It is only in recent years that Lithuanian readers have discovered Genre Fantasy: during the Soviet occupation, while the West was enjoying the works of J R R Tolkien and his many imitators, Lithuanians were restricted to a diet of realist fictions, only a few of which broke out of their shackles to become allegorical, surreal or symbolist fictions. In the related field of sf, Lithuanian writers followed the same line as their Russian counterparts: only optimistic Utopias and hard sf were tolerated.
Even before the Soviet occupation, Lithuanian fantasy had not been especially rich. Vyd¯unas (real name Vilhelmas Storosta; 1868-1953) wrote some symbolic mysteries, like Amžinoji ugnis ["Eternal Fire"] (1913), Ragana ["Witch"] (1918) and J¯uros varpai ["The Bells of the Sea"] (1920). Later, during the interbellum, several writers produced novels in which fantasy was a dominant element. Justas Piliponis (1907-1947), famous as an adventure writer, often set his fictions in something close to Fantasylands, although they were described as real but exotic countries. His Kunigaikštis be praeities ["Knight Without a Past"] (1936) shows the strong influence of Edgar Rice Burroughs; Amžinas žydas Kaune ["The Eternal Jew in Kaunas"] (1934) depicts a Biblical character existing in the real world. The most interesting work of this period was Meil es prakeiktos sielos ["Damned Souls in Love"] (1934) by the Brothers Tomdykas (joint pseudonym of Alfonsas Buzčikas [1906-? ] and Jonas Buzčikas [1912-? ]). After the death of his fiancée a doctor studies religion, mysticism and spiritualism and eventually builds a "coffin of the feelings", through whose use people can be killed and then raised from the dead. He tries it himself and reaches a Secondary World which proves to be Hell.
The occupation years were not entirely without fantasy interest. Possibly the closest to genre fantasy was the novelette "Kentauro herbo gimin e" ["Family of Centaur Symbol"] (1978) by Saulius Tomas Kondrotas (1953- ): centuries ago a duke discovers his wife making love with a servant and decides to kill her; she, crying for mercy, suddenly turns into a huge lizard, as does the duke, and his son determines he must kill these Monsters. The purpose of the tale was Allegory.
In some of Kondrotas's other stories the incredible happens. "R¯uke mano siela" ["My Soul in the Mist"] (1977) concerns a car accident caused by a boy running at the same speed as the car. "V ejas" ["Wind"] (1977) depicts a girl from whom the wind blows in all directions. The protagonist of "Kolekcionierius" ["Collector"] (1976) collects sunsets. Ir apsiniauks žvelgiantys pro langa ["And Would Frown the Ones who Look Through the Window"] (1985) describes a secondary world and is largely dictated by a dead man.
"Šaunusis ketvertukas prasmegusioje pilyje" ["The Brave Four in the Vanished Castle"] (1988) by Romualdas Kalonaitis (1941- ) is based on the Legend of a castle that vanished in Lake Plateliai. Four children swim to an island in the lake and discover there a castle-Labyrinth from which they can escape only by solving mathematical and logical Riddles.
Jurga Ivanauskait e (1961- ) is another whose stories venture well beyond the mundane although, as in Kondrotas's works, she deploys fantasy elements as auxiliaries rather than main themes. She shows no interest in why the protagonist of "Apie tai, kaip ..." ["About This, How ...?"] (1985) is suddenly able to hear the thoughts of others, or why a young nude Japanese woman, lacking a Shadow and not visible to everyone, appears in "Reg ejimai geltonoje šviesoje" ["Spectacles in Yellow Light"] (1985), why a character turns into a photograph in "Labai nemalonus atsitikimas" ["Very Unpleasant Accident"] (1985), why a girl grows Wings in "Diena, kurios nebuvo" ["The Day Which Wasn't"] (1985), and so on. In these stories Ivanauskait e's interest is, rather, in exploring the real problems of youth through the introduction of surreal elements. Elsewhere she deploys fantasy analogously to explore the hopelessness of the "lost" generation – "Kada ateis Godo?" ["When Will Godo Come?"] (1985) – terror of the future – "Koncertas Nr. 1" ["Concert No 1"] (1985) – or the hippy worldview – "Pakalnučiu metai" ["The Time of Lilies"] (1985).
Several writers have ventured into Science Fantasy. In "Svarbiausias atradimas" ["The Main Discovery"] (1990) by Mindaugas Peleckis (1977- ) some boys fall asleep and waken on the Planet of Neon Robots. In Peleckis's work in general one encounters Witches, Gods, Zombies, Werewolves, Magic, Dragons, a skull that can kill people telepathically ... Kazys Paulaskas, in Laukesos aitvaras (1983) used Lithuanian Folktales about brownies as the basis for a UFO fantasy.
Some largely realist stories were driven by fantasy elements. Loreta Latonait e (1934- ) wrote several. In "Paskutinysis faraono Cheopso paslapties saugotojas" ["The Mystery of the Last Guard of Pharaoh Cheops"] (1983) the narrator has been damned by the gods of Ancient Egypt. In "Prisiminimu ežeras" ["Reminiscence Lake"] (1983) the characters briefly venture into a secondary world. In "Akmens ašaros" ["Tears of Stone"] (1990) people in the mountains discover either living stone or a creature that lives in stone. These are really fantasies of Perception: it is left moot as to whether the events really occurred. The same might be said of the allegorical Vienaragio išdaigos ["Unicorn's Tricks"] (1982) and Triragio Pinklès ["Threehorn's Intrigues"] (1988) by Anelius Markevičius (1923- ). In these Satan comes to our world and seduces people into making Pacts with the Devil, but the Devil is really an Allegory of our own evil natures.
Despite their synopses, this balancing act between realism and the fantastic can also be found in some of the works of Ričardas Gavelis (1950- ). In "Žvaigždžiu Kvepèjimas" ["The Smell of Stars"] (1982) the king Belerofontas overcomes a monstrous chimera, but the chimera resurrects again and again and pursues him all his life. In Vilniaus Pokeris ["Vilnius Poker"] (1989) three dead souls are reincarnated (see Reincarnation) as a dog, tree and pigeon, and observe living people.
The prospects for genre fantasy in Lithuania look good, especially since fantasy Games are increasingly popular. Also, since liberation, there has been a growing nostalgia for Lithuania's legendary past, which offers a broad Playground for the next generation of fantasists. [GB/RB]
see also: Mykalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis.