Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Since both words derive from the same root, "fantastic" might be logically regarded as the adjective form of "fantasy"; in practice the word is rarely used in that way. When first applied as a critical term in the sf community of the 1930s-40s, "fantastic" functioned as a blanket description of both sf and fantasy works, as seen in the titles of E F Bleiler's The Checklist of Fantastic Literature (1948) and the magazine Famous Fantastic Mysteries (1939-1953). In a similar but more expansive spirit, "the fantastic" has been recently adopted by critics as a general term for all forms of human expression that are not realistic, including fantasy and sf, Magic Realism, Fabulation, Surrealism, etc. Thus there is the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts, which holds an annual conference and publishes The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.

In the 1970s Tzvetan Todorov defined "the fantastic" in a more restrictive manner to describe stories in which unusual events might have either a natural or a supernatural explanation; Henry James's The Turn of the Screw (1898) is the favourite example. In Todorov's scheme "the fantastic" occupies an intermediate, and privileged, position between "the uncanny" – stories where unusual events are clearly assigned a natural explanation – and "the marvellous" – stories where unusual events are clearly assigned a supernatural explanation. Although Todorov thus seems to marginalize or even trivialize traditional fantasy and sf, his ideas have been frequently employed by modern academic critics, with occasionally fruitful results. [GW]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.