Today I have absolutely convinced myself that I'm totally going bananas. I actually wrote a 668 word review of a three line story. This was actually something posted on the e-Literary-Discussion-Group [eLDG] that we run and the story posted was this. I present my reply to this story. In case you actually do a word count to verify that it really is 668 words long, do not include this paragraph. Include the title also. Do the word count on MS Word. And oh, use MS Word 2007, not 2003 or XP or something. Yes, yes, I'm getting to it.
For the benefit of those who are too lazy to click on that link, I'll quote the story here -
A woman is sitting alone in a house. She knows she is alone in the whole world: every other living thing is dead. The doorbell rings.
I think what the author is trying to do, at least at one level, is construct a minimalist definition of what fantasy is. The first two sentences tell the reader that the woman is alone and that all other living things are dead. Also, it is made very clear that the woman also knows that she is alone in the world with all other living things being dead.
Thus, both in the reality of the reader and the reality of the text, it is firmly established that nothing like the doorbell ringing can happen. Yet, it happens. That is fantasy. Something that is impossible both in the reader's reality and the text's reality being caused to happen.
This definition immediately runs into some problems. How would you apply it to something like Harry Potter (yes, I finished the seventh one last night.) The first book would be a fantasy insofar as Harry doesn't think magic is possible and neither does the reader but it happens. However, as you read the second book you have accepted the fact that magic will happen and so has Harry. And thus, by our definition, magic no longer remains fantastic. But come to think of it Rowling does have to throw in spectacle after spectacle to make the books work as fantasy. This she keeps doing till the very end - the deathly hallows and Harry's connection with Voldemort. If it was just lumos and expelliarmus till the very end then it would hardly have been fantasy anymore, besides being a very boring book!
On another line of thinking, one may wonder what exactly it is that makes the above three lines a fantasy. On the very first glance one would conclude that it is the last sentence that is fantastic. It is the last sentence that is the impossible within the story. If you remove the last sentence what you get is -
A woman is sitting alone in a house. She knows she is alone in the whole world: every other living thing is dead.
This hardly appears to be a fantasy. So it must be the last sentence that makes it a fantasy. However, if you remove the second sentence only, what you get is a two-sentenced version of a reality show. So which sentence is essential to it being a fantasy? Both of them. But then why is it that only the last sentence appears to be impossible? Why not the second one? This is clearly because there is a linear order in the sentences. The second is not the same as the third because by the time you have read third, you must have read second and not vice versa.
Looking at it from yet another angle the story is not fantasy at all! Okay, so the stupid woman thinks that she is all alone in the world. Who says she's not delusional? After all, the knowledge is given from her POV and not the neutral observer POV. So she might as well be absolutely gaga (yes that is the HP effect) and someone real may be ringing the bell!
This makes me really wonder. Why the story is called A Woman Alone with Her SOUL? Why soul? Has it been thrown in to make sure that the concept of souls exits in the text reality? In that case, the story clearly is not a fantasy at all, because if souls exist then the ones without bodies may as well ring bells. Nothing fantastic about that, isn't it?
Phew! I can't believe that I wrote all that about just three lines! And to think I actually learnt to do this nonsense in a classroom. And You-All-Know-Who's!