is a literary term that describes a quality of other literary genres, and in some cases is used as a genre in and of itself, although in this case it is often conflated with the Supernatural. The term was originated in the structuralist theory of critic Tzvetan Todorov
in his work The Fantastic
. He describes the fantastic as being a liminal state of the supernatural.
A truly fantastic work is subtle and leaves the reader with a sense of confusion about the work about whether or not the phenomenon was real. Todorov compares this with two other ideas: The Uncanny, wherein the phenomenon turns out to have a rational explanation such as in the Gothic
works of Ann Radcliffe
; or the Marvellous, where there truly is a supernatural explanation for the phenomenon.
There is no truly typical "fantastic story", as the term generally discusses works of the horror or gothic genre. But two representative stories might be:
- Algernon Blackwood's story "The Willows", where two men travelling down the Danube River are beset by an eerie feeling of malice and several improbable setbacks in their trip; the question that pervades the story is whether they are falling prey to the wilderness and their own imaginations, or if there really is something horrific out to get them.
- Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Black Cat," where a murderer is haunted by a black cat; but is it revenge from beyond the grave, or just a cat?
A clear distinction between the Fantastic and magic realism is that the latter does not privilege either realistic or supernatural elements, nor ask the reader or characters to do so.
The Fantastic is sometimes erroneously called the Grotesque or Supernatural fiction, because both the Grotesque and the Supernatural contain fantastic elements, yet they are not the same, as the fantastic is based on an ambiguity of those elements.
Examples of writers of Fantastic literature include:
In Elizabethan slang, a 'fantastic' was a fop; an "improvident young gallant" who was obsessed with showy dress. The character Lucio in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure is described in the Dramatis Personae as a 'Fantastic'.
It should be noted that in popular usage, the word "fantastic" has become a casual term of approval, a synonym for "great" or "brilliant", and this has to a great extent supplanted the original meaning of the word. However, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary still lists the original meaning first, with the popular meaning listed second and described as "informal".