Visions of the Fantastic is a collection of essays selected from the one hundred sessions of papers and panels presented at the annual meeting of the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts, March 1994, at which scholars from around the world shared their visions of the fantastic. This was the fifteenth year that such a conference has been held, and the maturity and expanse of scholarship concerning this mode of writing was very much in evidence. The various papers presented reflect the ongoing scholarship on the theories of the fantastic. However, no one has yet written a complete theory that covers the entire range of this mode of writing. In speaking of the difficulty of making a theory of the fantastic, Marcel Brion, member of the French Academy and author of more than a dozen works of fantastic fiction, wrote that he saw no definition capable of taking into account the complexity and multiple aspects of the fantastic ( Lacassin32). But a simple working definition of the fantastic is possible and, in fact, necessary for students. The following has proved useful: The fantastic is that which is rationally inexplicable from the perspective of our present knowledge. This definition is broad enough to include everything from the Epic of Gilgamesh, to Hamlet, and Alice in Wonderland, as well as the most recent science fiction. In the case of science fiction, it is always possible that what is rationally inexplicable today might become the science of tomorrow and no longer be considered fantastic.
Although authors and artists since the Epic of Gilgamesh have created works that are fantastic, it was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that scholars began to formulate a theory of the fantastic. The French began theorizing about the fantastic when an unknown French scholar in 1828 translated the German E.T.A. Hoffmann Fantasiestücke into French with the title Contes fantastique. While Hoffmann referred to his tales as Fantasie or fantasy, the translator called them fantastiques, or fantastic tales. The translator then proceeded to define the fantastic as a genre characterized by its ambiguity, which makes it impossible to determine if events occur in the real world or in a supernatural realm ( Hoffmann330). Soon after