The Supernatural in Short Fiction of the Americas: The Other World in the New World

By Dana Del Georg | Go to book overview

2
The Law of Authority:
The Complexity of the Other World

The first encounters of European and Native Americans proved their extreme differences in language and custom, but in their beliefs these cultures had more in common with each other than either has with modern American culture. Both European colonists and Native Americans believed in the reality and authority of the supernatural,' and their stories reflect these beliefs. The ancestors of the modern short story come in several premodern forms, including holy scriptures, myth cycles, oral tradition, letters, and histories. When introduced into the modern short story and its episteme, premodern supernatural stories are often changed, simplified, and misunderstood. Premodern supernatural beliefs are complex, but even conflicting traditional cultures are mutually intelligible in terms of the other world, as texts about early encounters of Colonial European Americans and Native Americans demonstrate.2

Too often, modern critics make the mistake of exaggerating the nature and power of the premodern religious authority, distorting it to tyrannical or comical proportions. Premodern belief, as can be seen in the stories that represent it, is at once subtle and authoritative, complex and consistent. When premodern stories of the supernatural are subjected to modern interpretations, they lose detail and complexity, and their intended audience is misunderstood. The landscape of premodern belief, as far as it can be reconstructed from premodern texts, proves to be much more varied and multidimensional than it appears in its modern caricature. For instance, supernatural belief is not equal to naive credulity: Belief has the inherent problem of uncertainty and doubt, for belief is

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The Supernatural in Short Fiction of the Americas: The Other World in the New World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction xi
  • 1: Coming to Terms with American Supernatural Short Fiction 1
  • 2: The Law of Authority: the Complexity of the Other World 21
  • 3: The Law of Science: Haunted Memories in an Age of Progress 49
  • 4: The Law of Total Fiction: Life is but a Dream 93
  • Conclusion 135
  • Bibliography 139
  • Index 151
  • About the Author 155
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