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Catling, Brian

Entry updated 17 October 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1948-2022) UK academic, film maker, sculptor, performance artist, poet and author, active from the 1970s; he served as Professor of fine art at Ruskin School of Art, Oxford, from 1991, emeritus from 2017. Much of his output in the various but interconnected fields to which he contributed may be very roughly understood in terms of Fantastika, as this term is used in this encyclopedia. Very specifically, his first novel, The Vorrh (2012), which initiates the Vorrh Trilogy, can be so described. The eponymous world-encompassing forest – named after the African forest in Impressions of Africa (1910) by Raymond Roussel, who appears as "the Frenchman" in Catling's tale – is described in Equipoisal terms as both functional in a worldly sense, with some industrial timbering allowed along its edges, and as deeply mythopoeic: for it is older than Homo sapiens (see Time Abyss), contains in its seemingly African heartwood the Garden of Eden (see Adam and Eve; Time Distortion), is inhabited by chthonic figures (see Lost Race; Origin of Man; Imperialism), and is sentient (see Gaia); the most central of these figures is a version of Cyclops, the one-eyed figure from Greek myth that Catling had first focused on in a volume of Poetry, Cyclops (coll 1997 chap), and who in The Vorrh is shown being raised by one-eyed Robots. There is also a haunted expedition into the Heart of Darkness of the forest (see Joseph Conrad, who is quoted directly) in search of the Tree of Knowledge. There are various resolutions, or glimpses of resolution, none fixed.

Various further influences have been suggested, including Thomas Pynchon and Iain Sinclair. There are echoes throughout, almost certainly in homage, of Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood (1984) [for Mythago see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Though Catling's style as a writer lacks some final entrapping dense ferocity, there are points all the same when the deepest influence upon him seemed perhaps to be Lucius Shepard, particularly the Dragon Griaule sequence. The Erstwhile (2017), which follows The Vorrh, focuses on William Blake and typological extravagances based on the Bible (see Religion); and The Cloven (2018), which ends the trilogy, focuses on the Tree of Knowledge, which must be rescued while at the same time Homo sapiens must be tamed. Eugène Marais (1871-1936) (see Apes as Human) makes an appearance in the year of his death.

Later works, like Earwig (2019) or Hollow (2021), continue to mime with a similar engaging exorbitance the topoi of Fantastika; the latter, for instance, could be described as an architectonics of discord, with an oracle-containing monastery built on a mountain called Das Kagel itself built on the ruins of the Tower of Babel and housing both an Oracle and a terminal battleground where the dead and the living combat one another [for Babel, Edifice, Little Big and Oracle here, and Low Fantasy below, see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. A group of mercenaries is tasked with conveying into this storyable chaos a new Oracle, who hears their confessions en passant, adding a Low-Fantasy rambunctiousness to the whole. [JC]

Brian Catling

born London: 23 October 1948

died 26 September 2022




  • The Vorrh (London: Honest Publishing, 2012) [Vorrh: pb/uncredited]
  • The Erstwhile (London: Penguin Random House/Vintage, 2017) [Vorrh: pb/from William Blake, "Nebuchadnezzar"]
  • The Cloven (London: Coronet, 2018) [Vorrh: hb/Pablo Declân]

individual titles

  • Earwig (London: Coronet, 2019) [hb/]
  • Munky (Dublin, Ireland: Swan River Press, 2020) [pb/Dave McKean]
  • Hollow (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2021) [hb/]

collections and stories (highly selected)

  • Cyclops (Leipzig, Germany: (so.ko) Press, 1997) [coll: chap: pb/]


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