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Encyclopedia of Fantasy, The

Entry updated 13 May 2024. Tagged: Prelim.

The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997; rev 1999) edited by John Clute and John Grant was conceived as a companion volume to the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993) edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls. The intention was to give similar coverage to the very much larger and less definable Fantasy genre – perhaps ultimately an impossible task. Also involved as contributing editors were Mike Ashley, Roz Kaveney, David Langford and Ron Tiner; further consultant editors were David G Hartwell and Gary Westfahl. Several author entries in the first and second editions of the present encyclopedia would not have been included had The Encyclopedia of Fantasy then been an existing or projected reference work: for more on this issue, see Fantasy Entries.

The Encyclopedia of Fantasy introduced much new Terminology, some instances of which had made prior appearances in essays and reviews by John Clute. A small number of its entries – e.g. for sf television series which were included chiefly because they had been omitted from the 1993 Encyclopedia of SF – have been incorporated into the present volume. Additionally, certain Encyclopedia of Fantasy theme entries (termed motif entries in that volume) are of sf relevance and have inspired new or adapted theme entries here. Examples include Cthulhu Mythos, Godgame, Identity Exchange, Labyrinths, Leonardo da Vinci, Pariah Elite, Secret Masters, Shapeshifters, Ship of Fools, Slingshot Ending, Temporal Adventuress, Technofantasy, Theosophy, Time Abyss, Wainscot Societies and Wandering Jew.

Some further Encyclopedia of Fantasy terms, not generally adopted in the present encyclopedia, are listed below and (where their meaning is not self-evident) briefly explained. To provide deeper background we also link each term to its original entry in an online text of the Encyclopedia of Fantasy provided as an adjunct to the present encyclopedia. Please note that these entries have for the most part not been updated since 1997, apart from routine incorporation of published corrections. [DRL]

Selected Encyclopedia of Fantasy headwords

Aesopian Fantasy. Tales in the vein of Aesop's fables, usually Beast Fables.


Animal Fantasy.

Arabian Nightmare. A term from The Arabian Nightmare (1983) by Robert Irwin, denoting an endless maze of dreams within dreams – or stories within stories – which are so entangled that the "distance" from reality becomes uncertain or unknowable. Stanisław Lem's Cyberiada (coll 1965; trans as The Cyberiad 1974) includes an example based on recursively entangled Virtual Realities in "Tale of the Three Storytelling Machines of King Genius".

Arthur. King Arthur is central to the Matter of Britain (see Icons). He is regularly invoked in Science Fantasy and less frequently rationalized in terms of straight sf: an example is Keith Laumer's A Trace of Memory (1963), which posits that the chief elements of the Arthurian Cycle are distorted memories of high chivalry on a far world where the Rthr (a title) once presided over the great "ring-board" of "Okk-Hamiloth".

As Above, So Below. The notion that earthly society mirrors the heavenly order, or vice-versa, is often deployed to more or less ironic effect. In Fritz Leiber's The Swords of Lankhmar (May 1961 Fantastic as "Scylla's Daughter"; exp 1968), the City of Lankhmar has a detailed echo or Parody in the Underground Rat civilization of Lankhmar Below.

Beast Fable. Folklore stories dating back to Aesop or earlier, which employ animal stereotypes to comment on or satirize human behaviour. There are strong beast-fable elements in the Uplifted underpeople of Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind sequence.

Bondage. Used metaphorically to describe a fantasy state of entrapment or immobility. One common example is the mythic theme of metamorphosis into a tree, an image of such power that it quite often turns up in sf with some rationale from imaginary Biology – as in "Unhuman Sacrifice" (November 1958 Astounding) by Katherine MacLean.


Christian Fantasy.

Crosshatch. A mixing or blurring of realities which are not sharply demarcated by a portal or threshold transition but merge together in the same geographical territory, which may be a borderland or some broader region. Sf versions of the phenomenon are liable to be functions of Perception, as with the Alien Labyrinth of Algis Budrys's Rogue Moon (1960; vt The Death Machine 2001), which the two lead characters see very differently even while traversing it together.

Devils. See Gods and Demons.

Doubles. Sinister doubles or twins tend in fantasy to represent a dark, suppressed side of the soul, also referred to in terms of Jungian psychology as the Shadow. Sf treatments generally deal literally (though not necessarily less disturbingly) with this metaphor, as an actual, physical Doppelganger.


Edifice. A building which is more than a building: perhaps gigantic and containing numerous internal Labyrinths and disparate communities, like Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast; perhaps larger inside than out, like the TARDIS. A good sf example is the castle/Macrostructure setting of Iain M Banks's Feersum Endjinn (1994).

Faerie. The usually preferred term (rather than Fairyland with its childish overtones) for the realm of the fairies, or Sidhe.

Fantasies of History. Narratives which turn upon secret histories of the world, usually with Paranoia-laden revelations that the workings of history are not as we thought but have been steered by Secret Masters.

Fantasy of Manners. A mode of fantasy popular since the 1980s, which invokes something of the hierarchical society, artificial diction and all-important etiquette of the Regency romance. Fritz Leiber was a significant predecessor here.

Ghost Stories.

Green Child. See Little Green Men.

Green Man. See Little Green Men.

Gaslight Romance. Used of Urban Fantasies set in the high Victorian and Edwardian era of gaslit streets, very often in a fog-shrouded London, but lacking the central technological anachronisms which define Steampunk.

Hard Fantasy. The fantasy analogue of Hard SF, with magic operating by rigid, logical and testable rules. See Rationalized Fantasy below.

Hidden Monarch. A fantasy trope which translates almost effortlessly into sf, as in Robert A Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy (September-December 1957 Astounding; 1957), whose orphan protagonist – first seen being sold as a slave – eventually proves to be the rightful heir to a vast Earth-based business empire.

Land of Fable. A setting which though based on some real geographical area accepts (without explanation) and emphasizes its legendary or fabulous qualities, its stories and legends rather than its history. Ernest Bramah's Kai Lung tales take place in a Land-of-Fable version of China; so, generalizing from China to a Far East also including Japanese elements, does Terry Pratchett's Interesting Times (1994).


Little Big. This fantasy trope involves not merely Great and Small scales but that sense of nested immensities or infinitesimals which permeates John Crowley's Little, Big (1981): "The further in you go, the bigger it gets." Here the best-known sf example is the TARDIS of Doctor Who, which is famously larger inside than out (see Pocket Universe).


Matter. The Matter of Britain is a term used by the twelfth-century French poet Jean Bodel to describe Britain's national mythology, the cycle of legends about King Arthur. Other nations have their Matters: that of France is based on the twelfth-century La Chanson de Roland, while America's is a generic frontier mythos which is particularly adaptable to spacegoing sf.


Myth of Origin. A story or fable purporting to explain how some aspect of the world first came into existence: the Prometheus legend, for example, mythologizes the human race's discovery of fire.

Occult Detectives. Detectives who, like Algernon Blackwood's John Silence, operate in supernatural realms. Perhaps the most science-fictionally interesting example is William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki, who employs Steampunk-flavoured Technology like the Electric Pentacle, and whose puzzles can have non-supernatural explanations.

Pacts with the Devil. See Gods and Demons.

Paranormal Romance. A fantasy subgenre most conveniently defined as Urban Fantasy (in the modern sense below) in which female leads predominate and the romantic element – typically, girl meets Vampire or girl meets Shapeshifter – predominates over the horror or action-adventure aspects of the narrative.

Polder. Denotes an enclave of heightened or defended reality, usually subject to external encroachment; the analogy is of course with the reclaimed polders of the Netherlands, perpetually besieged by the sea. The sf near-equivalent of this concept is discussed under Keep; see also Pocket Universe and Stasis Field.

Portals. The gateways into fantasy's Secondary Worlds (which see). A Portal is the equivalent of a Matter Transmission gateway (see Stargate; Wormhole), but without the technology – examples include C S Lewis's wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) and the transport diagrams or pentacles of Robert A Heinlein's Glory Road (1963).

Posthumous Fantasy. Self-explanatory term for explorations of life after death. A famous example is Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (13 July 1890 San Francisco Examiner). Sf approaches to this theme are very various: see for example Cryonics, Identity Transfer, Reincarnation and Suspended Animation.

Rationalized Fantasy. Used, perhaps unwisely, in two very different senses in the Encyclopedia of Fantasy to describe: (a) stories in which the fantastic element is rationalized or explained away, like the seemingly spectral eponym of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles (August 1901-April 1902 Strand; 1902); (b) stories in which genuinely supernatural or magical phenomena are subject to more or less rigorously and rationally applied scientific laws, as in many Unknown fantasies and Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy sequence (which did not seem out of place in Analog). With hindsight, it would have been preferable to deal with sense (b) solely under the headword – also present but little used – Hard Fantasy.

Rosicrucianism. A belief system which like Theosophy is based on and spawns Fantasies of History (above).

Satan. See Gods and Demons.


Secondary World. Term coined by J R R Tolkien in his seminal essay, "On Fairy-Stories" (first delivered 1939; in Essays for Charles Williams, anth 1947, ed anon C S Lewis; exp in Tree and Leaf coll 1964; rev 1988) for a self-consistent invented otherworld or fantasyland that is free from certain mundane constraints: in particularly, Magic usually has an active role. In sf terms this would be a Parallel World (see also Science and Sorcery) accessible through a Portal, though Tolkien's own secondary world of Middle-earth is notionally set in the deep past of the Earth we know.

Secret Sharer.

Sehnsucht. A term used by C S Lewis to describe the melancholy longing for "something that has never actually appeared in our experience"; this is reflected by certain aspects of sf's Sense of Wonder. See further discussion in the Mythago Cycle context in the entry for Robert P Holdstock.

Slick Fantasy. Describes the type of story which achieves its effects by twists on traditional fantasy tropes like three wishes or a deal with the devil, usually in a modern setting, and which was popular with the editors of such Slick magazines as the Saturday Evening Post. John Collier and Lord Dunsany (in his Jorkens stories) were distinguished practitioners.

Supernatural Fiction. A broader and more general term than its self-explanatory subset the Ghost Story.

Talents. Paranormal abilities usually semi-rationalized in sf with the scientific-seeming terminology of ESP and Psi Powers. Fantasy's "farspeech" or "mindspeech" becomes sf's Telepathy, and so on.

Tall Tales. Yarns in which the personal recollection of events is exaggerated to unbelievable proportions, generally leading to fantastic invention. R A Lafferty's short stories often have this exuberant quality. Tall tales are frequent in the Club Story subgenre.

Trickster. Mythology is full of trickster gods – Anansi, Coyote, Hermes/Mercury, Loki – and many sf characters have personalities based on these attractive but unreliable archetypes. Examples include Kickaha in Philip José Farmer's World of Tiers sequence, and the protagonists of several Roger Zelazny novels such as This Immortal (October-November 1965 F&SF as "... And Call Me Conrad"; exp 1966), Lord of Light (1967) and Jack of Shadows (1971).

Twice-Told. Describes a story which is not merely a retelling of an established fable, fairytale or legend, but knowingly foregrounds its connection to the earlier tale. Fred Saberhagen's Berserker story "Starsong" (January 1968 If) is a twice-told sf version of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

Underliers. Mythical or fictional predecessors whose traits are explicitly or implicitly echoed by characters. William Shakespeare's Prospero is an underlier of numerous sf Scientists and Mad Scientists; the Frankenstein Monster underlies countless later hubristic creations. See also Icons.

Urban Fantasy. According to the Encyclopedia of Fantasy, such stories "are normally texts where fantasy and the mundane world intersect and interweave throughout a tale which is significantly about a real city" – or a fantasy city which is real in the sense of having imaginative and historical depth, of being not just backdrop but environment, as with the developed Ankh-Morpork of Terry Pratchett's later Discworld novels. As a publishing category, Urban Fantasy in the twenty-first century has come to denote the popular subgenre of stories set in an alternate version of our modern world where humans (often with special Talents or Psi Powers) and Supernatural Creatures – most typically Vampires, Werewolves and other Shapeshifters – interact via adventure, melodrama and Sex. A closely related, indeed overlapping, publishing classification is Paranormal Romance (above).


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