Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Ackroyd, Peter

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(1949-    ) UK writer whose early surrealistic poetry was assembled in volumes like London Lickpenny (coll 1973 chap) and Country Life (coll 1978 chap), and whose nonfiction Dressing Up: Transvestism and Drag, the History of an Obsession (1979) early manifested his interest in double or multiple selves. Several of his titles signal PA's deep involvement with London, and it is as an author of complex Urban Fantasy that he is of greatest genre interest. Within this urban frame, his novels almost invariably conflate present and past through patterns of association and Possession, and his contemporary protagonists sometimes seem little more than impersonating Masks of figures sunk deep in time. Sometimes the impersonation is less a ravishment of these protagonists than a masquerade: PA's interest in music hall and travesty is marked, especially in the nonfantasy Last Testament of Oscar Wilde (1983), which pastiches the great wit, and Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem (1994; vt The Trial of Elizabeth Cree: A Novel of the Limehouse Murders 1995 US), a nonfantasy Gaslight Romance set in late-19th-century London. Elements of pastiche occur throughout PA's fiction, particularly in his quasi-fantasies.

In his first novel, The Great Fire of London (1982), the makers of a movie of Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit (1857) are haunted by the original characters, who are themselves haunted by the great city in whose coils they are caught. The eponymous contemporary detective in Hawksmoor (1985) is increasingly obsessed by an 18th-century architect – based on the historical Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736) – who is himself haunted by a numerology-based geography of London, a system of correspondences through which occult patterns can be descried and the future governed. Similarly, in The House of Doctor Dee (1993) a contemporary protagonist finds himself tracing out, through the London of the Magus John Dee, some sense of his own shrunken self; for it proves he may be nothing more than an impersonating Shadow, the reborn (or recast) image of the Homunculus which Dee has been attempting to create.

Other novels of interest include: First Light (1989), in which much is made of the fact that, as a result of precession, the night sky over a neolithic grave being excavated duplicates that of 26,000 years ago, when the monument was built; and English Music (1992), a nonfantasy paean to the Island domain. PA is one of the central fabulists of the City. [JC]

Peter Ackroyd


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.