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Collection: INTERAMER
Number: 70
Year: 2001
Author: Rhonda Dahl Buchanan, Editora
Title: El río de los sueños: Aproximaciones críticas a la obra de Ana María Shua

Ghosts and the Supernatural

Traditionally tales of the supernatural, like most stories, have been told to warn the listener of dangers, to emphasize the cultural values of a specific group and to entertain. Children and adults like the rush of emotions that occurs when they are confronted with stories and figures associated with evil and/or death: witches, devils, ogres, skeletons, vampires, banshees. Listeners are caught up in the drama, the struggle, and are fearful that there may be no way out. Shua carries on these traditions, adding such effects as heightened fright and reader-writer communication about such issues as writing, source codes and cultural anthropology.8
In La fábrica del terror, Shua’s revisions of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” have as their purpose the creation of fear, evident from the beginning with the title change, “El jinete sin cabeza.” She then eliminates Irving’s lyrical descriptions of countryside and his lengthy description of Ichabod Crane which paint him as an eccentric, sympathetic cranelike figure. While maintaining the humor of the original, Shua’s condensed description of him concentrates on the physical and the weak: “Era muy flaco y alto, con una gran cabeza sobre sus débiles hombros, y una nariz que parecía una zanahoria plantada en la mitad de la cara.” (66).

Her lack of detail shows a widened concern for the story’s action and allows her to influence the reader’s reaction. In the original, Crane’s flight from the horseman shows the reader how the protagonist’s fears increase, thus enabling the reader to experience the same sensations. In Shua’s version, the narrator tells, rather than shows, Crane’s reaction: “horror,” “terror,” and “desesperación” (70). The reader maintains a passive role, and is unprepared for an added second ending in which Shua switches the story’s focus to Bram Bones, Crane’s rival for the rich Katarina Van Tassel. Bones’ horse will buck, leaving Bones on the ground laughing at the joke he has just pulled on Crane until another rider, an assumed friend, comes to his aid. Shua switches the tone from humor to intense horror by having both Bones and the reader discover the second horseman’s identity at the same time, through a process of remembering the white hand that helped Bones mount the horse, then feeling the hielo ardiente of the horseman’s body, and finally seeing the horrifying sight of a headless body. A true storyteller, Shua has forced the nonbeliever—the reader as well as Bones—into belief by experiencing the horror personally.

In the one original fictional story in La fábrica del terror, “El show de los muertos vivos,” the nonbeliever is again forced to believe and the horror is thereby increased; it is all the more horrible since it remains a mysterious secret. A young boy visits a voodoo show with his family during a trip to Florida. As the adults become increasingly alarmed by the noise, the strangeness, the gore of a stuck pig, and the transformation of men into beasts, the boy and his sister remain unfazed because, being accustomed to watching television and films, they consider the show to be nothing more than make-up, tricks and showmanship. The boy even participates in the show by drinking red and green liquids to verify they cause no ill effects on the innocent. Once again at home, the boy seems to forget about what he saw except when he has private conversations with his sister, suffers from nightmares, and watches his right foot change into a hairy hoof whenever he is in a bad mood, a secret he keeps from everyone.

An important aspect of the La fábrica del terror and La fábrica del terror II books not usually seen in other collections of frightening tales is the author’s conversation with the reader at the conclusion of each story. In the first volume, writer/reader communication provides the reader insight into Shua’s personality by telling what she finds frightening in the story that was just read, and at the same time, offering the reader (and potential writer?) narrative techniques. In both volumes she provides the reader with cultural information, sometimes related to the stories (first volume) and in other cases apparently extraneous (second volume). The discussion following the Chinese story “Las siete hermanas,” in the first volume, tells of diverse Chinese populations, the dragon as a water god rather than a frightening beast, and the rural origins of the tale; thus the reader better understands the importance of the isolated rural setting, where visitors must be accommodated and beasts are commonplace. She also tells why she changed the title from “The Seven Jackal Brothers” to “The Seven Sisters”: the sisters are placed in the foreground because they, like the reader, must determine the brothers’ true identity as jackals.

Mystery, according to Shua, is an important part of fear. Discussing the use of repetition in the story, she advises the reader/potential writer that the more one repeats a thing, the less it is feared; whereas if the writer reveals identity suddenly, it is more horrifying. As an epilogue to “Asalok en vuelo nocturno” in La fábrica del terror II, Shua mentions elements of the Eskimo living evironment—the long dark winter nights, the isolation—which intensify the story of a sorcerer and his apprentice. What seems extraneous are the details concerning the young people eating hamburgers, watching television, and listening to rock and roll like any other adolescents, the fact that Eskimos have more than a hundred words for snow, and that men and women can have the same first names, but if they do, they cannot marry. It does, however, give a sense of a remote culture with universal as well as particular characteristics.