The Form and Function of the Fantastic in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road Trilogy

Abdelkader Ben Rhit


This paper examines the elements of fantasy and folklore used as strategies for narrative construction in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road trilogy. It applies Todorov’s notion of the fantastic with its corollaries, fear, anxiety, and undecidability as well as William Bascom’s four functions of folklore to the trilogy. The paper also explores the healing processes the narratives enable despite their open nature and the undecidability surrounding them. Moreover, the paper offers an alternative reading of Okri’s The Famished Road trilogy by framing his choices of including a wide range of folklore whose thrust is fantastic. It first reviews the major readings of the trilogy in the light of the concepts associated with magic realism, then it roots it in a tradition of literary works marked by the overall indeterminacy in plot arrangement where no closure is achieved. By availing himself of the imaginative powers of his Nigerian traditions, Ben Okri achieves two important goals: first, he fills in some disconcerting gaps generated by history; second, he produces narratives of colonial and post-independence histories which, apart from linking past and present traumatic experiences, disclose possibilities of healing wounds that are still open in Nigeria. More powerful than politics, and more enduring than historiography, Okri’s selected novels form an instrument to fight oblivion and use transmitted values to envision a more hopeful future.


The Famished Road Trilogy, Fantastic, Magic Realism, Folklore, trauma, healing

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