I have a particular soft-spot for stories that tip over into the realm of fantasy. The ones that on the surface appear to be fantastical, but could equally be explained by some unusual combination of circumstances. The best ones, in my opinion, are the ones which have a great logical explanation, but still leave you wondering.
One of the best examples I’ve come across in this vein is The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey.
Based on a Russian folk-tale, this is the story of an older, childless couple, who bury their emotional pain trying to carve out an existence in pioneering Alaska. One night, in a rare moment of levity they build a child out of snow. The next day the snow child is gone, and the retreating footprints of a ‘real’ child remain. The result is a journey into the hopes and dreams of both husband and wife as they try to reconcile what they’ve discovered.
The setting, the harsh and unforgiving Alaskan frontier, has a wild, untamed, beauty that adds to the magic and reflects both the struggle for survival and the fragile nature of hope the snow child brings.
Is it fantasy or not?
I won’t be giving away the ending, except to say perhaps it depends on the reader?
Other popular examples play up the magical qualities of food, including Joanne Harris’s works, Chocolat and Blackberry Wine; Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate; and Pomegranate Soup, by Marsha Mehran.
Carol Goodman also draws together fairytale or legendary themes in her books: Arcadia Falls touches on changeling folklore; The Seduction of Water, on selkies. She has since crossed over the full-fantasy line writing the Black Swan Rising series with her husband under the name Lee Carroll.
On the faith based front, one of my all time favourites, The Miracles of Santa Fico by D.L Smith, deals with the nature of miracles. The story is based around a group of men attempting to create their own miracles in order to restore the faith of their local priest. (The priest lost his faith due to the actions of these men). The manufactured miracles go awry quite spectacularly, and yet as they do circumstances seem to line up in a way that could be seen as truly miraculous. And like the other stories you’re left wondering if the rational explanations truly tell the whole story.
I’m not sure if any of these novels quite cross over into realm of fantasy? At the very least they all have that not-quite-of-this-world element about them.
Do you think these novels should be considered fantasy novels? Why? And do you have a favourite mainstream novel that brushes shoulders with fantasy?
– by Raewyn Hewitt