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1. Ashton, Cassandra. Sympathy for the Orcs: Evil in Urban Fantasy.

Degree: PhD, Humanities, 2018, York University

This dissertation argues that urban fantasyfantasy set in citieshas a more nuanced conception of evil than high fantasy, which favours pastoral settings, and which was heavily influenced by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien wrote his Lord of the Rings trilogy in part as a critique of the effect of industrialism on the English countryside and on human lives in general. His work has been so influential that the effect has been an anti-urban tradition in high fantasy, and his portrayal of absolute good versus absolute evil has carried forward into many other fantasy works. The factors that create compelling and satisfying stories do not necessarily reflect or shed light on human behaviour, and it is useful to be able to distinguish what Robert Ellwood calls moral evil and mythical evil, and to understand when each is being deployed, to what end. The urban fantasy genre arose in the early 1980s, and derives from its setting a greater level of comfort with multiplicity, uncertainty, and ambiguity. In short, the urban setting itself affects how evil is portrayed. This argument is supported with close reading and content analysis of twenty-four novels by four authors of urban fantasy: Charles de Lint, Mercedes Lackey, Kelley Armstrong, and China Miville. My analysis asks about the nature and source of evil in each text, the values that are associated with evil and set in opposition to it, the texts handling of moral and mythical evil, and the role of the urban landscape. Advisors/Committee Members: Weiss, Allan (advisor).

Subjects/Keywords: Modern literature; Literature; 20th century literature; 21st century literature; Fantastic literature; Fantasy literature; High fantasy; Urban fantasy; Evil; Evil in fiction; Cities in fiction; Myth; Worldbuilding in fantasy; Narrative; Narrative constitution; Cultural studies; Charles de Lint (author); Mercedes Lackey (author); Kelley Armstrong (author); China MiƩville (author); China Miville (author)

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APA (6th Edition):

Ashton, C. (2018). Sympathy for the Orcs: Evil in Urban Fantasy. (Doctoral Dissertation). York University. Retrieved from

Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition):

Ashton, Cassandra. “Sympathy for the Orcs: Evil in Urban Fantasy.” 2018. Doctoral Dissertation, York University. Accessed August 18, 2019.

MLA Handbook (7th Edition):

Ashton, Cassandra. “Sympathy for the Orcs: Evil in Urban Fantasy.” 2018. Web. 18 Aug 2019.


Ashton C. Sympathy for the Orcs: Evil in Urban Fantasy. [Internet] [Doctoral dissertation]. York University; 2018. [cited 2019 Aug 18]. Available from:

Council of Science Editors:

Ashton C. Sympathy for the Orcs: Evil in Urban Fantasy. [Doctoral Dissertation]. York University; 2018. Available from: