The fantastic is a literary kind founded on the Fiction, telling the intrusion of the Surnaturel within a realistic framework, in other words the appearance of unexplained and theoretically unexplainable facts in a known context of the reader.
According to the theorist of the literature Tzvetan Todorov, the fantastic one would be present only in the hesitation between the acceptance of supernatural as such and an attempt at rational explanation. In that, the fantastic one is located between the kinds of the Merveilleux (and its contemporary incarnation, the Fantasy), in which the supernatural one is accepted and justified because the framework is imaginary and unrealistic, and of the strange , in which the apparently supernatural facts are explained and accepted like normal. Contrary to these two kinds, in the fantastic one, the hero, like the reader, almost systematically has a reaction of refusal of the supernatural facts which occur. This reaction of refusal can be interfered with doubt, rejection and/or fear.
This definition placing the fantastic one at the border of strange and marvellous is generally accepted, but was the subject of many controversies, such as that carried out by Stanislas Lem. The interested reader is also invited to consult the page of discussion of this article.
The fantastic one is very often related to a particular atmosphere, a kind of crispation due to the meeting of the impossible one. The fear is often present, that it is in the hero or in a will of the author to cause the anguish at the reader; nevertheless it is not a condition Sine qua non of the fantastic one.
Related kinds and sub-genera
One often regards the fantastic one as very near to the Science-fiction. Nevertheless, from important differences distinguish them: the science fiction does not concern supernatural, and wants to be rational. Thus, the Machine to explore time , of H.G. Wells, is a science-fiction novel, because the hero travels in time thanks to a machine designed for this purpose, in other words thanks to a process technological, certainly unknown in the actual position of human knowledge, but which, being presented like technological, cannot be described as supernatural.
Of French, a frequent error consists in calling “fantastic” all the texts belonging to the Anglo-Saxon kind of the Fantasy , like those of J.R.R. Tolkien, whereas they actually belong to the field of the marvellous one. This error is due to the absence of suitable term making it possible to name the fantasy in French.
The fantastic one is also related with the magic Réalisme, kind suitable for the literature Latin-American and based on the insertion of supernatural elements in a realistic account. But the supernatural facts are regarded there as normal, which makes magic realism a branch of marvellous and not of the fantastic one.
Let us quote finally the following kinds:
- modern Terror
- Ghost stories
- Fantasy urban
- the Absurd
Panorama of the fantastic literature
Origins of the kind
The accounts calling upon supernatural abound in the world literature, and this since unmemorable times, in the form of Conte S like the Thousand and One Nights or the fairy tales, or join the epopee as in the legends arthuriennes. The traditional marvellous tale will provide to the fantastic literature the majority of its topics.
But the true source of the fantastic kind is the Roman Gothic English end of the 18th century. In addition to the appearance of the topics specific to fantastic (the phantoms, Devil, vampires) these novels characterized by an atmosphere of more marked horror introduce ambiguity characteristic of the kind. Among the most representative works, let us quote Vathek (1786), tale with the Eastern manner writes in French by William Beckford and the Monk of Matthew Gregory Lewis. One can also attach to this kind the Manuscrit found in Saragossa of Polish Jean Potocki, also written in French.
The other precursor of the fantastic literature is French Jacques Cazotte with his short novel the Devil in love (1772). The supernatural aspect is developed less there than in the Gothic novels, but the hesitation between rational and irrational explanation is clearer there. Cazotte will have a direct influence on French Nodier and its successors.
Fantastic German of the beginning of 19th
The fantastic one of Hoffmann is characterized by the exaltation, chaos, and frenzy. The novel the Elixirs of the devil , which asserts the filiation of the Moine of Lewis, accumulates in an often incoherent way the episodes of very different nature: history of love, esthetic or political meditations, picaresques adventures, family epopee, extases mystical, etc the topic of the madness and loneliness is central in the work of Hoffmann as in that of Chamisso.
Hoffmann had a universal and practically continuous influence on the kind. Its tales form a true repertory of fantastic, declined thereafter by other authors and in other arts (opera, ballet, cinema).
French storytellersIn 1772, Jacques Cazotte publishes the Devil in love , one of the first books which refer to the fantastic one. As of the years the 1830 tales of Hoffmann are translated into French and meet a spectacular success. Nodier is one of the first to produce tale of fantasies in France, follow-up of Balzac, Prosper Mérimée, Théophile Gautier, then Guy of Maupassant. The smoothness of the psychological analysis takes the step on the unslung and morbid madness of the beginnings of the fantastic one. Works want to be also better built and more homogeneous. These authors adopt readily a neutral style and accentuate the realistic elements, in order to support the identification with the narrator.
In margin of this current, the fantastic news of Nerval takes again the topics of the loneliness and the madness of Hoffmann, while adding to it of the autobiographical elements (Nerval itself suffered from psychological disorders).
The fashion of the tale of fantasy remains vigorous in France until the end of the 19th century. In the years 1880-1900, the many literary reviews related on the Symbolists and declining publish tale of fantasies regularly. Authors specialize in this kind: Lorraine Jean, Mathias Villiers of Isle-Adam, Jules Barbey d' Aurevilly, etc the tale is made more manner. The stylistic perfection is sought. Descriptions are done rich, exoticism and the erotism becomes important components. The new translation of the Thousand and One Nights by the doctor Joseph-Charles Mardrus gives the East to the mode. The stories are done also more embarrassing and more believed and call upon readily the heritage of Sade. Lastly, the tale of fantasy can be an occasion to make social criticism, often directed against the middle-class materialism: it is the case for Villiers of Isle-Adam or Octave Mirbeau.
England victorienneParadoxically, England victorienne caused only few fantastic authors strictly speaking, subtle ambiguities suitable for the kind hardly finding echo in the English literary tradition. Thus news of Thomas de Quincey, which fits more clearly in the tradition of the Gothic novel than in that of the fantastic one.
Let us announce however the Irishman Sheridan Fanu, author in particular of the novel Carmilla . This traditional of the account of vampirism inspired celebrates it Dracula of its compatriot Bram Stoker. Lastly, it should be noted that Oscar Wilde parodied the fantastic kind in its news the Phantom of Canterville .
On the other hand, this period saw the birth of new related kinds of popular literature to the fantastic one: the Detective novel with Wilkie Hakes, the Science fiction with H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley. Well later, it is still in England that will be born the kind Fantasy, with Bilbo the Hobbit of J.R.R. Tolkien (1937).
The Anglo-American writer Henry James wrote only one small number of fantastic texts, but their originality and their perfection deserve a special mention. Its most known news, the Turn of nut , plunges the reader in an abyss of perplexity, and this with a remarkable saving in means. By the grace of his allusive style, James leads the reader to doubt each character in turn, so that the ultimate truth on this history is impossible to establish.
With its birth at the beginning of the 19th century, the American literature is strongly marked by the English Gothic novel and the fantastic one. It is a very dark literature, marked by the larval violence of the puritanism of New England.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, then Washington Irving and especially Edgar Allan Poe impose also the news and the tale like privileged forms of expression. Poe plays also a particular part by working out a personal esthetic theory. Lastly, it forms also part of the pioneers of the Science-fiction and the Detective novel.
While taking as a starting point this tradition, Lovecraft gives him a particular turn, nearer to the horror. Lovecraft will inspire by many authors at the 20th century, in particular Stephen King.
Fantastic Russian and of Central Europe
It is Alexandre Pouchkine which introduced the fantastic kind in Russia with the famous tale the Queen of spades (1834). Starting from this date the fantastic one became a kind of predilection of the Russian literature, benefitting from the immense repertory from the tales and Russian popular legends. During the years of censure of the mode of Stalin, the fantastic one will also be used as loophole to the writers refusing the socialist Réalisme.
Encouraged by Pouchkine, Nicolas Gogol publishes in his turn of the tale of fantasies whose most famous the Nose and Diary of a Madman are . These accounts introduce a rather major change of nature compared to the fantastic tradition. The fear plays a negligible part there, on the other hand the absurdity, even humor, become an essential component. This new style will even make followers in Russia: the Double , one of the very first accounts of Dostoïevski, must much in Gogol.
But it is with Czech Franz Kafka that this fantastic grotesque and absurd becomes all its extensive, and enters in resonance with concerns metaphysics. One could say that if fantastic Western Europe reveals the presence of the Devil, the fantastic one of Kafka reveals especially the silence of God.
It is still in this tradition that it is necessary to register the humorous fantastic accounts of Polish Witold Gombrowicz and Russian Mikhaïl Boulgakov, even the parts of the French playwright of Rumanian origin Eugene Ionesco.
In margin of the SurrealismThe surrealist, founded movement in Paris in 1924 by André Breton, division with the fantastic literature certain sets of themes such as the erotism, death at night etc This movement contributes in fact to redécouvrir certain traditional of the fantastic literature and especially Gothic, in particular thanks to the bookseller and editor Jose Corti, near to the surrealist ones. However the bringing together hardly goes further, because the dialectical one between fiction and reality suitable for the fantastic kind is opposed to the surrealist esthetics which preaches the fusion of the dream and reality. A work such as freedom or love! of Robert Desnos must be read like a poetic fable and not like an account of supernatural events. On the other hand one can mention two authors to which work is close to fantastic traditional: the short story writer and novelist Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues and the poet Marcel Béalu.
The Belgian schoolIt is with Bruges-the-Dead of Georges Rodenbach (1892) that a tradition of the fantastic account in the French-speaking Belgian literature is established. If the argument of the novel is typical the fantastic one of the period Symbolist, the originality comes from an anchoring in the landscape and the climate of the flandres: the weight of the medieval past still present in architecture, the fog, the light obliques are convonqués to create a fantastic environment. With these characteristics, Michel de Ghelderode adds references to the grotesque and carnavalesque tradition of Flandres, ( Sortilèges , 1945). Its accounts are in addition been useful by a style shining and often poignant autobiographical contents. This tradition was continued by Jean Ray (which also wrote in Flemish under the name of John Flanders) and Thomas Owen.
Borges and the review On
Between 1920 and 1960, the town of Buenos Aires is the center of an intense literary activity and cultural. It is also a place of refuge during the years of war for European writers related to the fantastic literature such as Witold Gombrowicz and Roger Caillois. In 1931 created the review On ( the South ) under the direction of Victoria Ocampo. Among his/her collaborators are Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Silvina Ocampo, sister of Victoria and wife of Bioy Casares.
This review becomes the place of a new glance on the fantastic literature, carried by the scholarship and the taste of the pastiche. Borges declares thus that the scholarship is the modern form of the fantastic one . This fantastic as one could qualify post-modern as well seeks his topics in the literary history as in philosophy and theology, while preserving a character distressing or alarming. New topics are explored: voyages through time, the worlds parallel, the parallel lives…
In a completely different context, the Irish writer Flann O' Brien also uses the fantastic one to question convention arts persons.
Lastly, this tradition will be taken again later (in the years 1960-1970) by the free-Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar in its cuentos .
Aspects of the fantastic one
The reading of fantastic texts causes often but not necessarily - a feeling of fear or anguish. Sigmund Freud explains this feeling by the Inquiétante strangeness suitable for the fantastic literature. The German term used by Freud is unheimlich which means “not-familiar” but also “not-hidden”. Thus, the characteristic of fantastic would be to reveal usually hidden things, things which we do not want to see: blood, corpses at night ruins.
The manifestations of supernatural in the fantastic literature are generally harmful: no the place for the angels, the good fairies or the great geniuses. The fantastic one makes the good share with the Mal and its incarnations. It is also a literature of the suffering, madness, failure. In this direction, it marks a major rupture with the optimism of the Age of Enlightenment. This aspect will find an echo at the 20th century at the surrealist .
A past which does not want to die
In almost all the Gothic and fantastic literature until the beginning of the 20th century, the Supernatural proclamation the survival of the traditional company of the Old Mode rural and marked by the omnipresence of the religion and the superstition vis-a-vis the advent of an urban, democratic and rational company. The central place played by the figure of the phantom is symbolic system of this past which does not want to die.
SexualityThe Psychanalyse interprets readily the fantastic kind like the expression of unavowable sexual desires. It is relatively easy indeed to associate with each topic of fantastic form of abnormal sexuality: thus, sorcery is equivalent to the nymphomania, the vampirism with sadomasochism etc However this aspect relates to the Surnaturel rather in general that the fantastic one. Moreover, like all the symbols, the topics of fantastic can receive different interpretations according to the context. Thus the symbol of the Double can mean the insulation of an individual who does not have any more a contact with the outside world.
In addition sexuality intervenes explicitly and either symbolically in many fantastic accounts. A very violent desire in love is often the cause which leads the hero to rock in a fantastic universe (for example the Hair of Maupassant).
The fantastic one and censure
The fantastic one was often used by authors to circumvent the censure. Romantic German thus could slip of political criticisms under the outside of the fiction. Sometimes the simple fact of adopting the fantastic kind is worth claim of the autonomy of the literature against those which want to control it: thus dissenting Russian authors at the time of socialist realism.
In the same way, one will tolerate more easily of the shocking ideas if they are presented like the work of the madness or the Devil: embarrassing scenes of fantastic the fine of century French , racist phobia and misanthropist at H.P. Lovecraft, etc
The fantastic one as a literature of interpretation
The fantastic text is by nature ambiguous and request to be interpreted correctly. The authors thus have often recourse to narrative techniques which condition the reader. The short texts (tales and news) which make it possible to maintain the tension dramatic are privileged. He is often called upon a narrator, sometimes redoubled of a second narrator who introduces the remote account and met.
The reader of the fantastic text finds himself vis-a-vis a paradoxical choice: either it makes confidence with the narrator and accepts the “supernatural” version, and then the text becomes obviously a fiction; either he prefers a “rational” explanation which brings back the text in the field of realism, but then he must question the credibility of the narrator.
One can also consider the fantastic one like the literal interpretation of metaphorical figures. Thus the woodlouse of the Metamorphosis of Kafka is at the same time a metaphor of the unimportant individual and a true insect. The fantastic one thus brings to wonder about what is a literary text and on his report/ratio with reality. In At Swim-Two-Birds for example, Flann O' Brien thus imagines an author with the catches with his characters who refuse to obey to him, a topic which Marcel Aymé will also develop.
Many authors drew the fantastic one towards the absurdity. In the Nose of Gogol, a character complains that its nose fled. A news of Kafka describes the discovery of a fabulous giant mole which plunges the narrator in perplexity. Here, the supernatural one seems to blame the existence of a harmonious cosmos regulated by immutable laws. One can notice besides that Jean-Paul Sartre uses in his novel Nausea the style of the fantastic literature, in order to reveal the nonsense of a private world of any transcendence.
- :category: Fantastic literature
- : category: Writer of fantastic
List of fantastic creatures
- List of fantastic authors
- Science fiction
- fantastic Realism
- fantastic Universe
- fantastic Art
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