Saturday, November 24, 2018

An Allusive Subtitle

My two collections (Volumes I and II) of Sinister Stories share the same subtitle: Tales of the Fantastic, Marvelous, and Uncanny. The subtitle was chosen with deliberation, as an allusion to the theory set forth by philosopher and literary critic Tzvetan Todorov in “The Uncanny and the Marvelous,” which appeared in the 1981 book, Literature of the Occult: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Peter B. Messent.

According to Todorov, fantasy, which includes horror fiction, is divisible into three types: the fantastic, the marvelous, and the uncanny. Fantasy literature remains fantastic if the situations and events it presents cannot be explained by reason or science. If the events are explicable by such means, the story is uncanny; if not, it is marvelous. Only stories which cannot be resolved as one of the other remain fantastic.



“The Red Room” by H. G. Wells is uncanny: a supposedly haunted room in a castle is explained as be “haunted” by nothing more than the fear-inspired imaginations of the men who dared to stay overnight in the chamber.

Stephen King's short story, “1408,” which is set in a supposedly haunted hotel room, is marvelous: the ghosts who haunt the place are truly supernatural in origin; neither reason nor science can explain them. 

 
A remarkable example of a story that remains fantastic throughout is Henry James’s tale “The Turn of the Screw,” which does not permit us to determine finally whether ghosts haunt the old estate, or whether we are confronted by hallucinations or a hysterical governess victimized by the disturbing atmosphere which surrounds her.

With these definitions in mind, I leave it to my readers to determine which of the stories in my collections, Sinister Stories, Volumes I and II, remain fantastic, which should be considered uncanny, and which should be regarded as marvelous, but there specimens of each.

For further information on Todorov's engrossing theory, check out my Chillers and Thrillers blog post, “Guest Speaker” Tzvetan Todorov.”

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