Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

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The label "fantasy" is not as common in Brazil as in English-speaking countries. In Brazil, the word fantasia (which has strong connotations of "fancy") is often associated with children's fiction; it is not much applied to serious fantastic literature.

The Romantic Movement in Europe had a strong influence on Brazilian literature, and Brazilian writers became fond of two Romantic gateways to the fantastic: the Utopia, and the Hallucinatory Tale. An early example of the former is the short novel Statira, e Zoroastes ["Statira, and Zoroastes"] (1826) by Lucas José d'Alvarenga (1768-1831), a tale about an imaginary Oriental kingdom where men become idle and decadent and women have to take arms to stop a conquering invasion: after that, women rule the country. Published only five years after Independence, the book was dedicated to Brazil's Empress. Examples of the Hallucinatory Tale abound: early and illustrious are the stories in Noite na Taverna ["A Night in the Tavern"] (coll 1878) by Alvares de Azevedo (1831-1852), a collection of Byronic tales of crime, lust and madness by an author who died very young; the book is still in print today.

Feminist utopias (see Feminism) returned with A Rainha do Ignoto ["The Queen of the Unknown"] (1899) by Emilia de Freitas (1855-1908), which tells of a mysterious "Island of the Mist" on the coast of Ceará, northeastern Brazil; the Island hides a secret society of women, whose queen is described as being "a Spiritualist, an Abolitionist and a Republican". Not much later, Godofredo E Barnsley (1874-?   ) published São Paulo no Ano 2000 ["São Paulo in the Year 2000"] (1909), a typical utopian descriptive tale, in which a future society is exhaustively described by a guide to a contemporary man who fell asleep in a park. Another typical feminist utopia of the time was Sua Excelência, a Presidente da República no Ano 2500 ["Her Excellency, the President of the Republic in the Year 2500"] (1929) by Adalzira Bittencourt (1904-1976), whose heroine falls in love with a crippled artist due to be eliminated by a government eugenics programme. O Reino de Kiato, ou No País da Verdade ["The Kingdom of Kiato, or In the Country of Truth"] (1922) by de Rodolpho Teophilo (1853-1922) again depicts an island where everybody lives in harmony.

More recent examples of the Hallucinatory Tale are Noite (1954; trans L L Barrett as Night 1956 US/UK) by Erico Verissimo (1905-1975), one of the foremost Brazilian novelists; Valete de Espadas ["Jack of Swords"] (1960) by Gerardo Mello Mourão (1917-2007); and several novels by Campos de Carvalho (1916-1998), like A Lua vem da Asia ["The Moon comes from Asia"] (1956), Vaca de Nariz Sutil ["A Cow with a Subtle Nose"] (1961) and A Chuva Imóvel ["The Immobile Rain"] (1963).

Heroic Fantasy has appeared only rarely in Brazilian literature. A typical work in this vein is Imortalidade ["Immortality"] (1925) by Coelho Netto (1864-1934): in a Land-of-Fable medieval Europe, Everardo, Lord of Crève-Coeur, becomes immortal after drinking an alchemist's Potion. Netto also wrote Esfinge ["Sphinx"] (1908), where a magician transplants a woman's head onto a man's body. Recently, though, due to the growth of UK/US Genre Fantasy in both books and the movies, heroic-fantasy themes have become very popular among Brazilian readers. Fantasy Games also play an important role in this fast-expanding market, and maybe this is one reason many writers shy away from it: they believe that fantasy is just a set of fairytales for adolescents. They also point out (understandably) that, yes, stories based on Celtic mythology and the legends of Arthur can be enjoyed in Brazil, but should they be written by Brazilians?

There is a narrow but strong subgenre in Brazilian fantasy that could be called "Tales of the Mythical Brazilian". Brazil is a young nation, and a melting pot of European, Indian and African cultures, so building up a "typical" Brazilian hero is a literary puzzle that many writers have tried to solve. In such books, which use plot structures and narrative voices very close to oral literature, the hero is a Brazilian, usually poor (but also resourceful) and naive (but also streetwise); he sets out on a Quest during which he will face dangers and temptations and will run into many fantastic creatures.

In Macunaíma (1928; trans E A Goodland as Macunaíma 1984 US/UK) by Mário de Andrade (1893-1945) the eponymous hero, an Indian born in the jungle, has his Talisman stolen by a Giant, whom he follows to the City of São Paulo. The story draws on the author's vast knowledge of Brazilian folklore and Indian myths. Other tales of mythological Heroes are Manuscrito Holandês, ou A Peleja do Caboclo Mitavaí contra o Monstro Macobeba ["A Dutch Manuscript, or The Fight of the Caboclo Mitavaí against the Monster Macobeba"] (1960) by M Cavalcanti Proença (1905-1966), and As Pelejas de Ojuara ["The Fights of Ojuara"] (1986) by Neil de Castro (1940-    ). A further important work is A Pedra do Reino ["The Stone of the Kingdom"] (1971) by poet and playwright Ariano Suassuna (1927-2014), which tells of a man who believes himself to be the heir of a kingdom in the backlands of the Brazilian northeast; this huge novel interweaves themes from Classical literature, Brazilian history and Mythical Creatures from the "literatura de cordel" (narrative poems, often fantastic, printed as booklets and sold to poor people in the Brazilian northeast).

Books about esoterism and the Occult have been selling more and more in Brazil in recent years, and at least one Brazilian writer has been basing a literary career on those themes. Paulo Coelho (1947-    ) is today Brazil's biggest seller: his four Occult Fantasies have together reportedly sold over three million copies, although this kind of fiction has not attained the same prestige that Magic Realism still enjoys among many Brazilian critics. The boom in magical realism occurred at a time when Brazil was under a military dictatorship, and many mainstream writers turned to the genre (or to what they supposed it to be) in order to write books that would be basically Allegories, dealing with the theme of individual freedom. Erico Verissimo published Incidente em Antares ["Incident at Antares"] (1971), in which seven dead men refuse to be buried and, claiming justice, defy the population of a city. Singer/songwriter Chico Buarque de Hollanda (1944-    ) wrote an Orwellian Beast Fable in Fazenda Modelo ["Model Farm"] (1974), where cattle behave like people. Writers that became very popular at this time were José J Veiga and Murilo Rubião, who are among the very few Brazilian writers whose names are primarily associated with the fantastic; but Moacyr Scliar, Osman Lins and João Guimarães Rosa (1908-1967) are authors who weave fantasies all of their own. Outstanding works by other writers are Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos (1966; trans Harriet de Onís as Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands 1969 US/UK) by Jorge Amado, a funny and erotic Ghost Story; O Beijo Antes do Sono ["The Kiss before Sleep"] (1974) by Fausto Cunha (1923-    ), who is also a front-rank sf writer and critic; Imperatriz no Fim do Mundo ["Empress in the End of the World"] (1992) by Ivanir Calado (1953-    ), in which the Ghost of a 19th-century Brazilian Empress researches her own life in the National Library; O 31!o! Peregrino ["The 31st Pilgrim"] (1993) by Rubens Teixeira Scavone (1925-2007), a haunting and chilling "missing story" from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. [BT]


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.