chapter  4
40 Pages

Beyond Consensus Reality: Death and Fantasy Fiction

The novels I consider in this chapter all locate their narratives within the realm of the fantastic, a textual space which, like death, can be seen to challenge cultural ideas about order and boundaries, is surrounded by an instability of meaning, and is diffi cult to articulate or to defi ne. As Rosemary Jackson argues, the fantastic is “preoccupied with limits, with limiting categories, and with their projected dissolution”, it “opens on to a region which has no name and no rational explanation for its existence”, it traces “the unsaid and the unseen of culture: that which has been silenced, made invisible, covered over and made ‘absent’” (4, 25, 48). The intersection between death and the fantastic in this group of texts is, then, to appropriate Julia Kristeva’s words, one that involves “borders, positions, rules” (4)—in particular, their transgression or collapse. In the sub-genres of fantasy I examine here, death’s role is to blur the boundaries between reality, dream, and the supernatural; to fracture domestic structures; and to separate child from adult, “normal” from “abnormal”,

disorder from order, self from other-in short, to undermine cultural stability. Each of these texts also tends to focus upon bodies and their margins, or to problematise hegemonic constructions of femininity and masculinity, creating a sense that the boundaries delineating biological sex and cultural gender are shifting or mutable. As a group they therefore embody “implicit criticism of social norms”, since by giving readers experiences of social practices and ways of seeing that deviate from the norm, they can be seen to play with or subvert orthodox ideas about sexuality and gender (Searsmith 144). The majority of the texts I discuss function to restore or redefi ne those limits too, however, working less to push the boundaries and more to maintain them-and perhaps suggesting, as Lucie Armitt contends, that “although the relationship between prohibition and transgression is one of apparent mutual denial, in actuality each necessitates the existence of the other”; transgression “requires the affi rmation of the limit in the very act of crossing it” (71, 97).