Fantasy as Epanalepsis: 'An Anticipation of Retrospection'
McGillis, Roderick, Papers: Explorations into Children's Literature
I begin with a paragraph that unaccountably disappeared when something I wrote for the book The Gothic in Children s Literature, transferred from my computer to the publisher's computer. Somehow or other, a paragraph in my essay on the vampire novel, Thirsty, went missing. I like the missing paragraph. And so I resuscitate it here in an attempt to fashion an approach to Fantasy with the missing paragraph as a starting point. The paragraph comments on the rhetorical turn of the first sentence in M. T. Anderson's Thirsty. That first sentence reads: 'In the spring, there are vampires in the wind' (1997 p. 11). Do not these words sound similar to the subtitle of Tolkien's The Hobbit: 'There and Back Again'? I mean, doesn't the shape of the sentence that begins Thirsty remind us of the meaning of Tolkien's subtitle? The sentence begins with a prepositional phrase and ends with a prepositional phrase; in other words, it begins, with a phrase blowing in the wind and ends with the return of that wind; it begins, goes there, and then comes back, so to speak. When winter passes, a spring wind is sure to follow. If we are of a psychoanalytic cast of mind, we might say that rhetorically, the sentence enacts a return - the return of the repressed - but it does so slyly; it disguises the return of the repressed because we always have to disguise repressed content when it insists on emerging from the unconscious. Those pesky vampires insist on returning time and again; this time they come in with the wind - a sort of undead Chinook. My argument, then, is that fantasy rhetorically enacts the journey of return. When we begin a fantasy, we anticipate a return; we read retrospectively.
But what about that missing paragraph? Here it is, returned from the oblivion of editorial cutting, like a vampire rising from its grave or like a deleted scene on the DVD release of an old essay:
The implied author, most likely, is aware of the first sentence's use of epanalepsis, a repetition of words at the end that appear at the beginning of a clause. The rhetorical device here accentuates the vain struggle for existence, for ontological certainty. 'Spring 'and 'wind' are both ephemeral as well as permanent, the permanence and ephemerality signaling an on going finality in death. An emptiness (M. T ness) lies at the center of the opening sentence the - expletive 'there are' is an unnecessary expression. The sentence might well read, 'In the spring, vampires are in the wind.' But the ontological affirmation of 'vampires are' is displaced by the empty statement, 'there are'. As the reader enters the book, he or she encounters the hollowness at the heart of the world this hook depicts. In the context of this hollowness, Chris's struggle to understand the changes he is going through and to understand how these connect him to the larger world takes on urgency and perhaps even quiet nobility.
Epanalepsis, antimetabole, and chiasmus are all expressions of fantasy in that they are retrospective, they beg us to return, they connect ends and beginnings, they remind us what goes round comes round. They are forms of fantasy precisely because they uncannily render familiar turns of phrase unfamiliar. In the spring, a young man's fancy turns to vampires. I do not intend to discourse on vampires in this essay, but 1 might stop long enough to note that vampires more often than not raise an ambivalent response; they are both attractive and repulsive - like most fantasies.
We are used to formal treatments of fantasy that categorise narratives on the basis of their contents--mermaids, dwarfs, uncanny houses, weird flora and fauna, supernatural agents, diaphanous winged-creatures, magic, and so on. We are also used to psychoanalytic treatments of fantasy as the management of desire. Form manages, or situates, desire. The pitfall of the kind of reading of fantasy that I suggest is that the formal features I mention are also features of narratives we do not categorise as fantasy. …