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four The Encounter with Fantasy If there is one thing the still-narrow body of literary scholarship devoted to fantasy has made clear, it is that whatever we are to call ‘‘fantasy’’ must first and foremost deal with the impossible. In a 1978 survey of several scholarly works on the subject, S. C. Fredericks noted that ‘‘there is general agreement among the critics that Fantasy constitutes what Irwin calls ‘the literature of the impossible’ . . .’’ and that fantasy writers ‘‘take as their point of departure the deliberate violation of norms and facts we regard as essential to our conventional conception of ‘reality,’ in order to create an imaginary counter-structure or counter-norm.’’∞ W. R. Irwin, to whom Fredericks refers, goes so far as to characterize fantasy as ‘‘antireal’’ and defines it as ‘‘a story based on and controlled by an overt violation of what is generally accepted as possibility; it is the narrative result of transforming the condition contrary to fact into ‘fact’ itself.’’≤ Eric S. Rabkin, in The Fantastic in Literature, makes ‘‘a direct reversal of ground rules’’ a condition of the fantastic and says of fantasy that ‘‘its polar opposite is Reality.’’≥ C. N. Manlove agrees that ‘‘a substantial and irreducible element of supernatural or impossible worlds, beings, or objects’’ is needed for fantasy, explaining that supernatural or impossible means ‘‘of another order of reality from that in which we exist and form our notions of possibility.’’∂ And in explaining his principle of inclusion for his bibliography The Literature of Fantasy, Roger C. Schlobin identifies the literature of fantasy as ‘‘that corpus in which the impossible is primary in its quantity or centrality.’’∑ The criterion of the impossible, then, seems firmly in place in the academic study of fantasy literature; indeed, it may be the first principle generally agreed upon for the study of fantasy. The fantasy authors themselves seem to agree. Ray Bradbury, whose reputation as a science fiction writer often seems to overshadow his own avowed first love for fantasy, wrote that ‘‘each fantasy assaults and breaks a particular law’’ and ‘‘attempts to disrupt the physical The Encounter with Fantasy 69 world in order to bring change to the heart and mind.’’∏ C. S. Lewis, a literary scholar as well as a fantasist, defined literary fantasy (as opposed to psychological fantasy) as ‘‘any narrative that deals with impossibles and preternaturals.’’π And as long ago as 1890, two of the great Victorian masters of the fantastic tale, H. Rider Haggard and Andrew Lang, prefaced their ambitious fantasy sequel to the Odyssey, The World’s Desire, with a poem that included the following lines: Come with us, ye whose hearts are set On this, the Present to forget; Come read the things whereof ye know They were not, and could not be so!∫ Almost word for word, the modern author Samuel R. Delany echoes Haggard and Lang when he defines the ‘‘level of subjunctivity’’ of fantasy as ‘‘could not have happened.’’Ω The notion of the impossible itself raises a number of intriguing questions, not all of which can be addressed adequately by the resources of literary scholarship . What, for example, are the psychological and cultural limits of what we regard as possible? How do we recognize the impossible when we encounter it in a work of art, and how do we decide that a particular impossible event or being signals an individual aesthetic structure rather than a private psychosis or a culturally accepted myth? What of a passage such as the following? The Kingdom of Yr had a kind of neutral place which was called the Fourth Level. It was achieved only by accident and could not be reached by formula or an act of will. At the Fourth Level there was no emotion to endure, no past or future to grind against. There was no memory or possession of any self, nothing except dead facts which came unbidden when she needed them and which had no feeling attached to them.∞≠ The passage is from Joanne Greenberg’s fictionalized account of her own schizophrenia, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, and while the passage clearly describes an ‘‘impossible’’ place and an at least unlikely state of being, the context in which it appears in the novel makes it clear that the novel itself is not a work of fantasy. Had Greenberg presented such schizophrenic fantasies unadorned by the essentially realistic account of hospitalization and psychotherapy that surrounds them, would she have written a...


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