Description: A more philosophical and refined use of the supernatural in works of fiction, is proper to that class in which the laws of nature are represented as altered, not for the purpose of pampering the imagination with wonders, but in order to show the probable effect which the supposed miracles would produce on those who witnessed them. In this case, the pleasure ordinarily derived from the marvelous incidents is secondary to that which we extract from observing how mortals like ourselves would be affected.
The author’s principal object is less to produce an effect by means of the marvels of the narration, than to open new trains and channels of thought (2), by placing men in supposed situations of an extraordinary and preternatural character, and then describing the mode of feeling and conduct (3) which they are most likely to adopt.
To make more clear the distinction we have endeavoured to draw between the marvelous and the effects of the marvelous, we may briefly invite our readers to compare the common tale of Tom Thumb with Gulliver’s Voyage to Brobdingnag; one of the most childish fictions, with one which is pregnant with wit and satire (1), yet both turning upon the same assumed possibility of the existence of a pigmy among a race of giants. In the former case, when the imagination of the storyteller has exhausted itself in every species of hyperbole (4), in order to describe the diminutive size of his hero, the interest of the tale is at an end.
But in the romance of Gulliver, the exquisite humour with which the natural consequences of so strange an unusual a situation is detailed, has a canvas on which to expand itself. Gulliver stuck into a marrow bone, and Master Thomas Thumb’s disastrous fall into the bowl of hasty-pudding, are kindred (5) incidents; but the jest is exhausted in the latter case, when the accident is told; whereas in the former, it lies not so much in the comparatively pigmy size (7) which subjected Gulliver to such a ludicrous misfortune, as (6) in the tone of grave and dignified feeling with which he resents the disgrace of the incident.