Fantasy, stances toward: The Fantastic-Marvelous versus The Fantastic-Uncanny

Fantasy, stances toward: The Fantastic-Marvelous versus The Fantastic-Uncanny – The fantastic is the supernatural in art. Within the realm of the unrealm and impossible—the supernatural—there are two very basic, opposite sub-realms, or stances a reader can adopt upon the intrusion of the fantastic (whether on page 1 or 1001), which are distinguished according to perspective. These are the uncanny and the marvelous.

Marvelous dragons are real dragons in their irreal world; they breathe fire, fly, and horde gold. You, the reader–viewer, believe that the dragons exist and can eat you.

Uncanny dragons seem totally real to the person perceiving them; they seem to scald her with fire; their gold appears to have mass and glint. But we (the reader or viewer) are somehow in cahoots with the artist: We know better. In the case of the fantastic-uncanny, the dragon is a hologram, delusion, acid trip; the character running from the dragon’s flames, insane or misinformed.

This distinction is a often difficult to make. Some artists don’t want us to quite know if their work is about a “real” person who’s “seeing things” or about “real” supernatural elements. Poe, Lovecraft, Kipling, and other horror masters constantly pull the rug out from under us; just when we think we understand whether a story is marvelous or uncanny, it shimmers… Philip K. Dick’s novel Ubik is perhaps the greatest example of this tension between uncanny and marvelous fantastic elements.

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