

Rachel Reads Review

(2) I am a big fan of Ng Yi-Sheng‘s work, whether it be his poetry, stories, performances or his important advocacy work for LGBTQ issues. Thank you for spending some time to read my stories!

Screenshot_20181020-180607_Facebook(3) Lastly, thank you to the anonymous BooksActually Elf that did the review for “The Infinite Library And Other Stories”.  You can read it here.

BooksActually Review

You can get copies of my book delivered to you by BooksActually here.

My Book Birthday

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It was the book birthday of The Infinite Library and Other Stories last 28 September. If you would like to get an advanced copy, it’s available at the independent bookstore BooksActually ahead of the launch at the Singapore Writers Festival (on Tuesday, November 7 from 8.30 pm – 9.30 pm at the Gallery II of The Arts House).

Trivia time: What else shares my book birthday?

In 2015 NASA scientists announce the discovery of flowing water on Mars.

In 2008 SpaceX launches the first ever private spacecraft, the Falcon 1 into orbit.

In 1987 “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” debuts on syndicated TV

In 1965 Taal Volcano explodes in Batangas, Philippines killing around 100 people

In 1928 Juan de la Cierva completes the first helicopter flight over the English Channel

In 1901 Filipino patriots defeat 48 members of the US 9th Infantry in Balangiga, Samar

In 1066 William the Conqueror invades England, landing at Pevensey Bay, Sussex

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My first Short Story Collection – The Infinite Library and Other Stories

I am very happy to announce that Math Paper Press in Singapore is publishing my first collection of short stories. There will be 17 altogether plus a foreword by Lontar Journal founding editor Jason Erik Lundberg. The cover art is by Eisner-award winning artist Sonny Liew.

The Infinite Library and Other Stories will be launched at the Singapore Writer’s Festival this 7 November (Tuesday) 8.30 pm – 9.30 pm at the Gallery II, The Arts House. This will be a Festival Pass event.

“Victor’s keen observational eye represents the clarity of the outsider—the Filipino writing about Singapore, and about the Philippines while apart from it, and about the world and the universe as an emissary of humanity—and you can almost see his verbal abilities stretching with the languidness of a well-fed housecat. Whether through the Ellisonian stylistic gymnastics of “Dyschronometria, or the Bells are Always Screaming”, or the hallucinogenic Phildickian leetspeak of “I m d 1 in 10”, or the faux-academic jargon of “An Excerpt from the Philippine Journal of Archaeology, 4 October 1916”, he pushes the limits of form and trope, all in the service of telling us about ourselves, like a shaman guiding you through a fever dream.

Let his stories, both experimental and conventional, illuminate your way through the darkness, as only someone with a foot in two worlds can do.” – from the foreword by Jason Erik Lundberg,

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“Your Mythology is Much Like My Mythology” panel at #WorldCon75

Here are some pictures from my Mythology panel at the World Science Fiction Convention in Finland where I got to talk about ancient Filipino deities, sweet potato farming rituals and manananggals with authors and experts like Irish novelist Peadar Ó Guilín; poet, author and Classicist Jenny Blackford, Fantasy novelist Alexandra Rowland; and Elli Leppä from the University of Helsinki.

Mythology Panel 2017 (5)

Front row (L to R): Jenny Blackford, Peadar Ó Guilín (moderator), Alexandra Rowland. Back row me and Elli Leppä.

Mythology Panel 2017 (1)

The panel was more popular than I expected. They actually had to turn people away.

Mythology Panel 2017 (2)Mythology Panel 2017 (3)Mythology Panel 2017 (4)Mythology Panel 2017 (6)

All-in-all it was great fun and I was happy to raise the flag for Philippine and Southeast Asian mythologies.

Screenshot_20170725-104703

Introduction to Likhaan Volume 8

A big “Thank you!” to the editors of Likhaan Volume 8 — Gabriela Lee (Managing Editor), Rosario Cruz-Lucero (Issue Editor), as well as associate editors Heidi Emily Eusebio-Abad and Eugene Y. Evasco for the great intro to my story “An Excerpt from the Philippine Journal of Archaeology (04 October, 1916)” which I quote, in part, here:

“An Excerpt from the Philippine Journal of Archaeology” unfolds in the same way that an archaeologist sifts through the sand and dusts off the crust of soil stuck to a piece of ancient pottery. It adopts as its fictive mode an archaeologist’s report about a race of people whose remains are discovered on a slope of Mt. Pinatubo. Thus, one might mistake this piece of fiction as a handful of pages actually torn from a fieldworker’s journal. However the American archaeologists names allude to H.P. Lovecraft’s own fictional characters and an urban legend about Rizal’s kinship to Hitler.

And here is the very interesting cover –

Likhaan 8 Cover

 

“An Excerpt from the Philippine Journal of Archaeology (04 October, 1916)” in Likhaan 8

I am happy to announce that my Lovecraftian fantasy story (as told through footnotes), “An Excerpt from the Philippine Journal of Archaeology (04 October, 1916)” is scheduled to appear in Likhaan Journal 8 by the U.P. Institute of Creative Writing.

This work explores the deeply-rooted racism inherent in scientific circles during the American Colonial period. It also references the self-same Yellow-peril prejudice that H.P. Lovecraft held against those he disdainfully called “Asiatics”.  In fact the text directly uses phrases borrowed from Lovecraft’s own private letters.

Regarding the setting, having hiked through Mt. Pinatubo a few times, the place names and descriptions I used are based on my knowledge of the area, while the geological assessments came from the research papers of local mining companies. For those interested in a little mystery, the next time you visit the walled city of Intramuros in Manila, take a look at the plaque on Sta. Lucia Barracks. It will tell you the ultimate fate of what the research team of Pölzl and Ashley unearthed.

Lastly, in keeping up my recent (unplanned – I swear) theme of Creatures of Philippines Lower Mythology, this work may or may not feature one or more aswang.  As most Filipinos know an “aswang” is a demonic-looking bat-winged monster that flies off at night seeking to eat the liver and other viscera  of unwary humans.

I believe Likhaan Journal 8 will be coming out this December 2014.

Aswang

Picture above is a still from the NBC series “Grimm”, the episode “Mommy Dearest”