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  • Fantasy:Revivals and New Definitions
  • Lois R. Kuznets (bio)
Owen Barfield . The Silver Trumpet. Ill. Josephine Spence. Longmont, Colorado: Bookmakers Guild, 1986.
Kathryn Hume . Fantasy and Mimesis. Responses to Reality in Western Literature. New York: Methuen, 1984.
George MacDonald . Papa's Story and Other Tales. Ill. Don Borie. Longmont, Colorado: Bookmakers Guild, 1986.
Anne Wilson . Magical Thought in Creative Writing. The Distinctive Roles of Fantasy and Imagination in Fiction. Stroud, GB: The Thimble Press, 1983.

Fantasy is definitely "in" now. This is true for children's and adult literature as well as for critical writing about literature. The trend seems to have governed Bookmakers Guild's decision to republish Owen Barfield's 1925 The Silver Trumpet and to gather up several of George MacDonald's tales from various nineteenth-century sources in hardback, heavy-paper volumes, edited by Marjorie L. Mead and Mary Dorsett respectively, both librarians at Wheaton (Ill.) College. In their studies, Kathryn Hume and Anne Wilson, meanwhile, join what is becoming a long line of critical analysts of fantasy.

Hume recognizes this relatively recent outburst of creative and critical concern with fantastic literature; she attributes it to realistic (or mimetic) literature's having run its logical course during the nineteenth century and reached the end of its naturalistic tether in the twentieth. Her complex analysis of the limitations of realism (which she claims garnered its main methods and support from ideas of scientific "objectivity") leads her to conclude that realism, like scientific inquiry itself, "no longer imparts an adequate sense of meaning to our experience of reality" (39).

Although both Hume and Wilson are concerned with the ways in which fantasy does give meaning to our experience of reality, neither uses the term fantasy in quite the same way. (Readers of fantasy theory quickly discover that terminology is central to the discussion of fantasy.) Hume confronts the problem head on first by retracing the history of fantasy theory itself in a lucid survey of particular value to beginners in the field. She then explores in great detail her [End Page 164] own basic challenge to the theory of the past, namely her insistence that fantasy is not a separate genre but rather consists of "any departure from consensus reality" (21).

Like most theorists, Hume refers to texts largely in passing, as illustrations of specific points. She has taken her examples mainly from twentieth-century works (British, North and South American, Continental) for adults; she also touches on classic children's fantasies by Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Mark Twain.

While I am attracted to Hume's thesis that fantasy is not really a separate genre, I found myself balking at times at her all-inclusiveness, especially when she finds tricks of narrative stance or point of view to be essentially devices of "fantasy." Those who are not eager for any further elaboration of Northrop Frye's elaborate categorizations and sub-categorizations may find her book hard going as well. Nevertheless, Fantasy and Mimesis is a sound work of scholarship with a defensible thesis that I expect to find useful as a reference work in the future.

Not primarily a theorist, but concerned to demonstrate how one element operates in several works, Wilson uses the word "fantasy" almost interchangeably with what she calls "primitive or magical thought" as it is expressed in literary fictions. Her main concern is to demonstrate how this primitive or magical thinking (a term with psychoanalytic origins) operates both in folktales and in sophisticated works like Hamlet and Jane Eyre, but is, in the latter pieces, manipulated and controlled by the "imagination," which she distinguishes from fantasy. What Wilson calls fantasy then is that irrational (and generally infantile) level of consciousness at which all reality is perceived as an extension of the "I"—or in the case of fiction, of the protagonist of the story. Imagination (a concept close to that of Coleridge) operates at a level closer to conscious thought and distances itself enough from fantasy to measure it in terms of a less solipsistic reality.

Magical Thought in Creative Writing is the second book in which Wilson attempts to show magical thinking at work and to derive...


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