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The Fantastic in Literature

The Fantastic in Literature

Eric S. Rabkin
Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    The Fantastic in Literature
    Book Description:

    What exactly is the fantastic? In the twentieth-century world, our notions of what is impossible are assaulted every day. To define the nature of fantasy and the fantastic, Eric S. Rabkin considers its role in fairy tales, science fiction, detective stories, and religious allegory, as well as in traditional literature.

    The examples he studies range from Grimm's fairy tales to Agatha Christie, fromChildhood's Endto the novels of Henry James, from Voltaire to Robbe-Grillet toA Canticle for Leiboivitz. By analyzing different works of literature, the author shows that the fantastic depends on a reversal of the ground rules of a narrative world. This reversal signals most commonly a psychological escape, often from boredom, to an unknown world secretly yearned for, whose order, although reversed, bears a precise relation to reality.

    Originally published in 1977.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7079-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Bibliographic Note
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. I The Fantastic and Fantasy
    (pp. 3-41)

    What exactly is the fantastic? In the twentieth-century world, our preconceptions of the impossible are assaulted every day. Some men learn computer-assisted porpoise language while others shriek at baboons; gentle people all over the world spend hours thinking well of their houseplants. In a context combining these points of view, one could believe a report of the creation of a device that allowed people and plants to communicate. According to the conventions of such early telepathy novels as A. E. van Vogt’sSlan(1940), people/plant communication would be more a “cluster of emotions, an uncontrollable influx” than it would be...

  6. II The Fantastic and Escape
    (pp. 42-73)

    The most common of the marks by which we recognize a work that has passed through the world of Fantasy is the vision of escape. As the fantastic involves a diametric reversal of the ground rules within a narrative world, a narrative world itself may offer a diametric reversal of the ground rules of the extra-textual world. If those external ground rules are seen as a restraint on the human spirit—be they, for instance, the belief that there is no excitement in life, the belief in the decline of man, the belief in the lawlessness of the universe—then...

  7. III The Fantastic and Perspective
    (pp. 74-116)

    It is not easy to know the world from which a reader, or a writer, comes. That world is made of a vast number of perspectives, angles of vision, modes of apprehending. To one person, the exact opposite ofmanmay bewoman; to another, the opposite ofmanmay beboy.The difference is one of perspective. We can learn about perspective by studying the extra-textual circumstances of an utterance or by asking people to reveal their own preoccupations. But at the same time, we can more easily locate those preoccupations, define those perspectives, if we know what a...

  8. IV The Fantastic and Genre Criticism
    (pp. 117-150)

    Genre criticism is criticism of works of art distributed into classes. In the study of art,genremeansclass.In literature, classes are defined in diverse ways, many inconsistent with each other. For example, one might wish to study the genre of Elizabethan tragedies; that is, works written in English, during the reign of Elizabeth I, intended for stage performance, and having something to do with the fall of great personages. Elizabeth died in 1603;King Learwas written in 1606. But stillKing Learis Elizabethan, if not in date, then in mood, and surely a matter of three...

  9. V The Fantastic and Literary History
    (pp. 151-188)

    Literary history has two main branches. Extra-textual literary history concerns itself with the growth of the reading public, the laws governing stage performance, the biographies of authors, and so on. Intra-textual literary history concerns itself with the development of those realms whose analysis depends upon examination of individual texts: the growth and development of genres, the modifications of worldview, the evolution of grapholects, and so on. We have already seen that a consideration of the uses works make of the fantastic complements normal synchronic study of these phenomena. This chapter will attempt to demonstrate how an historical application of the...

  10. VI The Scope of the Fantastic
    (pp. 189-228)

    The wide range of the preceding chapters, dealing primarily with narrative materials, suggests that the fantastic may be a basic mode of human knowing. The structure of diametric reversal, which signals the fantastic in narrative, might, in theory, arise just as readily in any mental activity that occurs through time or in any temporally extended perception. In theory at least, our perspectives on science, poetry, politics, theology, or on anything whatever, are as subject to reversal as are our perspectives on the ground rules of a narrative world. If such a diametric and fundamental reversal were to occur while perceiving...

  11. Index
    (pp. 229-234)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)