Write an essay of 1,800-2,000 words on one of the following topics.
Select one essay topic. Do not write about the Victorian poems and novels studied in Weeks 1-3.
5. Brian McHale has suggested that ‘among the oldest of the classical ontological themes in poetics is that of the otherness of the fictional world, its separation from the real world of experience’. In The Magic Toyshop we learn that ‘Melanie swam like a blind, earless fish in a sea of sedation, where there was no time or memory but only dreams’. Write an essay on Carter’s exploitation of the fluid boundary between reality and fantasy in the novel.
The Fluidity of Fantasy and Reality in The Magic Toyshop
After Finn explains Philip Flowers’ attempt to corrupt Melanie, she asks herself, “What if Uncle Philip of the iron fists is not my mother’s brother at all?” Here, she questions not only Uncle Philip, but also the integrity of the entirety of The Magic Toyshop. In doing so, Angela Carter highlights the boundary between reality, defined as “the quality of being real or having an actual existence,” and fantasy, defined as “a product of imagination, fiction, figment.” Throughout the novel, Carter explores the various, intertwined layers of reality and fantasy until the two become indistinguishable. First, Carter exposes multiple characters’ individual, frequently escapist, fantasies. Then, she presents collective reality and fantasy, exemplified by her metaphoric, uncanny prose and the fantastical world of Philip’s toyshop. Furthermore, she subverts the classic fairytale through grotesque, hyperbolic descriptions of Philip and allusions to the aforementioned fairytales and other works. By the end of the novel, both Melanie and the reader are unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
Carter begins by juxtaposing reality with easily identifiable fantasy, often specific to individual characters. In the opening pages of the novel, Melanie admires her naked body and presents it for several imaginary men in self-described “fantasies,” (2). In this case, the boundary between reality and fantasy is distinct, identified by clear diction in the text. Similarly, Mrs. Rundle prays, “Please, God, let me remember that I was married as if I had really married,” acknowledging fantasy and reality as separate entities (8). Carter also writes, in reference to Melanie, her siblings, and Mrs. Rundle, “They had their own private worlds,” (29). Here, fantasy remains contained, individualistic, and separate. It draws on self-deception rather than otherworldly interference. At this point, the collective reality of the novel exists untainted by fantasy.
In her fluid prose, however, Carter blurs the boundaries between fantasy and reality, and individual and collective perspectives. Her narrative freely shifts from Jonathon’s nautical escapist fantasies to Melanie’s inner ruminations (8). In this way, Carter fluidly travels between reality and fantasy, blending the two....