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O'Brien, Flann

Entry updated 4 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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Pseudonym of Irish author and civil servant Brian O'Nolan or Ó Nualláin (1911-1966), who also wrote – mainly for his 1940-1966 Irish Times newspaper column "Cruiskeen Lawn" ["The Little Overflowing Jug"] – as Myles na Gopaleen ["Myles of the Little Horses" or "Myles of the Ponies"], sometimes rendered Myles na gCopaleen. The Irish Times columns are classics of often fantastic Humour; various selections have been published [see Checklist below], the first and finest being The Best of Myles: A Selection from "Cruiskeen Lawn" (coll 1968). His early short stories were published under various pseudonyms; it has plausibly been suggested that "Naval Control" (Winter 1932 Amazing Stories Quarterly) as by John Shamus O'Donnel was by O'Brien. The pseudonym resembles others he was known to use; and the story – a spoof tale in which a malfunctioning Robot replaces the priggish, recently deceased wife of a widower in South America – has some of the inventiveness of his later work. He is of course best known for work outside the sf field, such as the Fabulation, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), a metafictional fantasy "saga" at the heart of which mythological entities inflict themselves on a character within a book by a man about whom the protagonist of the actual novel is writing a book; surreal figures out of the Western storybook intrude. Faustus Kelly: A Play in Three Acts (1943) as by Myles na Gopaleen is a fantasy drama about the Devil in Ireland; Rhapsody in Stephen's Green: The Insect Play (1994 chap), which was produced in 1943, is a Beast Fable based on Že života hmyzu (1921 chap; trans as And So Ad Infinitum: (The World of the Insects) 1923 chap UK) by Josef Čapek and Karel Čapek; it was dangerously Satirical of both Ulster and Eire.

O'Brien's novels most closely resembling sf are The Third Policeman (written circa 1940; 1967) and The Dalkey Archive (1964). The Third Policeman is a Posthumous Fantasy [for this term and Beast Fable above see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] in which a murderer sets off, by bicycle, through a phantasmagorical Pocket Universe whose circularity is not spatial but temporal; it features numerous science-fictional devices including a Basilisk Weapon in the form of paint with an unendurable colour. The Dalkey Archive (1964) utilizes material from the previously written book – in particular the notion of a kind of Cyborg leakage of Identity between man and bicycle – in its entrancingly eccentric presentation of a plot featuring a Mad Scientist eager to destroy the world, and the fantastic results – including temporary abolition of Time – of his Poison-gas Invention. [JC/PN/DRL]

Brian O'Nolan or Ó Nualláin

born Strabane, Northern Ireland: 5 October 1911

died Dublin, Ireland: 1 April 1966

works (selected)


about the author


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