Provocative, Dark and Pessimistic

Tuğba Benli Özenç

The door of the room was open – in any case the door(s) are never closed. Its name is written on it; “The Dream Merchants’ Chamber”. I pushed it and looked inside. I didn’t run away, I came here of my own accord. I did not know what was going to happen. Not one of the doors was the same. Apparently they make replicas, but the door I stood in front of was not one of them. They told me so; in my dream. This is how we met. I am not an unexpected guest and this is why I am completely at ease when I go in. Although I am accompanied by my travelling companions; imagination, irresistible curiosity, all the riches I had collected which were waiting behind other doors, a few childhood memories, a portion of mistakes, yeast of reality, a pinch of suspicion etc.So as not to disturb those within when I enter with such a crowd I crept over to a slightly anxious but friendly woman waiting in a corner of this quiet dimness. I follow her and recognise that well-known smell; the smell of a newly opened book. “You can carry on; I’ll be here,” says the woman writer/creator.

The manifestation of a free spirit
Bülent Somay says, “Fantastic fiction is the writer’s attempt to look at ‘reality’ from within his/her own symbolic sphere by travelling far in the fictive whilst constructing images that are not part of the existing symbolic order and placing them in the symbolic structure thus turning things upside down; to find disturbing.” (Tales of the 1002nd Nights /p:8) Each of the stories in Çiler İlhan’s book The Dream Merchants’ Chamber mentioned in the first short narration is closely linked. They are a manifestation of the stories that were whispered to us in the dark when we were children and like a spirit that has passed free and easy through an imaginary passage extend to today’s fantastic fiction.
Let us leave the profound debates about whether fantastic fiction is “escapist literature” and those who fill the pages with creatures of similar weirdness, or present imagination like an empty sack and turn books into a circus of universes that are chiefly nurtured by fear or machines; let us listen to the unadulterated voices of the masters who attract us to this genre.  They told us the stories of the impossible, the nonexistent. They were the ones who besieged our imagination by putting convincing, powerful and lively fiction on the pages.
While using her imagination with abandon Çiler İlhan must have gathered together one by one the old paving stones on the ancient roads through which these stories flow and then rather than scattering them has carefully replaced them. Difficult as it may be to fit this book into a category, the first impression it leaves on the reader is that nothing is coincidental. The most noticeable thing about these stories that even assume a critical air and which deal with the lost spirit in the anomaly of technology and the search for and finding of otherness is the use of language. The words are neither dead like the rotting plants whose roots cannot reach deep enough, nor are they exaggeratedly radiant, elaborate or silly. After having been chewed and digested with great relish words, definitions and depictions are placed before us in a different guise without having lost any of their usual meaning. I won’t give examples so as not to spoil the surprise. The fantastic elements do not feel affected among these rather enjoyable explorations; on the contrary, combined they do a good job. This is how the writer turns a terribly boring court record into a story that is downright funny. It is followed by the indispensable magic of fantastic fiction; the curse of a small sorcerer. Then things get dark. A dark world with religious motifs, they are not unfamiliar, they all belong here. We want your organs says the heading. This is Utopian fiction. But there are no white words here. It is gloomy and evil. Let us leave the rest of the stories to the book.
Çiler İlhan is one of the writers of the fantastic stories in “Tales of the 1002nd Night”, published in 2005.  Earlier she left her career, which she had pursued in the schools where she had studied, to become a writer.  From 2000 until now (not forgetting the Yaşar Nabi Youth Award for ‘Short story Worthy of Notice’ which she received in 1993) her short stories, essays, translations and book promotion have been published in various magazines. The Dream Merchants’ Chamber is the writer’s first book and room for figments of imagination. A small piece of advice to those who want to spend time here: first listen to the jinni in the room. The language is not important; whatever it is you are bound to understand. For this is in fact the language of dreams.

(Radikal Book Supplement, 8 September 2006)