Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Antichrist

In traditional Christian Eschatology and legend, based loosely on Revelation and the gospels, the Antichrist is the false prophet mentioned by Christ whose appearance will be one of the signals of the End of the World. His appearance is therefore a necessary precondition for Apocalypse. He will deceive most of humanity into adhering to the cause of Evil, an adherence they will advertise by wearing the Number of the Beast on their foreheads. Eventually these events will provoke Armageddon, in which the Antichrist will be defeated. In Islamic tradition, he will be slain by the returned Christ at the gates of the Church of Lydda. The Myth was given new life in the late Middle Ages when the label was hung on various oppressors. Many have been associated with the Number of the Beast – 666 (> Great Beast) – through the application of Numerology to their names. Martin Luther (1483-1546) stigmatized the papacy itself as the Antichrist.

According to tradition, the Antichrist was to be born the son of an Incubus and a nun, making the end of time the result of female unchastity. A corollary of this tradition was that the product of such a union, caught early and baptized, would be a powerful force for good, albeit of a wild and uncontrollable nature. In many versions of the Arthur legend, Merlin was such an offspring.

Among fictional treatments, the most notable literary account of the Antichrist's career is A Short Tale of the Antichrist (1900 Russia) by Vladimir Soloviev (1853-1900). Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World (1907) is easily the most extravagant of the devout prophetic novels produced around the end of the last century, and is far more readable than such absurdities as Joseph Burroughs's Titan, Son of Saturn: The Coming World Emperor (1905) and Sydney Watson's The Mark of the Beast (1911). Caesar Antichrist (1895) by Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) and Antichrist (1905) by James Huneker (1860-1921), by contrast, treat the notion with ironic contempt. Charles Williams made more subtle and sophisticated use of it in Shadow of Ecstasy (1933)

The definitive horror treatment comes with the Omen movies – Omen IV: The Awakening (1991 tvm) offered a female Antichrist – and these and others are parodied in Good Omens; The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (1990; rev 1991 US) by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Further treatments of the Antichrist in contemporary Horror include an essentially thriller treatment in The Number of the Beast (1992) by Daniel Easterman (1949-    ). A more colourful account is offered in Jack Chalker's sf/fantasy hybrid The Messiah Choice (1985), while the Nightworld sequence by F Paul Wilson provides humanity with a similar adversary largely divorced from a specifically Christian eschatology.

The principal importance of the Antichrist tradition to Genre Fantasy has been through its influence on the figure of the Dark Lord in J R R Tolkien and elsewhere. [BS/RK]

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.