Fantastic Narratives and the Natural World

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Dalhousie University, Department of French and Italian

The Department of French and Italian invites contributions for an interdisciplinary colloquium on "Fantastic Narratives and the Natural World" to be held at Dalhousie University (Canada, NS) on April 27/28 2012. Send a 300 word abstract and a one page CV to by September 30 2011. Papers will be considered for publication in a special thematic issue of the refereed journal Belphégor – Popular Literature and Media Culture (

Fantastic Narratives and the Natural World
Fantastic literature has always had a special relationship with the natural world. Unnatural events require a background against which to display their peculiarity. In his study on the uncanny, Freud remarked that the German word unheimlich is both an antonym and a synonym of heimlich, a term that evokes ease and familiarity, but also secrecy and concealment. The supernatural can only emerge from the natural, and what is beautiful, attractive and sublime in the natural world can most effectively turn into a disturbing force, creating the locus of uncertainty in which Todorov identifies the determining element of the fantastic.
Pliny's Naturalis historia already used legends and stories to illustrate the peculiarities of the vegetable and animal kingdom, blending mystery with knowledge and scientific study with the thrill of the inexplicable. While resorting to the supernatural is a common strategy for explaining the natural, the latter remains the basis for our understanding and representation of what lies beyond it. In his journey to the underworld, Dante crosses several landscapes populated by hybrid beings and characterized by the violation of natural laws, but the term of comparison for the earthly paradise remains the pine forest next to Ravenna. In Macbeth, when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, the fantastic is but a brief flash, as reality readily reasserts its rights through a rational explanation. When, in The Lord of the Rings, Fangorn Forest moves onto Isengard, the meaning of "reality" itself is questioned.
Just like the flora, the fauna can go beyond its traditional representation as an alien force to be mastered, undergo sudden metamorphoses and inspire unsettling recognitions. The pseudo-science of Physiognomy literally means "knowledge of nature," and its exponents often recognized a similarity in human features with other animal species; in fantastic literature, these comparisons are often literally realized as the human and the animal are transformed into one another. Similarly, evolutionary theories inspired fantastic narratives that, bringing the notion of natural selection to absurd consequences, illustrated the correspondence of ontogenesis and phylogenesis, the origins of an individual organism and the development of its species.
We invite contributions that address the intersection between the natural world and the fantastic and particularly welcome cross-cultural and interdisciplinary approaches.

Topics may include, but are not limited to:
- Nature as a background/ protagonist of the fantastic
- Fantastic, marvelous, uncanny nature
- Allegorical and poetical readings of imaginary landscapes
- Enchanted forests, magical gardens
- Imaginary vegetations, impossible ecosystems
- Strange and supernatural animals
- Metamorphoses and hybrid creatures,
- Fantastic intrusions in scientific discourses that address the natural world