“Grump Mountain”: Viewers’ Attributions of Agency to a Climate Fiction Film





climate fiction, empirical ecocriticism, nonhuman agency, interview study, environmental films


Environmental narratives—such as the genre of climate fiction—have been the topic of much theorization and discussion for their potential to enrich human ways of thinking about the nonhuman environment. In this paper, we discuss the responses of a small sample of participants who watched a short climate fiction narrative, the trailer to a documentary called Not Ok: A Little Movie about a Small Glacier at the End of the World. Using discourse analysis, we focus on how participants construct agency for the nonhuman narrator of the story—a mountain and former volcano named Ok that was once the site of Okjökull (Ok glacier). Participants’ responses reveal how simple nonhuman agency becomes woven into more complex constructions when the narrative form is discussed. Our analysis shows that only participants who took the perspective of the mountain narrator were able to attribute complex forms of agency to the figure of the mountain and the story it told. Participants who did not relate to Ok mountain as narrator relayed simpler forms of nonhuman agency. Representing nonhuman agency in the subject of the mountain and animating that figure with a human voice (of narration) is a particular narrative strategy; in this study, we were interested in understanding how such a figure might challenge simple tropes of nature’s agency and invite more complex ways of conceiving of nonhuman agency. The climate fiction/documentary trailer also led viewers to ponder the destructive anthropogenic impacts on nonhuman environments. Some participants took the material to be merely an environmental message without engaging the nonhuman narrative aspects. The anthropomorphizing of Ok mountain’s story, as in the video material in our case study, may, we argue, limit interaction-oriented accounts of the entanglement of (non)human agencies. Finally, we conclude, many participants’ tendency to understand environmental stories as (solely) moral messages presents a challenge to both climate fiction and narrative communications.


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Author Biographies

Heidi Toivonen, Universiteit Twente

Heidi Toivonen is an Assistant Professor in Narrative Research at the department of Psychology, Health, and Technology at the University of Twente. Her doctoral degree in psychology (acquired 2020) is from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. The topic of the dissertation was discursive constructions of (non)agency during psychotherapeutic conversations. Her subsequent work has focused on experiences of environmental narratives. 

Cymene Howe, Rice University

Cymene Howe is a Professor at the Department of Anthropology at Rice University. She is also a Visiting Professor at the Department of Anthropology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.