In class, it seemed that the issue of what is science fiction and what is fantasy was not completely resolved for us. I talked to Jeff a bit, thought about it a bit, and here’s the start of what I think. See if you gel with this sketchy explanation I made up.

Dr. Who police call box

Image from

So taking it from our readings, the difference between science fiction and fantasy is the formal strategy of “cognitive effect.”  Okay… fine. Cognitive effect (to me) seems like it is an intentional effort to try to explain the make-believe (not realistic) stuff in whatever way sounds believable.  I’m focusing on the idea that it’s an attempt to explain.  So, apply cognitive effect, you have science fiction. Don’t apply cognitive effect, you have fantasy.

Taking an example from class discussion, the wardrobe in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was ruled fantasy because the idea of entering another world via a wardrobe was too far into the realm of implausibility. I’m arguing here that it is not because the idea of entering another world from a wooden box is too implausible, it is fantasy because how the wardrobe works was not explained to the reader/viewer.  I support that idea with Dr. Who (retro and current TV series).  Dr. Who enters alternate worlds, dimensions, etc. via his wooden box (an old British police call box) and it does some VERY implausible things. But on Dr. Who, there are frequent and varied attempts to explain how it works when it does something weird.  The explanations are crappy and sometimes quick and unbelievable, but the attempt is recognized enough by viewers to create a “cognitive effect” thereby making Dr. Who a science fiction work.

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

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Also I want to add a note about the allegorical nature of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I personally do not think that it has much to do with the classification of what is science fiction and what is fantasy. There are documented, famous, classic science fiction works known for being riddled with lots of religious allegory. A viewer unaware of the source for allegory would most likely miss the symbols, commentary, and references intended as allegory, and that viewer would only see it as a narrative (either science fiction or fantasy, depending on the presence–or absence–of cognitive effect).

Is the formal strategy of cognitive effect enough to categorize a work as science fiction or fantasy?
Are there more examples of religious allegory in science fiction (or in fantasy)?
Should we even bother to categorize works? (Sometimes I feel like, “what’s the point!?”)