Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Anstey, F

 Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

Working name of UK writer, humorist and long-term contributor to Punch Thomas Anstey Guthrie (1856-1934); his intended pseudonym was T Anstey, the "F" stemming from a misprint. He is best-known for humorous fantasies introducing Topsy-Turvy elements into Victorian life through some arbitrary, capricious magical intrusion.

His debut novel, Vice Versâ, or A Lesson to Fathers (1882; rev 1883) (the circumflex is sic), was highly successful. A magic "Garudâ Stone" grants the insincere Wish of a stern Victorian father to be a boy again: his Metamorphosis encourages his school-hating son to wish for adult stature and freedom, resulting in Identity Exchange. Unable to shed pompous speech-patterns, the father suffers condignly at boarding-school and, as a man who Learns Better, enjoys improved relations with his son when the Spell is undone. The book's stage version was Vice Versa: A Farcical Fantastic Play in Three Acts (1910); it has been twice filmed as Vice Versa.

In The Tinted Venus (1885) a young man commits the classic error of jokingly placing his engagement Ring on a park's statue of Aphrodite – which the Goddess animates (see Pygmalion), loftily accepting his presumed love and causing predictable fiancée trouble. (Tim Powers's The Stress of Her Regard [1989] reprised the notion.) This disruptive pattern continues with A Fallen Idol (1886), where an artist's life is afflicted by his innocent possession of a malevolent Indian (Jain) idol, which destroys a loved dog by toppling on it, ruins the painter's reputation by making unflattering changes to his portraits, and even renders him temporarily colour-blind (at least in Illusion).

FA's fantasy ideas are often imperfectly followed through: after Vice Versâ he seemed too ready to eke out situational humour with conventionally snobbish gibes at the lower middle classes (The Tinted Venus) or policemen and foreigners with "comic" accents (A Fallen Idol). Nor are his resolutions hugely ingenious, a low point being the otherwise entertaining Tourmalin's Time Cheques (A Farcical Extravagance) (1885; vt The Time Bargain, or Tourmalin's Cheque Book 1905). This Time Fantasy supposes that idle hours – here, on a steamship voyage – may be deposited in the Time Bank at compound interest, and drawn out when required. When after landfall the hero wearies of London and cashes a cheque for some idyllic sea-travel time, the restored hours arrive out of sequence and prove unexpectedly eventful: time paradoxes confuse his romantic entanglements, building to such delirious complexity that FA resorts to making the whole farrago a deckchair Dream.

The Brass Bottle (1900) offers a fruitfully funny situation as a grateful released Genie showers its benefactor with increasingly embarrassing boons – the transformation of his cheap London lodgings into a palace of more than Oriental splendour convinces staid prospective in-laws that he may lack thrift, and a belly-dancer is even worse received. Eventually the genie is neutralized by resourceful bluffing. A stage version appeared as The Brass Bottle: A Farcical Fantastic Play (1911), and it was filmed as The Brass Bottle (1964) starring Tony Randall and Burl Ives; this was FA's nearest return to the early success of Vice Versâ.

In Brief Authority (1915) departs from FA's usual template, with a stiff Victorian lady becoming queen over the Folktale country of the Grimm Brothers (see Ruritania); this was his last novel. Shorter stories and squibs appear in The Black Poodle and Other Tales (coll 1884), The Talking Horse (coll 1891 US) – whose title story prefigures the masterful Talking Animal and submissive rider of C S Lewis's The Horse and His Boy (1954) – Salted Almonds (coll 1906), Percy and Others (coll 1915) – the first five stories relating the adventures of a bee – and The Last Load (coll 1925). These apply routine humour to animated Toys, Animal Fantasy, Fairytales, family Curses, Ghosts and (a rare serious story) Sirens. Humour and Fantasy (omni 1931) assembles Vice Versâ, The Tinted Venus, A Fallen Idol, The Talking Horse, Salted Almonds and The Brass Bottle; FA's new introduction shows a certain resignation at never having outdone the then 49-year-old Vice Versâ. [DRL]

other works: The Giant's Robe (1884) and The Pariah (1889), both associational; The Statement of Stella Maberley, Written by Herself (1896), published anon; Paleface and Redskin, and Other Stories for Girls and Boys (coll 1898); Only Toys! (1903), for children.

further reading: A Long Retrospect (1936), autobiography.

Thomas Anstey Guthrie


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.