The following are excerpt from Todorov's "The Uncanny and the Marvelous":
The fantastic. . . lasts only as long as a certain hesitation: a hesitation common to reader and character, who must decide whether or not what they perceive derives from “reality” as it exists in the common opinion. . . . If he decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we say that the work belongs to another genre [than that of the fantastic]: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous (Tzvetan Todorov, “The Uncanny and the Marvelous” in Literature of the Occult: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Peter B. Messent. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1981. 17. Print).
Indeed, we generally distinguish, within the literary Gothic, two tendencies: that of the supernatural explained (the “uncanny”). . . and that of the supernatural accepted (the “marvelous”) (Todorov, 17). [By definition, Todorov views “the novels of Clara Reeves and Ann Radcliffe” as uncanny, but sees “the works of Horace Walpole, M. G. Lewis, and Maturin” as marvelous.]
. . . The marvelous corresponds to an unknown phenomenon, never seen as yet, still to come--hence to a future; in the uncanny, on the other hand, we refer the inexplicable to known facts, to a previous experience, and thereby to the past. As for the fantastic itself, the hesitation which characterizes it cannot be situated, by and large, except in the present (Todorov, 18).
Yet it would be wrong to claim that the fantastic can exist only in part of a work, for here are certain texts which sustain their ambiguity to the very end, i. e., even beyond the narrative itself. The book closed, the ambiguity persists. A remarkable example is supplied by Henry James’ tale “The Turn of the Screw,” which does not permit us to determine finally whether ghosts haunt the old estate, or whether we are confronted by hallucinations or a hysterical governess victimized by the disturbing atmosphere which surrounds her. In French literature, Merimee’s tale “La Venus d’Ille” affords a perfect example of this ambiguity. A statue seems to come alive and to kill the bridegroom; but we remain at the point of “seems,” and never reach certainty (Todorov, 19).
We find that. . . a transitory sub-genre appears: between the fantastic and the uncanny on the one hand, between the fantastic and the marvelous on the other[:]
. . . In. . . [the]. . . sub-genre [of the fantastic-uncanny] events that seem supernatural throughout a story receive a rational explanation at its end. . . . Criticism has described, and often condemned, this type under the label of “the supernatural explained” (Todorov, 20). [An example of the fantastic-uncanny sub-genre is The Saragossa Manuscript, in which the possibility of the supernatural as a cause of the events is slowly and continuously “eroded” in various ways, to wit:] first, accident or coincidence. . . ; next, dreams. . . ; then the influence of drugs. . . ; tricks and prearranged apparitions. . . ; illusion of the senses. . . ; and lastly madness (Todorov, 20-21).
. . . Indeed, the realistic solutions given in The Saragossa Manuscript or “Ines de las Sierras” are altogether improbable; supernatural solutions would have been, on the contrary, quite probable. . . . The probable is therefore not necessarily opposed to the fantastic: the former is a category that deals with internal coherence, with submission to the genre; the fantastic refers to an ambiguous perception shared by the reader and one of the characters. Within the genre of the fantastic, it is probable that “fantastic” reactions will occur (Todorov, 21).
. . . There also exists the uncanny in the pure state. In works that belong to this genre, events are related which may be readily accounted for by the laws of reason, but which are, in one way or another, incredible, extraordinary or unexpected, and which thereby provoke in the character and in the reader a reaction similar to that which works of the fantastic have made familiar. . . . The literature of horror in its pure state belongs to the uncanny--many examples from the stories of Ambrose Bierce could serve as examples here (Todorov, 22-23).
The uncanny realizes. . . only one of the conditions of the fantastic: the description of certain reactions, especially of fear. It is uniquely linked to the sentiments of the characters and not to a material event defying reason. (The marvelous, by way of contrast, may be characterized by the mere presence of supernatural events, without implicating the reaction they provoke in the characters) (Todorov, 22).
Poe’s tale “The Fall of the House of Usher” is an instance of the uncanny bordering on the fantastic (Todorov, 22).
Here [in “The Fall of the House of Usher”] the uncanny has two sources. The first is constituted by two coincidences (there are as many of these as in a work of the supernatural explained). Although the resurrection of Usher’s sister and the fall of the house after the death of the inhabitants may appear supernatural, Poe has not failed to supply quite rational explanations for both events [a fissure in the edifice and catalepsy, respectively] (Todorov, 23).
The other series of elements that provoke the sense of the uncanny is not linked to the fantastic but to what we might call “an experience of limits,” which characterizes the whole of Poe’s oeuvre. . . . In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” it is the extremely morbid condition of the brother and sister which disturbs the reader. In other tales, scenes of cruelty, delight in evil, and murder will provoke the same effect. The sentiment of the uncanny originates, then, in certain themes linked to more or less ancient taboos. If we grant that primeval experience is constituted by transgression, we can accept Freud’s theory as to the origin of the uncanny [as representing a resurfacing, or return, of the suppressed] (Todorov, 23).
Thus the fantastic is ultimately excluded from “The Fall of the House of Usher.” As a rule we do not find the fantastic in Poe’s works, in the strict sense, with the exception perhaps of “The Black Cat.” His tales almost all derive their effects from the uncanny, and several from the marvelous. Yet Poe remains very close to the authors of the fantastic both in his themes and in the techniques that he applies (Todorov, 29).
. . . It has often been remarked. . . that for the reading public, detective stories have in our time replaced ghost stories. Let us consider the nature of the relationship. The murder mystery, in which we try to discover the identity of the criminal, is constructed in the following manner: on the one hand there are several easy solutions, initially tempting but turning out, one after another, to be false; on the other, there is an entirely improbable solution disclosed only at the end and turning out to be the only right one. Here we see what brings the detective story close to the fantastic tale. . . . The fantastic narrative, too, involves two solutions, one probable and supernatural, the other improbable and rational.
It suffices, therefore, that in the detective story this second solution be so inaccessible as to “defy reason” for us to accept the existence of the supernatural rather than to rest with the absence of any explanation at all. A classic example of this situation is Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. [However, the detective story is an example of the uncanny, for] the detective story, once it is over, leaves no doubt as to the absence of supernatural events. The relationship, moreover, is valid only for a certain type of detective story (the “sealed room”) and a certain type of uncanny narrative (the ‘supernatural explained”). Further, the emphasis differs in the two genres: in the detective story, the emphasis is placed on the solution to the mystery; in the texts linked to the uncanny (as in the fantastic narrative), the emphasis is on the reactions which this mystery provokes (Todorov, 24).
. . . As a result of [the epilogue to John Dickson Carr’s detective novel] . . . The Burning Court [the novel] emerges from the class of detective stories that simply evoke the supernatural, to join the ranks of the fantastic. We see Marie once again, in her house, thinking over the case; and the fantastic re-emerges. Marie asserts once again (to the reader) that she is indeed the poisoner, that the detective was her in fact her friend (which is not untrue), and that he has provided the entire rational explanation in order to save her. . . (Todorov, 25-26).
[In The Burning Court] the world of the non-dead reclaims its rights, and the fantastic with it: we are thrown back on our hesitation as to which solution to choose. . . (Todorov, 26).
If we move to the other side of that median line we have called the fantastic, we find ourselves in the fantastic-marvelous, the class of narrative that are separated as fantastic and that end with an acceptance of the supernatural (Todorov, 26).
Gautier’ “La Morte Amoureuse” can serve as an example [of the fantastic-marvelous] (Todorov, 26).
A similar example is to be found in Villiers de I’Isle-Adam’s “Vera.” Here again, throughout the tale, we may hesitate between believing in life-after-death or thinking that the count who so believes is mad. But at the end, the count discovers the key to Vera’s tomb, though he himself had flung it into the tomb; it must therefore be Vera, his dead wife, who has brought it to him (Todorov, 27).
There exists, finally, a form of the marvelous in the pure state. . . . It is not an attitude [on the part of either reader or character] toward the events described which characterizes the marvelous, but the nature of these events (28).
We generally link the genre of the marvelous to that of the fairy tale. But as a matter of fact, the fairy tale is only one of the varieties of the marvelous, and the supernatural events in fairy tales provoke no surprise. . . . What distinguishes the fairy tale is a certain kind of writing, not the status of the supernatural. Hoffman’s tales illustrate this difference perfectly: “The Nutcracker and the Mouse-King,” “The Strange Child,” and “The King’s Bride” belong, by stylistic properties, to the fairy tale. “The Choice of the Bride,” while preserving the same status with respect to the supernatural, is not a fairy tale at all. One would also have to characterize the Arabian Nights as marvelous tales rather than fairy tales. . . (Todorov, 28).
In order to delimit the marvelous in the pure state, it is convenient to isolate it from several types of narrative in which the supernatural is somewhat justified (Todorov, 28).
1. We may speak first of all of hyperbolic marvelous. In it, phenomena are supernatural only by virtue of their dimensions, which are superior to those that are familiar to us. Thus in the Arabian Nights Sinbad the Sailor declares he has seen “fish one hundred and even two hundred ells long” or “serpents so great and so long that there is not one which could not have swallowed an elephant” (Todorov, 28).
2. Quite close to this first type of the marvelous is the exotic marvelous. In this type, supernatural events are reported without being presented as such. The implicit reader is supposed to be ignorant of the regions where the events take place, and consequently he has no reason for calling them into question. Sinbad’s second voyage furnishes some excellent examples, such as the roc, a bird so tremendous that it concealed the sun and “one of whose legs. . . was as great as a great tree-trunk” (Todorov, 29).
3. A third type of the marvelous might be called the instrumental marvelous. Here we find the gadgets, technological developments unrealized in the period described but, after all, quite possible. In the “The Tale of Prince Ahmed” in the Arabian Nights, for instance, the marvelous instruments are, at the beginning: a flying carpet, an apple that cures diseases, and a “pipe” for seeing great distances; today, the helicopter, antibiotics, and binoculars, endowed with the same qualities, do not belong in any way to the marvelous (Todorov, 29).
4. The “instrumental marvelous” brings us very close to what in nineteenth-century France was called the scientific marvelous, which today we call science fiction. Here the supernatural is explained in a rational manner, but according to laws [of nature or science] that contemporary science does not acknowledge. In the high period of fantastic narratives, stories involving magnetism are characteristic of the scientific marvelous: magnetism “scientifically” explains supernatural events, yet magnetism itself belongs to the supernatural. Examples are Hoffman’s “Spectre Bridegroom” or “The Magnetizer,” and Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” or Maupassant’s “Un Fou?” Contemporary science fiction. When it does not slip into allegory, obeys the same mechanism: these narratives, starting from irrational premises, link the “facts” they contain in a perfectly logical manner (Todorov, 30).
[Todorov’s essay does not “consider” the marvelous itself, finding the marvelous to be “an anthropological phenomenon” that “:exceeds the context of a study limited to literary aspects” (30).]