nl en

Marvellous Worlds: The Literary Fantastic


Admission requirements

No extra requirements.


In his seminal study The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre (1970) Tzvetan Todorov describes the fantastic as follows: “In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know … there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of the same familiar world.” In fantastic fiction the possible and the impossible are confounded in a way that leaves the reader both helpless and restless. The unresolvable plot, its fundamental ambiguity, brings about a genre-typical mood/mode of hesitation.
Whereas Todorov distinguishes the “pure fantastic” from the uncanny and the marvellous, many scholars responding to his model have opposed and extended his strict genre definition, partly by pointing out the importance of the contextual dimension of the fantastic imagination. Rosemary Jackson (1981), for instance, considers fantastic fiction as a literature of subversion, either liberating the imagination from the chains of reason, or unsettling repressive social, political or gender structures within society. Christine Brooke-Rose (1981) argues that through its “rhetoric of the unreal” the fantastic brings our notion of ‘reality’ and the ‘real’ under scrutiny. In popular culture, conversely, the fantastic, and especially the sub-genre of fantasy, often counts as an escapist genre, offering a refuge away from the world as we know it.
In this course we will focus on various forms and functions of the literary fantastic. We will track the 19th and 20th century evolution of the fantastic as a literary genre, examining several fantastic sub-genres such as Gothic fiction, ghost stories, magic(al) realism, science fiction, Afro-futurism, modern and postmodern fantastic fiction. We will also explore how figures of the fantastic – such as the ghost or the notion of haunting – have been ‘hijacked’ by theory, giving shape to new approaches to history, the present, and everyday life. Starting from Todorov’s trail-blazing study we will discuss the definition of the genre, and we will test and compare various interpretive approaches to the fantastic, ranging from structuralism and psychoanalysis to Marxist and post- structuralist approaches. To support and inspire us in this project we will read theoretical reflections by, among others, Christine Brooke-Rose, Jacques Derrida, Sigmund Freud, Rosemary Jackson, David Punter, and Tzvetan Todorov.

Course objectives

The objective of this course is twofold. On the one hand the course provides an in-depth overview of 19th and 20th century fantastic fiction and of the theory on the fantastic as a genre. On the other hand it aims to confront ‘the fantastic’ with ‘the real’ by scrutinizing the interrelation between fantastic fictional worlds and their socio-political contexts.



Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Mid-term assignment (30%); Paper (60%); Participation in group discussions and Blackboard (10%)


Blackboard is used to inform students and to post questions and responses.

Reading list

Our readings include:

  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1816)

  • Edgar Allen Poe, The Rise and Fall of the House of Usher(1834)

  • Nikolai Gogol, The Nose (1836)

  • Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (1898)

  • Arthur Schnitzler, Traumnovelle [Dream Story] (1926)

  • Alejo Carpentier, El reino de este Mundo [The Kingdom of this World] (1949)

  • Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)

  • Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

We will also view the film Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001).


Students have to apply for this course with the registration system of the university uSis. General information about registration with uSis you can find here in English

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Contact information

Please contact dr. M.Boletsi.