Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Todorov, Tzvetan

(1939-2017) Bulgarian-born literary critic, from 1963 in France, where he soon established himself as one of the central figures of modern theoretical criticism, his work engaging with and sophisticating Russian formalism, French structuralism and the international dance of post-structuralism. He is of importance in the study of the Fantastic, though the impact of his definition of the fantastic is of less use in the study of Fantasy, where the Marvellous is not a problematic to be solved, but a given. In Introduction à la littérature fantastique (1970; trans Richard Howard as The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre 1973 US), TD defines the fantastic as something which occurs when an event is experienced "which cannot be explained by the laws of the . . . familiar world. The person who experiences the event must opt for one of two possible solutions: either he is the victim of the illusion of the senses, of a product of the imagination – and laws of the world then remain what they are; or else the event has indeed taken place, it is an integral part of reality – but then this reality is controlled by laws unknown to us . . . The fantastic occupies the duration of this uncertainty. Once we choose one answer or the other, we leave the fantastic for a neighbouring genre, the Uncanny or the marvellous. The fantastic is that hesitation experienced by a person who knows only the laws of nature, confronting an apparently supernatural event." A congruent analysis has been evolved independently by John Grant (> Perception) and others.

Authors whose works are cited in support of TT's thesis include E T A Hoffmann, Henry James, Franz Kafka, Gérard de Nerval, Edgar Allan Poe, Count Jan Potocki and Villiers de L'Isle-Adam. [JC]

Tzvetan Todorov


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.