Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Slovakia

Slovakia lies on the cultural boundary between Eastern and Western Europe: its immediate neighbours are Ukraine to the east, Poland to the north, Hungary to the south and Austria and the Czech Republic to the west. In the early 11th century Slovakia fell to Hungary and after 1526, when Hungary was attached to Austria, it became a province of the Hapsburg Empire. Unlike the Czech lands, however, which were historically provinces of Austria, Slovakia remained part of the Hungarian sphere of influence within Austria-Hungary.

Following the break-up of Austria-Hungary in 1918, Slovakia was joined to the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia to form the new state of Czechoslovakia, whose inhabitants included – besides Czechs and Slovaks – sizeable minorities of Germans, Hungarians, Gypsies and Jews; to this day Hungarians make up about 10% of Slovakia's population, and many notable Hungarian writers – including Mór Jókai (1825-1904), who was born in Upper Hungary – have had ties to what is now Slovakia.

Apart from a four-year break during WWII, Czechoslovakia survived as a political unit until, on 1 January 1993, it split into the two states of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. This entry concentrates on works in the Slovak language.

Slovak fantasy had its origins in the popular traditions of the ballad and Folktale. Besides the characters common to all Slavic Folklore, however, Slovakia has two dominant figures that are uniquely its own. First is the brigand Juraj Jánošík (1699-1713), who has been mythologized into a curious blend of outlaw and magician: he is said to have possessed a wide range of magical artefacts including a magic belt that gave its wearer great strength, a shirt that bestowed Invisibility, and magic laces in his trousers. The second is the Hungarian noblewoman Erzsébet (or Elizabeth de) Báthory (1560-1614), notorious for her habit of bathing in the blood of murdered virgins (> Virginity); she occurs as a bogeywoman in many of the more frightening Slovak folktales (and, of course, her story has contributed internationally to the corpus of Vampire tales). Both figures were taken over in the 19th century by writers of Slovak Romanticism. However, no Slovak writer of this period was a fantasist as such; the writers discussed below are, rather, mainstream Romantics who occasionally produced works with fantasy content.

Faustiáda ["The Faustiad"] (1864) by Jonáš Záborský (1812-1876), probably the most effective Slovak satirical novel (> Satire) of the 19th century, is a case in point. Part One takes place in Heaven, Part Two in Hell, and the finale in the invented town of Kocúrkov, world-famous for its enormous number of distilleries. Faust comes to Kocúrkov to defeat the Giant Puchor, who has inundated the whole country with cowsheds. He succeeds in blinding the giant and freeing the cattle, and Puchor is petrified in a fit of rage.

The poet Ján Botto (1829-1881) was another Romantic who made use of images from Slovak folklore. In his versified Fairytale "Svetský vítaz" ["The Worldly Victor"] (1846) a Hero endowed with enormous strength and marked with a star on his forehead defeats first the Dragons who have ruled the world and then, with the help of 12 white eagles, the Monsters of the night who rule the Age of Darkness; after this he becomes Lord of the World. In "Smrt Jánošíkova" (1858; trans Ivan J Kramoris as The Death of Jánošík 1944 US) Botto not only refers to the tale of Jánošík's magic belt but even has his hero marry the Queen of the Fairies after his execution.

František Švantner (1912-1950) was a somewhat later writer whose work frequently transgresses the boundary between realism and fantasy, in particular in the peculiarly half-conscious characters displayed by his protagonists. A good example could be almost any of the stories in Malka (coll 1942; title story trans Andrew Cincura as "Malka" in An Anthology of Slovak Literature [anth 1976 US] ed Cincura), in which elements of Fate and fantasy are often to the fore.

Another mid-20th-century writer of interest is the Modernist poet Rudolf Fábry (1915-1982), one of the founders of nadrealismus (a Slovak variant of Surrealism). Although he was not a fantasist in the generic sense, his early collections – Utaté ruky ["Severed Hands"] (coll 1935) and Vodné hodiny, hodiny piesočné ["Water Clocks, Clocks of Sand"] (coll 1938) – are a rich source of fantastic imagery.

The post-WWII years were slim for Slovak fantasists, as in the other Iron Curtain countries. Only in the 1960s did books with fantasy elements start to reappear, though again one cannot speak of any Slovak writer as a career fantasist; as before, mainstream writers made occasional forays into the fantastic. An extremely interesting example is Rudolf Sloboda (1938-    ), who developed a characteristic style of refined, short, witty fantasy story, of which the tales in Uhorský rok ["The Hungarian Year"] (coll 1968) are representative. These bizarre little texts might best be characterized as imitations of the fairytale.

Magic Realism was introduced to Slovak literature by Peter Jaroš (1940-    ), most notably in Tisícročná včela ["The Thousand-Year-Old Bee"] (1979), successfully filmed by Juraj Jakubisko. The lives of his protagonists, the Pichanda family, are intertwined with the figures of popular folklore, and in several crucial scenes the heroes are visited by the mythical bee of the title.

Modern Genre Fantasy began to gain significance in Slovakia only towards the end of the 1980s, when the Košice-based sf club 451°F (named in honour of Ray Bradbury) began to publish fanzines, mostly under the editorship of Peter Sadovský. Although the club managed to bring together a number of promising young writers and critics, later attempts to reach a wider audience with the glossy, professionally printed fanzine Legendy ["Legends"] (1991) and its successor, the semi-prozine Staré legendy ["Old Legends"] (1992), were unsuccessful.

Due to the lack of domestic publishing outlets, the position of a new fantasy writer in Slovakia today is not encouraging. A type example is Jaroslav Lupečka (1958-    ), a member of the 451°F circle. He won first prize in the annual Best Fantasy Competition in 1990 with "Stopou velkého Tora" ["In the Steps of the Great Thor"], but cannot find a Slovak publisher; a collection of his tales from this cycle is awaiting publication in the Czech Republic. (In this context it is interesting to note that the small Czech publisher Saga has recently begun to publish modern Slovak fantasy authors in translation, but giving the writers macho-sounding foreign pseudonyms!)

There can be little doubt that Slovak fantasy writers – and Slovak moviemakers – have had a lot of trouble making their voices heard since the political changes of 1989. Slovak fantasy readers still depend to a large extent on Czech publishers; indigenous fantasy authors – even prizewinners like LupeČka – have enormous difficulties in getting published. Indeed, in contrast to their Czech counterparts, Slovak publishers seem reluctant even to translate the bestselling UK and US authors; of them only Stephen King has had a significant number of books published in Slovakia. One can only hope that, with time, the cultural thaw in Slovakia will reach the fantasy genre.

Movies

Slovak fantasy Cinema has in recent decades fared somewhat better than the written form, although output has still been small. Of particular interest are two full-length Animated Movies by the writer and caricaturist Viktor Kubal (1923-1997). Zbojník Jurko ["Jurko the Brigand"] (1976) and Krvavá pani ["The Bloody Lady"] (1980) respectively draw on the folktales about Jánošík and Báthory. Also interesting is Sladký čas Kalimagdory ["The Sweet Time of Kalimagdora"] (1968) dir Leopold Lahola (1918-1968), a Slovak adaptation of Spáč ve zvěrokruhu ["The Sleeper in the Zodiac"], the classic Czech fantasy novel by Jan Weiss (> Czech Republic). Although he had previously written screenplays and directed several movies abroad, this was Lahola's first feature in Slovak. It describes the world of a group of people whose lives follow a seasonal cycle, as if they were plants.

Štefan Uher (1930-1993) directed a number of movies that drew on elements of folktale and fantasy. Perhaps the best is Génius ["Genius"] (1969), a tragicomedy about the role of sin in humanizing the Devil. But the most significant Slovak director of fantasy movies has undoubtedly been Juraj Jakubisko (1938-    ), almost all of whose movies contain elements of fantasy or Magic Realism. Even in his early movies, like Vtáčkovia, siroty a blázni ["Little Birds, Orphans and Madmen"] (1969), he shows a profound interest in fantasy and metaphor, combining realistic and symbolic passages, visual ideas with moments of irrationality and ontological brutality, the contemporary with the folkloristic – all conspiring as if to place the narrative of the movie outside space and Time. A year later he began work on Do videnia v pekle, priatelia ["See You in Hell, My Friend"] (1990), a darkly comic burlesque constructed like a mosaic of Absurdist-Fantasy images, interlarded with Surrealism. For political reasons this movie remained unfinished for two decades. All of Jakubisko's movies of the 1960s are characterized by this combination of a folkloristic style with an interest in modern artistic movements and ideas – a kind of Surrealism or Magic Realism mutated by the juxtaposition of Eastern Slovak folklore. Jakubisko fell out of favour in the 1970s and was unable to make further features; after his rehabilitation in the 1980s his first feature was Tisícročná včela (1983), adapted from the novel by Peter Jaroš; an expanded version was screened in four parts on tv. Jaroš's novel proved an excellent vehicle for Jakubisko's recurrent interest in the relation between Reality and fantasy; if anything, the movie emphasizes the fantasy content of the original. It received the Czechoslovak Critics' Prize as movie of the year and did better box office than any other Slovak movie of the 1980s.

Jakubisko's next major movie, Pehavý Max a strašidlá ["Freckled Max and the Ghosts"], was less successful. Many critics dismissed it as a disjointed combination of the classical Fairytale, a Parody of Horror Movies and half-baked Surrealism. It is nonetheless Jakubisko's only movie that belongs unequivocally to the fantasy genre, and is one of the better Slovak contributions to fantasy cinema. [EN/CS]

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.