Vampires: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil

By Peter Day | Go to book overview

The Un-dead: To be Feared or/and Pitied

Nursel Icoz

Rosemary Jackson maintains that as a perennial literary mode, fantasy, which attempts to escape the human condition, to transcend reality and construct alternative, secondary worlds, can be traced back to ancient myths, legends, folklore and carnival art. It attempts to compensate for a lack resulting from cultural constraints and to express unconscious drives. The individual whose desires have been repressed is left with the wish to take flight into a more desirable world of fantasy in order to escape the social, ideological and cultural impositions. This is the liberating function of the fantastic. Although surviving as a perennial mode, the fantastic is transformed according to the historical positions of the authors and is determined by its social context. Literary fantasies appear to be free from many of the conventions and restraints of more realistic texts, as they disregard rigid distinctions between animate and inanimate objects, self and other, life and death; but this freedom does not mean solely transcending reality and providing an escape from the human condition. It has to do with inverting elements of this world, recombining its constitutive features in new relations to produce something strange, unfamiliar with the aim of forming a better, more unified reality.1

Since fantasies express a longing for something other than the limited “known” world, writers of the fantastic imagine a world with different sets of natural laws, different forms of bodies, and alternative landscapes, thus transgressing boundaries. Fantasy is based on and controlled by an overt violation of what is generally accepted as possibility; thus it threatens to subvert rules and conventions taken to be normative.

To Calvino, what makes the fantastic significant for us is that it tells us the most about the inner life of the individual and about collectively held symbols. The supernatural element at the heart of such tales appears loaded with meaning, like the revolt of the unconscious, the repressed, the forgotten.2 To introduce the fantastic is to replace familiarity and comfort with estrangement, unease and the uncanny. Fantasy aims at dissolution of an order experienced as oppressive and insufficient. Lévy argues that “the fantastic is a compensation that man provides for himself at the level of imagination for what he has lost at the level of faith.”3 In a secular culture, fantasy does not invent supernatural regions, but presents a natural world inverted into something strange, something “other.”4

According to Todorov, the defining feature of the fantastic is the hesitation experienced by the reader and the protagonist/s, who know only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event.5 The

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