Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

In 1993 there was published a book called The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Even before they had finished compiling that book, various members of its editorial team realized they had only begun to dip their toes into the waters at the edge of the ocean that is the literature of the fantastic. The prospect of exploring this vast ocean was irresistible, which is why the current volume has come into being.

Although the two are entirely independent, this encyclopedia can be regarded as a sibling volume to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. As with many siblings there are similarities but also many profound contrasts, primarily because fantasy is a field of literature radically different from science fiction. Its roots go much deeper into history, and its concerns are more archetypal. Unlike science fiction, it is a literature which is remarkably hard to define (we here use the term "literature" to cover all the modes – text, cinema, comics, art, etc. – in which fantasy is expressed, because the field is remarkably integrated). We recognized all of this before we decided to embark on the enterprise: what we did not realize was quite how different the new book would be.

Some similarities between the two volumes are very obvious, notably the ascription practice – the format we use in giving titles, dates and so forth – although even here we found we had to make minor changes. On occasion we have felt it would be helpful to cross-refer readers to entries in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (> SFE link below), usually to show that authors who have done significant work in both areas are discussed in both books. The breakdown of entry-types also looked superficially similar: in our huge draft list there were entries on authors, movies, recurring themes within the literature, etc. But the similarity is deceptive. The draft list also included a large number of entries, intended as a whole to cast a net over the field of fantasy, and whose topics were such that they could hardly be described as "themes"; we called them "motifs", although we were still not entirely happy with that terminology. Some of them (like Ancestral Memories and Commedia dell'Arte) were known terms; some (like Perception and Reality) were existing terms but with implications for fantasy that had not occurred to us before; and some (like Crosshatch and Polder and Wainscot) were tools of literary analysis which we had found it necessary to create.

As the implications of the "motif tree" dawned on us, it became very evident that our map of fantasy was going to differ very substantially from the map of science fiction adumbrated by Peter Nicholls as long ago as 1975 when he was conceiving the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.

And so it proved. The entry on Fantasy and some of the further entries referred to there encapsulate much of our sense of the distinction both between fantasy and science fiction and between the structures of description we have used to cover the two fields. The editorial team of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction was able to treat sf as a field with definable boundaries, to parse that field in various clearcut ways, and to hope to cover everything within those boundaries (obviously a doomed proposition, but the goal was clear). In The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, on the other hand, we have confronted a different challenge. The term "fantasy" is used to cover a very wide range of texts, movies, visual presentations and so on. Tales involving Dreams and Visions, Allegory and Romance, Surrealism and Magic Realism, Satire and Wonderland, Supernatural Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Weird Fiction and Horror – all of these and more besides, sometimes expressing conflicting understandings of the nature of fantasy, were theoretically within our remit. Clearly we could not cover everything anybody had at one time or another thought of as "fantasy". Although it was going to be impossible to establish fixed limits, we had in some way to define our field.

The critic Brian Attebery has spoken of fantasy in language which we feel well describes our final sense of the way in which this book has been constructed. Fantasy, he has said, is a "fuzzy set". By this he means a set which cannot be defined by its boundaries but which can be understood through significant examples of what best represents it. The "fuzzy set" model is, therefore, both exploratory and prescriptive. The exemplary writers and motifs making up the set of significant examples are like spotlights shining on a very complex world: they illuminate paths through that world and they help define our space, but they cannot shine on everything. The boundaries of fantasy fade into Water Margins in every direction. (This might sound the same as the classic simplistic definition: "You know it's a fantasy when you see it." But there is a difference. Much of the literature discussed in the pages of this book does not initially look like fantasy.)

At the centre of all the fuzzy sets is a rough definition of what we mean by fantasy: a fantasy text is a self-coherent narrative which, when set in our Reality, tells a story which is impossible in the world as we perceive it (> Perception); when set in an Otherworld or Secondary World, that otherworld will be impossible, but stories set there will be possible in the otherworld's terms. An associated point, hinted at here, is that at the core of fantasy is Story. Even the most surrealist of fantasies tells a tale.

This notion extends to all aspects of the field, not just printed texts. Two of our editorial team (Grant and Tiner) have argued extensively elsewhere that Fantasy Art is, at its heart, a narrative form: the "fuzzy set" model may cast some light on the regions of Surrealism and the Abstract, but fantasy-art images proper depict a moment which has both a "before" and an "after"; viewers have to construct the surrounding story for themselves and will obviously come up with many different versions, but all of those tales are inherent in the image. It is easier to recognize the narrative aspect in most other modes of fantasy – Cinema, Comics, Opera, Song, etc. – except possibly Music, although it is hard to listen to Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique or Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring without realizing that one is being told a story of some sort, even if one hasn't read the programme notes and doesn't know what the story is.

But to return to the central theme. As far as our coverage of texts, authors and movies goes, therefore, the heart of this enterprise is the kind of fantasy that evolved from a few decades before the beginning of the 19th century – through the elaborate fictions of writers like E T A Hoffmann and, somewhat later, Edgar Allan Poe – in the work of George MacDonald, William Morris, Lewis Carroll, Abraham Merritt, E R Eddison, Robert E Howard, J R R Tolkien, C S Lewis, L Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, Fritz Leiber . . . and so on down to the moderns who have woven worlds either out of these examples or anew. Important writers like Sheridan Le Fanu, H P Lovecraft and M R James are given extensive entries, but are deemed more significant as authors of Supernatural Fiction – an area which we cover in considerable depth – or Horror, which we touch on very much more lightly.

Before the 19th century, we tread somewhat more carefully. We have included full entries on such topics as Fairytales, Folklore and Myths, along with articles concerning relevant writers or compilers like the Grimm Brothers and Charles Perrault. Entries on the literature of the fantastic produced by different countries and cultures also cover the years before 1800. Authors of what we call Taproot Texts – those works which are both central to Western literature as a whole and have contributed to the Cauldron of Story from which modern fantasy authors ladle many of their basic ideas – are widely included: among them are Apuleius, Boccaccio, Bunyan, Cervantes, Chaucer, Dante, Malory, Milton, Rabelais and Shakespeare. We have delved back into ancient history in entries like Mesopotamian Epic and Sanskrit Literature, and even have a brief note on the Bible – which, regarded as history or otherwise, is certainly an important taproot text. But, to repeat, our sense is that fantasy as a form of literature began in the decades preceding the start of the 19th century, and the weight of our entries reflects this.

Given our prescriptive though far-ranging model of fantasy literature, and given our sense of the almost infinite extent of the water margins that surround that model, we have not attempted to write entries for every author who might potentially be included in the book, or for every movie or tv programme with some fantasy content. At the same time, we have tried to include every author (or movie, or whatever) of importance to the fantasy field. Obviously we are fallible! Some of our inclusions and omissions may be contentious; some omissions, in particular, may be simply the product of human error.

There were also areas which we firmly decided to leave out. (a) Our coverage up to the end of 1995 is as complete as we can make it; coverage of items that appeared in 1996 is incomplete, and in particular books which we have not seen are indicated in the style «Title» (1996) to show that they are projected titles. (b) Some Horror authors are of definite fantasy interest, because their work is full of fantasy (however dark); other horror authors seldom if ever stray into the fantasy field. To give a couple of random examples, it would have been wrong to omit Stephen King, but there was no justification for including the (likewise bestselling) Richard Laymon. (c) The same went for the movies. Quite a number of the 500 or so movies treated in these pages are Horror Movies, but they have been selected because of their fantasy content and their influence on the field. Some of these movies we do not like, but it would have been wrong to exclude them. Also, we decided only to cover movies which we had watched (or, often, re-watched) specifically to write the articles about them: too many of the secondary sources on the cinema are wildly inaccurate, and memory is always fallible. In the end, in a few cases – notably within long series of movies – we had to compromise on this because we simply could not track down a viewing copy. Such instances are indicated in situ. (d) An exactly analogous argument to that concerning horror can be extended to the field of Supernatural Fiction. (e) On the other hand, where we have come across a book or a movie or any other fantasy artefact, however obscure, that we felt should be brought to the attention of those interested in the field, we have included it.

The conception and writing of the actual text constituted a complex task, as is inevitable in any enterprise of this size and scope. Various editors named on the title page, plus colleagues whose assistance was less formal, made their impact at various stages of the process. It is difficult to distinguish just who fulfilled which function, because the enterprise has been collegiate throughout, but:

In particular John Clute and Roz Kaveney spent many hours working out a rough entry structure and generating a preliminary map of the interconnections between those entries; they were helped, out of sheer goodwill, by Chris Bell and Diana Wynne Jones – and countless others, including, of course, the remaining named editors. Clute also wrote the bulk of the "motif" and author entries. In particular John Grant and David Langford shaped oceans of copy into a text that made sense, complete with a reliable network of entries and cross-references. Grant also, with a deal of assistance from Langford and further assistance from Lydia Darbyshire, copyedited the entire text and himself wrote virtually every Cinema entry. Langford wrote many "motif" and author entries, and also supplied a not inconsiderable amount of computer expertise. Mike Ashley wrote very many entries and shaped various parts of the book, notably those concerning Arthur and the Matter of Britain, Supernatural Fiction, Anthologies, Magazines, Fairytales and Folklore. Ron Tiner did the same shaping task in the areas of Comics, Graphic Novels and Illustration. David G Hartwell and Gary Westfahl made stringent comments about the draft text; Westfahl also helped in the shaping of the initial entry list. But, as will be obvious to readers who look at the initials at the ends of articles, it was all rather more complicated than that: many of the articles in this book are truly collegiate, and few have not been altered in some way by an editor – perhaps several editors – other than the one whose initials appear. In addition, Ashley, Darbyshire and Langford proofread the entire text.

Rather more than half the text was written between them by Clute (about 400,000 words) and Grant (about 250,000 words). Ashley contributed about 200,000 words, Langford about 80,000, Tiner about 60,000, Brian Stableford about 50,000, Kaveney about 25,000 and Bill Cotter – who shaped the tv sections and wrote almost all the relevant entries – about 20,000. All of these word-counts are suspect, once again because of the collegiate nature of the enterprise: we have been unable to keep any track (and anyway it would have been a fool's venture) of the sentences and paragraphs the editors have inserted into each other's entries. Other contributors – among whom Gregory Feeley, who also recruited a bank of further fine writers, deserves special mention – wrote varying amounts.

The Encyclopedia of Fantasy has been a job for many people. It has also been a very considerable job. While we have made every effort to attain accuracy, certainly there must be errors. We invite readers to inform us of any they discover by writing, with chapter and verse, to one or other of us via John Clute, 221B Camden High Street, London NW1 7BU, UK (for email use Encyclopedia of Science Fiction contact form). John Grant was, at the time of going to press, shortly to move house, but notes addressed to him c/o that same address will reach him.

John Clute
John Grant
September 1996


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.