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Wandering Jew

Entry updated 21 January 2022. Tagged: Theme.

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This undying vagrant is an Icon of Fantasy who appears or is alluded to in a number of sf stories, usually exemplifying the notion of Immortality as a curse rather than a blessing [for comments under Accursed Wanderer, Flying Dutchman and Wandering Jew see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. According to legend, the Wandering Jew – known by various names including Ahasuerus and Cartaphilus – was uncharitable to Christ on the day of crucifixion, and so was condemned to live on until the Second Coming or the End of Time; the story has been assimilated, though not necessarily with much clarity, in some Vampire narratives.

An early Proto SF treatment which takes the wanderer on a tour of the Solar System is Miles Wilson's The History of Israel Jobson, the Wandering Jew (1757 chap) as by M W. The most famous novel in which the character makes an appearance is almost certainly Le juif errant (1844-1845 10vols; trans D M Aird as The Wandering Jew 1845 3vols) by Eugene Sue [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]; the best known sf novel is Walter M Miller Jr's A Canticle for Leibowitz (April 1955-February 1957 F&SF; fixup 1960). C S Forester transfers the curse to Hitler in "The Wandering Gentile" (in The Nightmare, coll 1954). The unnamed eponym of Wilson Tucker's "King of the Planet" (October 1959 Galaxy) is by implication the Wandering Jew as well as being the Last Man who has outlived the human race and is still waiting for Christ to return. John Boyd, as a witty variation on Shaggy God Story bathos, leaves the Time-Travelling hero of The Last Starship from Earth (1968) to make his way back from Biblical times to modernity in this wanderer's role; a similar fate afflicts a longer-range time traveller in Earthdoom! (1987) by David Langford and John Grant. Ahasuerus himself is a minor character in Diana Wynne Jones's Parallel-Worlds adventure The Homeward Bounders (1981).

A relevant anthology is Brian Stableford's Tales of the Wandering Jew (anth 1991), with a long and useful introduction by Stableford. The further author links listed below also offer examples, chiefly fantasy; see also the corresponding entry in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below. [DRL]

see also: Adam and Eve; Olof W Anderson; Frank Aubrey; H M Bien; James P Blaylock; James Fenimore Cooper; Paul Eldridge; Gustav Meyrink; Richard Miller; Robert Nichols; Leo Perutz; Edgar Quinet; Frank R Stockton; Artegall Smith; George S Viereck.

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