Alicia Mariño holds a Ph.D. in French Language and Literature and a Law degree. Her doctoral thesis was on the role and significance of Fantastic literature in Villiers de l’Isle-Adam. She has since researched the Fantastic genre in the work of different authors. The results have been published as articles in various specialist journals and a book, published by Cátedra in the collection “Clásicos Universales” series, on Romance of a Mummy, by Théophile Gautier. Recently, her work has focused on comparative literature, studying the genesis and evolution of some European legends. She has also done research in the field of women’s literature.
Pilar Garrido: —Alicia, what did your interest in Fantastic literature stem from?
Alicia Mariño: —I’m not sure where it came from. I imagine I must have daydreamed a lot as a child but, more than anything else, I was a real bookworm. When I finished my degree at the Universidad Autónoma in Madrid, I put the same question to my thesis supervisor, Javier del Prado, who was the one to suggest that I do my doctoral thesis on Fantastic literature. He told me, many years after having read my thesis, that the only person from among his students who could have worked on Fantastic literature was me. The truth is that this subject always fascinated me, maybe I already had some spark, or interest, lying dormant, which I hadn’t yet discovered. I’ll never know.
Pilar Garrido: —Could you define Fantastic literature for us in a few words?
Alicia Mariño: —Hmm, that’s a difficult task. It looks as if the great theorists on the subject have finally come to an agreement. But, let’s say, if we look at a story, there’s always a strange or supernatural element which invades daily life, in such a way that the character (this all takes place within the story) can’t understand what’s happening, can’t find a rational explanation.
It’s important that the rational laws that govern both the reality of the reader and the reality of the character in the story are insufficient to explain this strange or supernatural phenomenon, which has to be narrated in a credible way. And from then on, from this doubt, from this incomprehension, the character starts to be gripped by fear, existential vertigo, anxiety, and all sorts of feelings, none of them pleasant, because of the insecurity that’s created by not knowing what’s happening.
Generally, in Fantastic literature, in its strictest sense, the story ends without an explanation. But, the most important thing is that it’s a story in which the narrative technique manages to make the implausible plausible. The perfect Fantastic stories are those which manage to move within the boundaries of what’s possible and what’s impossible, and most importantly, which don’t have a rational explanation. Sometimes, at the end of the story, but not always, there is an explanation of the event: it’s a dream, madness, cruelty.
That’s why Fantastic literature flourished as soon as rationalism was established as the prevailing philosophy. Earlier, in the Middle Ages for example, there are lots of mentions of Fantastic literature but, actually, they are only elements of the Fantastic. Because at that time when people believed in miracles and in a world in which anything was possible, Fantastic literature simply couldn’t exist since there was no clash between the rational and the irrational. In other words, strange or supernatural phenomena are not subject to an explanation, the laws of Reason.
That’s the difference between the Fantastic and fairy tales, for example. In a fairy tale, the characters are inside a story and a world in which anything is possible, in which miracles abound and which isn’t ruled by the laws of reason, so there is simply no need for any rational explanation of unusual phenomena. Therefore, there’s no distress or anxiety either resulting from a misunderstanding of something incredible that appears as plausible. We could even say that in the fairy tale, where everything is possible, nothing seems unlikely. In the Fantastic tale it’s the complete opposite.
Pilar Garrido: —Is this a genre which has a lot of followers?
Alicia Mariño: —Yes, quite a lot. It’s just that it has always been viewed as being slightly on the fringe. But I think that, in the last thirty years, there’s been quite a boom in people interested in the genre and, of course, it has some excellent authors.
Pilar Garrido: —Could you name a few?
Alicia Mariño: —I could name lots… I think I have to mention Edgar Allan Poe, and Hoffman before that, and all those who followed in their footsteps… But most of all, here in Dublin, the only person we need talk about today is Stoker, the author of one of the best novels, not just within the genre, but of all time: Dracula. It could be defined as the last great gothic novel or at least, one of the first “well-established” Fantastic novels. It’s extraordinary.
Pilar Garrido: —Do you think that in times of crisis, like we have now, people are more inclined to read Fantastic novels to escape their problems, or routine?
Alicia Mariño: —I think they are. Particularly if you take into account all this mania for vampirism, even if it is sort of teenybopper vampirism, but still, this new wave of films and novels, even for teenagers, makes me think that maybe times of crisis, and difficult times, lead us to this type of literature. Maybe because we’re all looking for more escapism, and even to exorcise fear, insecurity. In any case, the Fantastic is always liberating.
Pilar Garrido: —Do you think there are cultures or countries which have produced more of this type of literature?
Alicia Mariño: —Without a doubt. The great masters of the genre all come from the Anglo Saxon world.
Pilar Garrido: —Is there any particular reason for that?
Alicia Mariño: —I’m afraid I can’t say, because I’ve researched it, I’ve tried to study why Spain produces less Fantastic literature than other countries, but I don’t know why. Psychiatrists who have studied the topic from a psychoanalytical point of view can’t explain it either. There is much talk about the importance of landscapes, the mist, the forests, the world of legends, in moulding the Fantastic imagination, in the Celtic world, and back home in Galicia but really, the Anglo Saxons started it all. Then it spread to France and took off, and then the trend arrived in Spain. We also have great Fantastic writers, but not in the same numbers as in the Anglo Saxon world.
Pilar Garrido: —And finishing up, Alicia, you mentioned before that your surname, Mariño, has links with a legend as well. Could you explain that to us briefly?
Alicia Mariño: —Surely, in honour of Torrente Ballester who told it to me in the halls of residence, when I was studying in Salamanca, and I went up to him to ask him to sign my book. “Alicia Mariño”, he said, “wow! Don’t you know the legend about your name?”
He told me that the name “Mariño” comes from a gentleman who was strolling by the water’s edge when he fell in love with a mermaid, and went to live with her at the bottom of the sea. They had lots of children but, as the years went by, he wished he could educate his sons in the art of war. He asked the mermaid for permission to take them back on land and she granted it, on condition that from then on he would give her one person from each generation. And it is said that to this day, a blue-eyed Mariño, from each generation, loses his life at sea.
Later on, I discovered that Torrente Ballester must have been obsessed with that name because his first novel is calledJavier Mariño. I have a cousin with the same name, but the novel isn’t linked to him in any way.
Torrente Ballester also wrote a novella called El cuento de sirena, in which he recounts the legend in the first two pages and from there, he goes on to develop a 20th century legend, about a man whose surname is Mariño. The perfect crime takes place, but in the end, this Mariño is the last of a generation, he’s blue-eyed, he has an accident, and ends up in the sea. I really recommend Torrente’s novella El cuento de sirena.