Fantasy narratives and literature

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Fantasy narratives is a type of fiction that evokes wonder, mystery, or magic - a sense of possibility beyond the ordinary, material, rational predictable world in which we live and they are related to the magical stories of myth, fairy tale and folklore from all over the world (Matthews 1). Fantasy literature owes its origins mostly to Romanticism with its interest in folk tradition, its rejection of the previous, rational-age view of the world, and its idealization of the child (Nikolajeva 139). Pan's Labyrinth is a Spanish language fantasy film released in 2006 and was directed by celebrated film director Guillermo Del Toro. Pan's Labyrinth is set in post-civil war Spain in 1944 during the Franquist period. The film inherited the basic plot of any fantasy narrative - the hero/heroine leaves home, meets helpers and opponents, goes through trials, performs tasks, and returns home having gained some form of wealth (Nikolajeva 140). It also inherited some fundamental conflicts and patterns, such as the quest of combat between good and evil (Nikolajeva 141). The narrative of the film entwines with the real world and the fantasy world built on the foundations of an abandoned labyrinth and its custodian, the Faun which serves as a quest guide to the main character, eleven year old, Ofelia. While carrying out her tasks, Ofelia encounters numerous outlandish and mystical creatures which become central to the plot, leading her through the trials and tribulations brought upon her. The movie is not the archetypal fantasy one imagines it to be. The mood throughout the movie is constantly dark and gloomy; whereby one might consider it to be a Gothic fantasy narrative. In addition, Pan's Labyrinth can also be interpreted in a psychological or psychoanalytical point of view. This is because Ofelia is a young girl, stripped of humanity and affected by the harsh realities; therefore she submits herself to her imagination of myth and quest. Pan's Labyrinth uses Gothic conventions to perform cultural work while offering an insight to child development through psychoanalytic theory.

Gothic fantasy is fantasy that incorporates Gothic elements. It is this profound sense of dread that is at the very heart of the genuine Gothic tale, and only if the author can imbue the reader with the same feelings of dread and apprehension that are felt by the characters themselves has he or she passed the test (Tymn, Zahorski and Boyer 15). A Gothic narrative is only successful when it provokes feelings of fear, mystery and malevolence. For example, in the scene where the Pale Man bites the head off two fairies, it invokes a sense of disgust and fear. The reason for this gruesome incident is because Ofelia has defied the rules given to her by the Faun. He clearly stated that no matter what happens, she must not eat or drink out of the feast that will be laid down before her eyes as her life will be at stake. She went against that warning and in return, two lives were sacrificed. A lesson was taught not only to Ofelia but it also conveys the message to the viewers that when one is warned by a person with authority or experience, one should always be mindful of the consequences if that warning is gone against. The Gothic also employs components such as forbidden books of black magic, evil potions and spells, moldering skeletons, dark and forbidding castles replete with fearful torture chambers and gloomy subterranean chambers (Tymn, Zahorski and Boyer 15). Pan's Labyrinth is injected with some of these elements. The movie showcases the Gothic components of the creaking old house whereby Carmen, Ofelia's mother states, "Here, the houses are old. They creak. As if they were speaking." This statement is rather eerie and is something one does not want to hear before sleep. Another Gothic element utilized is The Book of Crossroads. This magical book shows the future and tells Ofelia what needs to be done. The Labyrinth can be substituted with the typical gloomy subterranean chambers as it is a place where no one in the right state of mind would want to explore and as for the classic spells or potions, the existence of the Mandrake works as that. The Mandrake holds mystical powers that will help Carmen get better but in order for its "magic" to work, it has to be laid in a bowl of milk and given two drops of blood. Offering blood to something to work magic somewhat relates to black magic.

Within the Gothic there are multiple conceptions of the other which generally run parallel to the dominant discourse. In the pairings about the first component of the coupling is generally the most prominent, the second element is then the other that is suppressed […] breaking convention but testing its boundaries and disrupting the function of the dominant discourse (Titheridge 8). Here, we see the two parallel discourses are the two authoritative figures - Captain Vidal and Princess Moanna (Ofelia). The two contrasting factors between them are that Captain Vidal (male) is characterized as 'evil' and Princess Moanna (female) as 'good'. They both had tasks to carry out in order to achieve their goals - Captain Vidal's task is to get rid of the "rebels" who do not support is ideology. He knows no limits when interrogating the captives and tortures by means of extracting information. This gives him a sense of control as no one, even his subordinates dare to defy. In contrast to Ofelia/Princess Moanna, she has to complete three tasks before the full moon in order to return to the Realm of the Underworld and reclaim her rightful place as the princess. She is given a sense of control when she is able to participate and achieve her tasks given. This stands as a contrast to her reality whereby she is powerless and is ordered around. Captain Vidal is heartless as compared to Ofelia/Princess Moanna who sacrificed her life for her brother and in return was shot by the captain. However, because of Captain Vidal's callousness, it led to his downfall and Ofelia/Princess Moanna's ultimate sacrifice allowed her to return to the Realm of the Underworld. This goes to show that no matter the circumstances, good will always triumph over evil; and this message may function as a reminder to the viewers.

Just like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, Pan's Labyrinth uses a female protagonist as its main character and conveys the message that the imagination of a child knows no boundaries and they avoid reality through the subconscious imagination which is unattained by an adult ( The film shows the viewer the power of imagination and by using it as a means of escapism to ease the hardship and pain that one goes through in the real world. This subconscious imagination can be linked to psychoanalytic theory founded by Sigmund Freud, whereby it is based on the concept that individuals are unaware of the many factors that cause their behavior and emotions. These unconscious factors have the potential to produce unhappiness, which in turn is expressed through a score of distinguishable symptoms, including disturbing personality traits, difficulty in relating to others, or disturbances in self-esteem or general disposition (American Psychoanalytic Association). The cause of that imagination comes from Ofelia's love for fantasy novels. However, Ofelia's life is nothing like a fairy tale. She has to deal with the unkind reality and as a result of her unhappiness and inability to cope with her new life; she imagines another world within her reality. According to Freud (1949), he explains the three forces of the psychical apparatus - the id, the ego, and the superego. The id has the quality if being unconscious and contains everything that is inherited, everything that is present at birth and the instincts (Freud 14). The ego has the quality of being conscious and is responsible for controlling the demands of the id and of the instincts, becoming aware of stimuli, and serving as a link between the id and the external world (Freud 14-15). Finally, the superego, whose demands are managed by the id, is responsible for the limitation of satisfactions and represents the influence of others, such as parents, teachers, and role models, as well as the impact of racial, societal, and cultural traditions (Freud 15). The scene in which this theory can be applied is while Ofelia is performing her second task whereby she was told to enter a chamber to retrieve a dagger. The chamber is home to the Pale Man and a scrumptious feast awaits those who enter it. Under the Faun's instructions, Ofelia is to retrieve the dagger without consuming the food. Ofelia does as the Faun instructed; however, while exiting the chambers, a bunch of grapes stopped her tracks. Seduced by the grapes, she decided to eat them. Upon eating the grapes, the Pale Man is awaken and attempts to devour Ofelia, but it failed and Ofelia successfully escapes. The Pale Man signifies the id within Ofelia by succumbing to her desire to consume the grapes. Ofelia realizes her blunder and the self (ego) stops eating and runs from the id to escape from being devoured instead. Upon her escape, the superego emerges through her facial expression - terrified and full of regret.

Apart from Freud's psychoanalytic theory, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan believed that the unconscious is structured like a "language". He used the theories of the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure in order to form his […] The true sense of sentences needs to be searched out; just as the true self hides itself within the unconscious (Weighell). Lacan believed that true identity is hidden deep within the unconscious, and it is where true desires and dreams are to be found. The conscious mind, or the ego, is self-policing and suppresses any secret wishes using the rules learned from people and society (Weighell). Ultimately, Lacan believed that one's true identity can be deconstructed if one looks into the unconscious mind. According to Lacan, there are three orders to his theory - The "Imaginary stage", the "Symbolic stage" and the "Real". The "Imaginary stage" occurs during the period of human development marked by the child's union with the mother that possesses no awareness of conceptual differences ( Here, the child and the mother are whole and is dependent on her for love, affection and nurture. In Pan's Labyrinth, this development stage is apparent through the relationship shared by Ofelia and Carmen. Before going to bed, Carmen asks Ofelia to sleep by her side. She comforts Ofelia and tells her to tell her unborn brother a fairy tale story to calm his kicking. The second stage, the "Symbolic stage" is marked by awareness of difference, the awareness that there are two worlds that humans like to bounce back and forth between - the fictional and the factual ones ( In the film, Ofelia is torn between what is reality and what is not. She is not sure herself and seeks opinion from Mercedes. The scene when Mercedes was milking a cow, Ofelia questions, "Mercedes, do you believe in fairies?" Mercedes replies, "No. But when I was a little girl, I did. I believed in a lot of things I don't believe anymore". Here, the contrast between a child's perception and an adult is apparent. The adults, living in reality and with them facing the hardships, they believe that dreaming of the impossible or living on happy thoughts seem childlike. Society itself expects Ofelia to live up to its expectations; Carmen even mentions in the opening scene, "Fairy tales - you're a bit too old to be filling your head with such nonsense". It's somewhere between Lana's Imaginary and Symbolic stages, exuberance and imagination are lost to the adults (

To conclude, the viewers go on a journey with Ofelia while she engages herself in two realities - One that offers her a sense of completion and love; alongside the world that only begets pain and sorrow. The ending of the film is poignant as Ofelia dies but her soul is liberated and she goes back to the Realm of the Underworld where all those who love her await her return. Pan's Labyrinth performs its cultural work by reminding viewers of all ages that reality is cruel. By overcoming obstacles and learning from ones' own mistakes will make one a stronger person - mind, body and soul. The movie teaches the viewer the ultimate lesson of self-sacrifice and alike other fantasy narratives, despite the circumstances, good and justice will always prevail.