JFA 26.2 (2015)

Editor’s Introduction

“Introduction: Canada and Other Ambiguous States”
Brian Attebery

Some of the articles in this issue of JFA were originally intended for a special issue on Canadian science fiction and fantasy. We were not able to devote an entire issue to the topic, but thanks to the work of Associate Editors Christine Mains and Graham J. Murphy we do have a number of essays on individual writers and genres from Canada. I suspect that part of the reason the call for papers did not produce an avalanche of responses (no reference to snowy northern regions intended) is that the concept of Canadianness has always been an elusive one, despite the efforts of Northrop Frye, Margaret Atwood, and other cultural commentators. Whereas the reality of Canada is vast, varied, and full of mystery, the idea of the nation tends to be of something bland and inoffensive: at worst a little passive-aggressive, at best a place where things like national health care and same-sex marriage are implemented without fuss, compared to its drama-queen neighbor to the south.

The juxtaposition of the articles on the Canadian fantastic with some of other essays here got me thinking about relationships among fantasy, ambiguity, and national culture. Starting with the first pairing among those three terms, ambiguity plays an important role within the fantastic, as pointed out by, among others, Tzvetan Todorov. I have sometimes downplayed Todorov’s importance within fantasy studies, since the “fantastic” of his 1970 study has little to do with the larger category that he set aside as “the marvelous.” Yet his rigorously structural investigation into narrative possibilities does highlight the importance of unresolvable contradictions and ways of responding to them in many varieties of fantastic literature, including the explicitly ambiguous ghost stories he was investigating. If we step outside that category, we see other kinds of ambiguity at work: the impossible narrated as if it were historical; immaterial forces impinging upon the material world; the happy ending that is also inconsolable loss, as in The Lord of the Rings; heroes who are also war-addicted demons in The Worm Ouroboros. Anything in a fantasy can suddenly become its opposite. Every event is subject to reinterpretation in a new, magical light.

Our first article, Alexandra Berlina’s “Fantastic Polyvalence beyond Dichotomies,” revisits Todorov in light of recent novels by Michael Cunningham and Eowyn Ivey. Berlina’s reading of the two fairy-tale-inspired novels goes well beyond what one of my scholarly friends once called the “Todorov Shuffle”: that is, instead of fixing on the moment of hesitation incurred by the seemingly impossible, Berlina describes an ambiguity that goes beyond the duality of “is or isn’t it” and outlines an interpretive sequence that she calls “oscillation.” I find this shift both satisfying and suggestive. Hesitation is static; oscillation is dynamic and productive. Indeed, what we perceive as matter may be analyzed instead as oscillation among potential energy states—ambiguity on a subatomic scale.

Back at the macroscopic level, our next four articles examine specific—and variously ambiguous—products of the Canadian imagination. Amy J. Ransom explores folkloric and literary instances of a shape-shifting creature that is not a werewolf but a loup garou—a specifically Francophone expression of the widespread motif that reminds us that “Canada” simultaneously names at least two nations with different traditions, cultures, languages, and versions of European incursion into the New World (because, of course, French Canada and English Canada already come second- and third-place to a First Nation that occupies the same space). As French-speaking settlers in Quebec and elsewhere confronted forests, indigenous peoples, and legends of the windigo and other spirit-beings, they generated narratives and constructed narrated selves that resemble but differ from similar expressions of Anglo-Canadian experience.

Canadian-born writer Steven Erikson (Steven Rune Lundin) has written short fiction set in his native country, but most of his work takes place in the imaginary realm of Malazan. Erikson grew up in Winnipeg, attended the Iowa Writers School, and lived for a time in Cornwall, so he has experienced firsthand the Anglophone Canadian dilemma of steering between the gravity wells of British and American cultures. Perhaps it is no wonder that his stories often revolve around resisting expansionist empires. Peter Melville’s article on the Malazan novels focuses on the role of witnessing: a term that is itself ambiguous in that it means both seeing and saying. A witness may be one who simply observes or may offer testimony, which in turn can be used for religious or legal ends. In Erikson’s universe, suggests Melville, the act of bearing witness can be more difficult and more powerful even than direct action.

In “The True North Strong and Free,” Allan Weiss examines an earlier generation of writers who expressed their hopes for Canadian culture in the form of futuristic utopian fictions. The ambiguity—and the irony—in their stories is that the future they aspired to was one that contradicts many of the ideals upheld within contemporary Canadian society: diversity of thought, justice for all races, harmony without sameness. What the utopianists thought of as progress looks, in hindsight, more like an evolutionary dead end.

Those more contemporary ideals lie behind the Canadian team of superheroes known as Alpha Flight. The history of that set of comic book characters, as traced by Anna F. Peppard, is ambiguous in a different way from the regressive utopias. Created to uphold the multicultural policies of Pierre Trudeau’s government, Alpha Flight surprisingly transformed into supervillains fighting the American X-Men. Peppard sees in their conflict an enactment of Canadian self-doubt (one of the co-creators of Alpha Flight was a Canadian expatriate) and American mistrust of government-imposed consensus (the comic was published by American company Marvel). Thus, we end up with a team of American mutants fighting against a nearly identical set of superbeings from one of the United States’s closest allies—an indication that issues of assimilation and difference remain uneasy ones even as members of Alpha Flight are redefined as good guys and then once again as villains.

Finally, we turn again to questions of genre rather than national identity in Katherine Weese’s study of the novellas of Steven Millhauser, who is one of the most important contemporary fantasists though usually published as a mainstream writer. Like the novels considered by Berlina, the Millhauser stories that Weese has selected are fairy tales but also works of realist fiction and of metafiction. Going back to the roots of modern fantasy in German Romanticism, Millhauser rewrites the gender roles and psychological quirks inherent in the fairy tales of the Grimms and the literary tales of Hans Christian Andersen and E. T. A. Hoffmann. Not by accident, the last is the inspiration for Freud’s work on the uncanny: in Hoffmann and in Millhauser, uncanniness hovers over the various and permeable boundaries between organism and mechanism, masculine and feminine, love and hate, real and unreal. We all hesitate in the face of the multiple ambiguities generated by these choices; we all oscillate among the possibilities they create.


Introduction: Canada and Other Ambiguous States
Brian Attebery

Fantastic Polyvalence beyond Dichotomies: The Snow Queen and The Snow Child
Alexandra Berlina

The Changing Shape of a Shape-Shifter: The French-Canadian Loup-garou
Amy J. Ransom

Witnessing the “Unwitnessed” in Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen
Peter Melville

“The True North Strong and Free”: National Evolution and Race in Early English-Canadian Utopian Fiction
Allan Weiss

Canada’s Mutant Body: Nationalism and (Super)Multiculturalism in Alpha Flight vs. the X-Men
Anna F. Peppard

Inventing, Revising, and Reinventing Women: Feminism and the Fantastic in the Novellas of Steven Millhauser
Katherine Weese

Review Essay

Worldly Wise Vision Quests: Philip K. Dick’s Final Journey
Jason P. Vest


Nancy J. Holland’s Ontological Humility: Lord Voldemort and the Philosophers
Rev. by Peter Admirand

Michael Howarth’s Under the Bed, Creeping: Psychoanalyzing the Gothic in Children’s Literature
Rev. by Karen Coats

Fabrice Boumahdi’s Jules Verne: Un océan tumultueux de mots et de rêves [Jules Verne: A Turbulent Ocean of Words and Dreams]
Rev. by Arthur B. Evans

Jez Conolly’s The Thing
Rev. by Steven Holmes

David Roas and Patricia García’s Visiones de lo fantástico (aproximaciones teóricas) [Visions of the Fantastic: Theoretical Approaches]
Rev. by Rudi Kraeher

Veronika Wieser, Christian Zolles, Catherine Feik, Martin Zolles, and Leopold Schlöndorff’s Abendländische Apokalyptik: Kompendium zur Genealogie der Endzeit Endzeit [Occidental Apocalypticism: Compendium of the Genealogy of End Times]
Rev. by Corinna Lenhardt

Barbara Brodman and James E. Doan’s Doan’s Images of the Modern Vampire: The Hip and the Atavistic
Rev. by Elizabeth Lundberg

Gloria McMillan’s Orbiting Ray Bradbury’s Mars: Biographical, Anthropological, Literary, Scientific and Other Perspectives
Rev. by Jerry Määttä

Anindita Banerjee’s We Modern People: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity
Rev. by Leon Marvell

Steven J. Mariconda’s H. P. Lovecraft: Art, Artifact, and Reality
Rev. by Sean Matharoo

Hernán Díaz’s Borges, Between History and Eternity
Rev. by Robin McAllister

Cristina Bacchilega’s Fairy Tales Transformed? Twenty-First-Century Adaptations & the Politics of Wonder
Rev. by Gretchen Papazian

Cheyenne Mathews and Janet V. Haedike’s Reading Richard Matheson: A Critical Survey
Rev. by Amy J. Ransom

James Francis, Jr.’s Remaking Horror: Hollywood’s New Reliance on the Scares of Old
Rev. by Joshua Richardson

Jiré Emine Gözen’s Cyberpunk Science Fiction: Literarische Fiktionen und Medientheorie [Literary Fiction and Media Theory]
Rev. by Lars Schmeink

Andrew Smith and William Hughes’s The Victorian Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion
Rev. by Carol Senf

Brian Attebery’s Stories about Stories: Fantasy and the Remaking of Myth
Rev. by William Wandless

Randy Rasmussen’s Psycho, The Birds, and Halloween: The Intimacy of Terror in Three Classic Films
Rev. by William Wandless

David Roas and Ana Casas’s Visiones de lo fantástico en la cultura española (1900-1970) [Visions of the Fantastic in Spanish Culture (1900-1970)]
Rev. by Karuna Warrier

Barry Forshaw’s British Gothic Cinema
Rev. by Matt Yockey