Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

1. The feast which, in Roman Catholic countries, precedes the austerity of Lent; it is most commonly celebrated on Shrove Tuesday, alias Mardi Gras, and the celebrations often involve parades and masked balls (sometimes involving a tacit dissolution or Topsy-Turvy of the social hierarchy). Fantasies set on such occasions include "The Masked Ball" (1947) by Seabury Quinn and "Masquerade of a Dead Sword" (1986) and "The Greater Festival of Masks" (1989) by Thomas Ligotti. The movie and stage versions of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera (1911) make much of the Masque scene (see Phantom of the Opera), exploiting a motif pioneered by Edgar Allan Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" (1842), which is allegedly outdone by a key scene in the mythical play The King in Yellow (see Robert W Chambers).

2. The critic Mikhail Bakhtin drew a distinction between the "dialogical" or "polyphonic" novel and the "monological" novel, tracing the origins of the former – in which the author's narrative voice is ambiguous or confused by opposition – to satire and carnival. "Carnival" and "carnivalesque" have in consequence become technical terms sometimes applied to non-naturalistic fictions in order to characterize their various rhetorical perversities; they are especially pertinent to those involving dramatic transformations of the social order.

3. The more normal sense of the word "carnival" refers, especially in the USA, to a travelling show comprising stalls, sideshows and displays of freaks and animals; it falls somewhere between the European circus and funfair. All three venues have been used extensively by fantasy writers, probably because the overt sham and hoaxery involved in such entertainments evokes ideas of Masks: the surface is very different from what underlies it, as in the notion of the miserable clown. Noteworthy examples of fantasies set in or around carnivals and fairs are The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919), Charles G Finney's The Circus of Dr Lao (1935) – filmed as 7 Faces of Dr Lao (1964) – Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) – filmed as Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983) (it is no coincidence that Bradbury's first collection, Dark Carnival [coll 1947] was thus titled) – and Arthur Calder-Marshall's The Fair to Middling (1959). The movie Dante's Inferno (1935) centres on a sort of super-carnival. The Funhouse * (1980; rev 1992) by Dean R Koontz novelizes the movie The Funhouse (1981) dir Tobe Hooper; a mixture of Supernatural Fiction and Horror, it describes what happens to a group of teenagers who are insufficiently credulous about the hauntedness of a carnival's "Haunted House". A large part of Peter S Beagle's The Last Unicorn (1968) – filmed as The Last Unicorn (1982) – memorably focuses on a carnival. The tendency of US carnivals to include "freak shows" has inspired numerous Dark Fantasies of note, including Tom Robbins's The Unholy Three (1917) and "Spurs" (1926; the basis of the movie Freaks [1932] dir Tod Browning). Helen Cresswell's The Watchers: A Mystery at Alton Towers (1993) is set in the permanent UK funfair Alton Towers. Perhaps the paradigmatic fantasy set in a circus, as opposed to a carnival, is Dumbo (1941). Also of note are: the circus sequences in The Bride (1985) (see Frankenstein Movies), although these are not in themselves fantastic; Bradbury's "The Illustrated Man" (1951) and the linking device of his The Illustrated Man (coll 1951); Michael Kurland's The Unicorn Girl (1969), which features a planet-roving circus, complete with Unicorn; Tom Reamy's Blind Voices (1978); and Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus (1984). Fabulous travelling shows are featured also in William Kotzwinkle's Fata Morgana (1977) and James Blaylock's Land of Dreams (1988). In High Fantasy, such as Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time sequence, the tendency for fugitive characters to join a carnival or traveller fair as Disguise has become a cliché. [BS/JC/JG]

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.