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Powys, John Cowper

Entry updated 25 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1872-1963) UK author, resident for much of his career in the USA, though he returned to Wales in the 1930s, active from around 1896 until a year or so before his death; the first half century of his career as a novelist was mostly devoted to tales in which civilization, out of touch with the mythopoeic nature of reality, conspicuously lacks an understanding of the primacy of Sex in true Religion. They are of some interest where they enter realms of FantastikaA Glastonbury Romance (1932 2vols), for instance, conflates the lives of Joseph of Arimathea and of its contemporary protagonist, evoking en passant the Holy Grail – but are not sf. The novels of his old age – beginning with Morwyn, or The Vengeance of God (1937), where Hell is seen as a kind of posthumous Dystopia where vivisection is permitted – combine fantasy and sf elements in an attempt, sometimes obscure, to heat his eccentric mysticism into a unique amalgam. Porius: A Romance of the Dark Ages (1951; exp 1994; complete text 2007), a Celtic Fantasy, addresses the Matter of Britain through the saga of the eponymous Welsh culture hero, a relative of King Arthur who has sent Merlin to Wales as advisor and seer (his visions include nightmarish glimpses of the Industrial Revolution) [for Arthur, Celtic Fantasy, Matter and Merlin see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. The Inmates (1952) presents the "delusions" of a cast of mental patients in exaggerated terms and features a giant helicopter; his two rewritings of Homer are Atlantis (1954), describing the last voyage of Odysseus in search of Atlantis, and Homer and the Aether (1959), a metafiction in which an abstract Telepathic interlocutor (the Aether) comments on a retelling of The Iliad; The Brazen Head (1956) treats the explorations of Roger Bacon in terms of alchemy.

After 1957, Powys produced a sequence of remarkable Fabulations, some of them unhinged. The first were published as Up and Out (coll 1957), the first novella of which, "The Mountains of the Moon," is a Post-Holocaust tale in which four survivors witness the End of Time; All or Nothing (1960), in which two children make a kind of tour of the Universe, Real Wraiths (1974 chap), Two and Two (1974 chap) and Three Fantasies (coll 1985).

Of Powys's ten siblings, six were authors; much of the work of T F Powys (Theodore Francis Powys, 1875-1953) is of fantasy interest [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. [JC]

see also: End of the World; Fantastic Voyages; Multiverse.

John Cowper Powys

born Shirley, Derbyshire: 8 October 1872

died Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd, Wales: 17 June 1963

works (selected)

collections and stories

nonfiction (highly selected)

about the author


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