I am jumping in for two reasons 1: I want to share what I have learned from the French side of things, and 2: I want to understand the English equivalents of the French terminology so I can better write my "analyse littéraire" due 20th of March.
In French (or in French literature) there are 3 terms that signify the genres that are in opposition to realism: le fantastique, le merveilleux and l’étrange.
Relevant dictionary definitions of these words are:
fantastique – imaginary
merveilleux – magic, supernatural
étrange – strange, bizarre
Literary definitions are as follows (based on my translation):
fantastique – the setting is the real world, there is an inexplicable intrusion into this real world from outside, something that contradicts the natural laws or the ordinary way of things; something that shocks and bothers the characters, tests their intellectual equilibriums, makes them suspect their belief systems, their own eyes, their judgement. It is a confrontation between the regular and the abnormal.
merveilleux – there is an imaginary world which has its own laws (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings) or the supernatural does not surprise the characters (or the readers). The characters may have magical powers. The goal is to provide wonder and entertainment. Many legends, myths, fairy tales fall in this category.
étrange – natural laws apply for the most part, if there is something supernatural it may be explained and there may be a rational interpretation. Science fiction and “roman noir” (some forms of thriller) fall into this category.
I think what is called a “low fantasy” in this discussion is the equivalent of the French fantastique. The other two, the merveilleux and the étrange are actually subcategories of the fantastique. Based on a definition by Tzvetan Todorov, in a fantastique story, the reader hesitates, doubts, questions… There is an uncertainty. While this uncertainty, this hesitation lasts, the story is a fantastique story. Once the reader chooses to either explain the bizarre happenings by common causes (imagination, fallibility of the memory, alcohol, darkness, a disturbed mind or the neighbor may have forgotten his keys and returned to his home etc.), or the reader chooses to accept that there are supernatural acts. Once this choice is made the story is either étrange (first case, explanation by ordinary causes) or it is merveilleux (the second case, acceptance of the supernatural).
So, now, can you match magic realism and low fantasy and other terms to any of these?
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