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Encyclopedia > Fantastique

Fantastique is a French term for a literary and cinematic genre that overlaps with parts of science fiction, horror and fantasy. It is not a specifically French genre. The conventional usage in French encompasses many non-French authors who may be categorised differently in their own countries.


What is distinctive about fantastique is the intrusion of supernatural phenomena into an otherwise realist narrative. It evokes phenomena which are not only left unexplained but which are inexplicable from the reader's point of view. In this respect, fantastique is somewhere between fantasy, where the supernatural is accepted and entirely reasonable in the imaginary world of a non-realist narrative; and magic realism, where apparently supernatural phenomena are explained and accepted as normal. Instead, characters in a work of fantastique are, just like the readers, unwilling to accept the supernatural events that occur. This refusal may be mixed with doubt, disbelief, fear, or some combination of those reactions.


Fantastique is often linked to a particular ambiance, a sort of tension in the face of the impossible. There is often a good deal of fear involved, either because the characters are afraid or because the author wants to provoke fright in the reader. However, fear is not an essential component of fantastique.


Some theorists of literature contend that fantastique is defined by its hesitation between accepting the supernatural as such and trying to rationally explain the phenomena it describes. In that case, fantastique is nothing more than a transitional area on a spectrum from magic realism to fantasy and does not qualify as a separate genre.


Fantastique literature is often considered close to science fiction. However, there is an important difference between the two: science fiction is situated in a different time and place than the reader, and irrational seeming events are actually held to be rational in the framework of future or perhaps alien science and technology.


A great deal of literature, from every part of the world and dating back to time immemorial, falls within the category of fantastique. Fairy tales like The Book of One Thousand and One Nights and epic literature like the Romance of the Holy Grail are within the scope of this genre. Among the precursors of modern fantastique are such luminaries as Voltaire and Jonathan Swift, who hid satire behind non-realist stories, as well as the noir fiction of William Beckford (Vathek) and Matthew Gregory Lewis (The Monk). Elements of fantastique can be found in the works of many 19th century authors like Honoré de Balzac (La peau de chagrin), Guy de Maupassant who exorcises his own demons in Le Horla, Jules Verne explaining the supernatural with science in Le château des Carpathes, Oscar Wilde working along more philosophical lines in The Picture of Dorian Gray, Mary Shelley who takes up the myth of the Golem in Frankenstein, and Bram Stoker's famous Dracula.


Authors of works classed as fantastique


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