A Multiverse of Narratives: Possible Worlds Theory and Authorship From the Lone Artist to Corporate Authors

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Gravely, Gary Thomas
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Middle Tennessee State University
This dissertation utilizes the narratological concept of possible worlds theory to examine the spectrum of authorship by exploring how the theory can help us to understand the crafting of literary worlds as we have seen them evolve from William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County to the fantastical worlds found within the realm of today’s popular culture. The major scholarship of PWT establishes a framework to examine a plethora of texts across various media and to see how PWT has been a great tool in narrative creation along the spectrum of authorship from the lone author artist to corporate entities. Many aspects of narrative supply the world-building actions at the heart of PWT allowing authors to create the worlds which give stories their ultimate complexity. Once one central world has become ontologically intricate, it then permits the author of the narrative, and any others who might come later, to journey into tangential worlds.
In the first chapter, Umberto Eco’s The Role of the Reader, and particularly the essay “Lector in Fabula: Pragmatic Strategy in a Metanarrative Text” along with other essays on prominent popular fiction narratives, serves as a launching point in PWT criticism. In the second chapter, William Faulkner and his nine novels set in his fictional creation of Yoknapatawpha County serve as an example of PWT applied to a narrative realm created and built by one author. My third chapter looks at how narrative worlds expand and need the concept of possible worlds in pop culture texts as I move the analysis to licensed properties like Star Wars and Harry Potter where other authors have continued narratives both officially and unofficially. In the fourth chapter, television showrunners and their writers become the focus by looking at dramatic television from The Twilight Zone and Hill Street Blues to the shows of the present. The superhero universes of DC and Marvel Comics are then examined as the ultimate example of possible worlds being used to continue a narrative over many years and writers by looking at the medium’s version of the epic in works like Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Ultimately, this dissertation explores a multitude of narratives and generates the possibilities for boundless more research due to the infinite potential worlds that might narratively spring from any text. The mechanism of PWT has allowed our pop culture to navigate complex narratives where the characters find their stories being created in multiple media by hundreds of creators as corporations rather than authors drive story production. PWT allows the narratives to thrive rather than confuse as the narratives exist not just in world generated from narrative print but a plethora of media platforms from comics to television and movies to video games and new media. This dissertation demonstrates how PWT allows multiple narratives to coexist without questioning the validity of a story as it jumps from platform to platform.
Comics, Pop culture, Possible worlds, Star Wars, Television