Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Arnold, Edwin Lester

(1857-1935) UK writer, son of Sir Edwin Arnold. He derived from his father a strong interest in the ideas of Reincarnation and karma; his fantasies are "karmic romances" modelled on the work of H Rider Haggard. The hero of The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (1891; vt Phra the Phoenician 1910) recalls a series of past "awakenings" in different eras of British history – the withdrawal of the Romans, the Norman invasion of 1066, the Battle of Crécy, and Elizabethan intrigues – and continually meets women reminiscent of the Witch-wife whose Magic was the source of his problematic Immortality and with whom he yearns to secure a more permanent reunion beyond the Earth. "Rutherford the Twice-Born" (1892), the only fantasy in The Story of Ulla, and Other Tales (coll 1895), makes more formal use of the notion of karma, recounting the tribulations of a man who comes into a tainted inheritance but is absolved from guilt by a convenient Vision. Lepidus the Centurion: A Roman of To-day (1901) is a psychological melodrama in which a young Victorian and a virile Roman brought back from the dead are fragmentary aspects of a single Soul and inevitably come into conflict over a woman.

Arnold's last fantasy novel, Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905; vt Gulliver of Mars 1964 US), has similarities with the Martian fantasies of Edgar Rice Burroughs, although this is more likely due to the common influence of Haggard's She (1887) than to any direct imitation. Jones, an impoverished US Naval officer, is whisked away by magic carpet to Mars, where decadent inheritors of an ancient civilization are trying to defend the remnants of their culture against marauding barbarians.

Arnold's fantasies are essentially playful, employing their philosophical devices as props to support amusing flights of romantic fancy, and do not seem to be weighed down by sincere belief, as Haggard's later reincarnation romances were. They do, however, echo a restless sense of frustration and dissatisfaction. [BS]

Edwin Lester Arnold


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.