Fantastic literature  

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"The metaphysicians of Tlön do not seek for the truth or even for verisimilitude, but rather for the astounding. They judge that metaphysics is a branch of fantastic literature." --"Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" by Borges

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Fantastic literature, fantastic fiction or fantastic tales is a literary genre. A great deal of literature, from every part of the world and dating back to time immemorial, falls within the category of fantastic. 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.

Fantastic as a literary term perhaps first appeared in the 1940 anthology Antologìa de la Literatura Fantàstica by Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Silvina Ocampo.

Academic interest in the fantastic originated in the structuralist theory of critic Tzvetan Todorov and his 1970 treatise The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Todorov describes the fantastic as being a liminal state of the supernatural. A truly fantastic work is subtle in the working of the feeling, and would leave the reader with a sense of confusion about the work, and whether or not the phenomenon was real or imagined. Tzvetan Todorov holds that fantastic literature involves an unresolved hesitation between a supernatural (or otherwise paranormal or impossible) solution and a psychological (or realistic) one. His term hesitation is reminiscent of the terms ambiguity and ambivalence used in the definition of the grotesque.

Todorov compares the fantastic 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 marvelous, where there truly is a supernatural explanation for the phenomenon.

The first text cited in the genre of fantastic fiction is customarily Jacques Cazotte’s short novel The Devil in Love (Le Diable amoureux, 1772). Other 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".

See also

fantasy literature, fantasy or fantastique?

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