This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Please check back later for the full article.
Films incorporating fairy-tale narratives, characters, titles, images, plots, motifs, and themes date from the earliest history of the cinema, with director Georges Méliès’s Le manoir du diable [The house of the devil], made in 1896, the year after Auguste and Louis Lumière’s first public showing of their “cinematograph” in Paris, in 1895. Fairy tales can be oral (told by people in different geographical locations and at various historical times up to the present) and/or literary (written by known authors). While the Disney formula of innocent persecuted heroes and heroines and “happy-ever-afters” has dominated popular understandings of such narratives (at least in the English-speaking world), fairy tales need not contain these elements. They concern many aspects of the fantastic, the magical, the dark, the dreamy, the wishful, and the wonderful. Short and feature length, animated and live action, produced in film stock, video, and digital formats, fairy-tale films have appeared in theaters and, more recently, on television and computer screens. Fairy-tale filmic intertexts can include explicit reference in the title—for example, Hansel and Gretel Get Baked (director Duane Journey, 2013); implicit reference in the title—for example, Mirror, Mirror (director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar, 2012); explicit incorporation into the text—as when Le piège d’Issoudun (director Micheline Lanctôt, 2003) includes a play of “The Juniper Tree;” implicit in the text—as when A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (director Steven Spielberg, 2001) has the human mother abandon her mechanical child, David, in the woods (as do the parents of Hansel and Gretel); discussion of fairy tales, as in the “Once Upon a Crime” episode of the TV show Castle (director Jeff Bleckner, 2012), when the writer and police talk about what fairy tales really mean; and setting and/or environment, as in the portions of Pan’s Labyrinth (director Guillermo del Toro, 2006), set in the magical kingdom of heroine Ofelia’s father. Filmmakers may re-vision a story with new spin—Freeway II (director Matthew Bright, 1999) relocates “Hansel and Gretel” to 1990s America, with two delinquent teen girls fleeing to Mexico), or they may create an entirely new tale—like Pan’s Labyrinth, not based on any specific previous literary or traditional fairy tale. Although classic works like director Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête [Beauty and the beast] (1946) have received considerable attention in cinema studies, and the fairy-tale structural analysis of Vladimir Propp has greatly influenced film analysis, only since the beginning of the 21st century has fairy-tale scholarship merged with film scholarship from the perspectives of criminology, cultural studies, discourse analysis, ethnography and auto-ethnography, feminism, folklore, historiography, political economy, postcolonial theory, and queer theory, among others. Scholars of fairy-tale film have considered adaptation, auteurs, genres, intermediality, and seriality, as well as particular movies and cinematic versions of tales.
The term “speculative fiction” has three historically located meanings: a subgenre of science fiction that deals with human rather than technological problems, a genre distinct from and opposite to science fiction in its exclusive focus on possible futures, and a super category for all genres that deliberately depart from imitating “consensus reality” of everyday experience. In this latter sense, speculative fiction includes fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but also their derivatives, hybrids, and cognate genres like the gothic, dystopia, weird fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, ghost stories, superhero tales, alternate history, steampunk, slipstream, magic realism, fractured fairy tales, and more. Rather than seeking a rigorous definition, a better approach is to theorize “speculative fiction” as a term whose semantic register has continued to expand. While “speculative fiction” was initially proposed as a name of a subgenre of science fiction, the term has recently been used in reference to a meta-generic fuzzy set supercategory—one defined not by clear boundaries but by resemblance to prototypical examples—and a field of cultural production. Like other cultural fields, speculative fiction is a domain of activity that exists not merely through texts but through their production and reception in multiple contexts. The field of speculative fiction groups together extremely diverse forms of non-mimetic fiction operating across different media for the purpose of reflecting on their cultural role, especially as opposed to the work performed by mimetic, or realist narratives.
The fuzzy set field understanding of speculative fiction arose in response to the need for a blanket term for a broad range of narrative forms that subvert the post-Enlightenment mindset: one that had long excluded from “Literature” stories that departed from consensus reality or embraced a different version of reality than the empirical-materialist one. Situated against the claims of this paradigm, speculative fiction emerges as a tool to dismantle the traditional Western cultural bias in favor of literature imitating reality, and as a quest for the recovery of the sense of awe and wonder. Some of the forces that contributed to the rise of speculative fiction include accelerating genre hybridization that balkanized the field previously mapped with a few large generic categories; the expansion of the global literary landscape brought about by mainstream culture’s increasing acceptance of non-mimetic genres; the proliferation of indigenous, minority, and postcolonial narrative forms that subvert dominant Western notions of the real; and the need for new conceptual categories to accommodate diverse and hybridic types of storytelling that oppose a stifling vision of reality imposed by exploitative global capitalism. An inherently plural category, speculative fiction is a mode of thought-experimenting that includes narratives addressed to young people and adults and operates in a variety of formats. The term accommodates the non-mimetic genres of Western but also non-Western and indigenous literatures—especially stories narrated from the minority or alternative perspective. In all these ways, speculative fiction represents a global reaction of human creative imagination struggling to envision a possible future at the time of a major transition from local to global humanity.