The dimension of the fantastic has always existed. In ancient times, through the use of myths, sagas, legends and cosmogonies, human beings shaped their beliefs and motivated their actions. Today the fantastic continues to permeate life and the collective unconscious of man, expressing itself with certainly different means but always capable of magnetizing our inner compasses. Lovecraft, Machen, Meyrink, Smith and Tolkien are five paradigmatic authors of this genre, finally presented in all their literary and philosophical dignity in the new essay published by GOG edizioni.
di Lorenzo Pennacchi
introduction to the book "Beyond the real", GoG Editions, Rome 2020
cover with alternative image, made by Marco Sabbatani
Fantasy is a natural human activity.
Certainly, it does not destroy or even offend Reason,
and does not even quench the appetite for,
nor does it obscure the perception of scientific truth.
In reverse. The more the reason is acute and clear,
the better the fantasy works.
So in the conference On Fairy Tales, held in March 1939 at St. Andrews University, Tolkien he defined his own vision of the fantastic, conceived not only as a means of rediscovery, escape and consolation, but also and above all as Magic spell, realized through the authentic sub-creative art, which «produces a Secondary World in which both the author and the spectator can enter». A real elven skill able to overcome reality, crossing it and not simply rejecting it. Similarly, in 1934, in Some notes on fiction interplanetaryHoward Phillips Lovecraft he had argued that “unlikely situations and events […] must overcome the handicap of being unbelievable; and overcoming it is only possible through careful realism in every other aspect of the story, in addition to the gradual and very subtle creation of an appropriate emotional atmosphere ".
The dimension of the fantastic has always been present in human life. In ancient times, through the use of myths, sagas and legends, human beings shaped their beliefs and motivated their actions. In modernity this propulsive thrust has by no means exhausted itself, articulating itself in reference to more dynamic and less organic societies. Today the fantastic invades the collective imagination: fantastic products are found daily in bookstores, cinemas and homes. Parallel to this consumption approach of this kind, which originated from generally playful-economic motivations and characterized by an often passive reception of contents, profound critical analyzes are increasingly spreading around certain authors, creators of other universes, but not for this distant from reality.
Moreover, yesterday as today, "lack of sincerity, conventionality, banality, artificiality, false emotions and childish extravagance reign supreme in this overcrowded genre, so that only very few works can claim true maturity ". Relating authentically with these demiurges means, in fact, entering secondary planes, thickly obscure or filled with hope depending on the case, in order to emerge strengthened, so much so as to be able to project those newly acquired experiences and themes into the primary world. At the same time their works require the reader to propensity to escape, as an essential moment of authentic research. He writes Elemire Zolla:
« Coming out of the space that centuries and centuries have curved over us is the most beautiful act that can be done. We hardly even realize our tacit obediences and automatic submissions, but they can discover them, giving us a salutary horror, the moments of dispassionate observation, when the gift of clairvoyance and freedom is triggered and for the moment we are masters, destiny is revealed to the eye.
It is in the light of this tension beyond the real that the idea of the this volume, which aims to present five pillars (among the different possible ones) of the contemporary fantastic, lived between the end of the nineteenth century and a good part of the twentieth century. Each of the following essays relates an author to a relevant key theme in their work. It is therefore a collection with a heterogeneous content, shaped and formally presented according to common canons, through a technical narrative, but not necessarily specialized.
Andrea Scarabelli guides us through the cosmic nightmares of HP Lovecraft, highlighting the ability of the dreamer of Providence to reconcile apparently irreconcilable elements. Above all, the relationship between myth and science, strongly developed in the dimension of the dream and resolved in what Michel Houellebecq defines strictly material terror. We are facing a topos recurring in Lovecraftian fiction, traced, for example, in the epilogue of Alland Mountains of Madness:
" [IS] absolutely necessary, for the peace and salvation of humanity, that some of the darkest and most buried corners of the earth and its abysmal depths remain untouched; otherwise sleeping horrors will awaken to new life, and forbidden surviving nightmares will crawl or swim from their black havens to renew and expand their conquests. "
Francis La Manno retraces the four main cycles of stories by Clark ashton smith, highlighting its decadent references. Poet, sculptor and writer, one of the greatest exponents of sword and sorcery, but poorly regarded by critics for a long time, Smith is seeing his value recognized especially in recent years. Yet, already in 1923, his friend and correspondent Lovecraft praised him:
“Mr. Smith is relatively little known outside of California due to the tastes of an audience wary of beauty and the adventures of the spirit. Ebony and Crystal represents the courageous rejection of an artist from a world of machines and cash registers, of Freudian complexes and Binet-Simon tests and who has chosen realms of intense and iridescent whimsy beyond space and time, yet as true as any other objective reality because dreams have made them such. Mr. Smith escaped the fetishes of life and the world and glimpsed it perverse, titanic beauty of death and the universe; using infinity to create his own backgrounds and recording with reverent awe the whims of suns and planets, gods and demons, and blind amorphous horrors that haunt gardens of polychrome mushrooming more remote than Algol and d'Achemar. IS a cosmos of vivid flame and glacial depths what he celebrates, and the brightly colored luxuriance with which he populates it derives from nothing but the truest genius.
In the third contribution (Lorenzo Pennacchi) the stratified and complex ecological vision of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien. The essay traces the ecological references in the main Tolkien works, in the light of the (modest) critical literature on the subject, dominated by the monumental text by Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans, in whose introduction a profound environmental conception characterized by "a strong philosophical and theological basis, a global creative image of what it should be when expressed, a powerful cross-reference of what life would be if that vision were rejected, and practical implications for the daily life of all of us".
Subsequently Marco Maculotti leads us into the sphere of the uncanny of Arthur Machendominated by the specter of atavism. Through references to much of the work of the Welsh author, also highly esteemed by Lovecraft, his is presented mythopoiesis of horror, dominated by the disappearance of individualities, by the collapse of borders and forms, by the so-called protoplasmic regression, so expressed in his first masterpiece The Great God Pan:
«Furthermore, before my eyes the whole work by which man was created was repeated. I saw the shape swing from one sex to the other, separating from itself and finally reuniting. Then I saw the body descend to the bestial state from which it had risen and what was at the apex sink to the bottom, right into the absolute abyss of being. The principle of life that creates the organism remained unchanged, while the external form changed. "
Robert Cecchetti investigates the dream dimension, the alchemical elements and the occult character of Gustav Meyrink. Here The Angel of the Occident Windowe, the last great novel of the Austrian esotericist, dialogues with various personalities, including above all Jung. Moreover, the link between the two authors is known. In the words of Piero Cammerinesi, we would say that those of Meyrink «are alchemical novels, as Carl Gustav Jung stated. [...] They speak to us of the Other Part, of that Spiritual World which Meyrink will never show he doubts, considering it no less real than the world of the senses ". A spirit dimension, initiatory and very salvific, as he was able to experience firsthand.
Finally, Adriano Monti Buzzetti retraces the history of modern fantastic fiction, referring to the heterogeneous paths taken by the fantastic novel starting from the eighteenth century. An afterword that arises on the same wavelength as these few lines, aimed at claiming the absolute point of contact between other universes and reality, but also at underlining the essential yearning to overcome the present condition (material, psychic, spiritual) manifested by such artistic creations. The fantastic is thus configured as an antidote to the spirit of gravity, a force that limits so much lo Zarathustra of Nietzsche as much as all those who need to look at reality from other perspectives:
"Now I am light, now I fly, now I see below me, now it is a god who dances, if I dance.