Ebony Elizabeth Thomas has written a beautiful, captivating, and thoughtful book about the idea of our imaginations, especially our cultural imaginations, and the images and concepts that we all consume, especially as young readers and audience members. The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games (NYU Press, 2019) dives into the question of, as Thomas explains, “why magical stories are written for some people and not for others.” Thomas explores the narratives of magical and fantastical stories, especially ones that currently dominate our Anglo-American cultural landscape, and discerns a kind of “imagination gap” in so many of these literary and visual artifacts. The Dark Fantastic provides a framework to consider this imagination gap, by braiding together scholarship from across a variety of disciplines to think about this space within literature and visual popular culture. Thomas theorizes a tool to examine many of these narratives, the cycle through which to contextualize the Dark Other within these fantastical narratives, noting that the Dark Other is the “engine that drives the fantastic.”
The Dark Fantastic spends time analyzing and interrogating a variety of televisual and cinematic artifacts, noting how the Dark Other cycle operates in each of these narratives. In exploring these narratives, and considering who the protagonist is in so many cultural artifacts, the imagination gap becomes not only obvious but quite distinct. Thomas is concerned about this gap, because of the implication it has for readers and for film and television viewers—not only in regard to representation, but also in terms of learning how to imagine, how to dream, how to think conceptually, and how to center one’s self within these fictional spaces and created worlds.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).
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