Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Astrological beliefs, widespread in the ancient world, became briefly fashionable again during the Renaissance and are so yet again today. Nevertheless – and notwithstanding the fact that at least one notable fantasy writer, Jane Gaskell, is a practising astrologer – astrology plays a very minor role in modern fantasy; it is far less popular as a basis for stories than the Tarot.

Astrologers crop up as minor characters in many historical novels and Gothic tales, but are usually represented as charlatans; those in John Galt's "The Black Ferry" (circa 1820) and Washington Irving's "Legend of the Arabian Astrologer" (1832) are exceptions – likewise Rudyard Kipling's ironic "A Doctor of Medicine", whose hero infers from astrological portents that plague may be fought by killing rats. Kipling's "Children of the Zodiac" (1891) is an offbeat Allegory, while Children of the Zodiac (1929) by Alice M Williamson (1869-1933), who wrote as Mrs C N Williamson, is a curious exercise in literary game-playing. Two novels based on the premise that some bold pioneer might one day make astrology into a exact science, Edward S Hyams's The Astrologer (1950) and John Cameron's The Astrologer (1972), both appreciate the irony inherent in what is essentially a reductio ad absurdum, as had Alan Griffiths's The Passionate Astrologer (1936), which features an even less likely route to predictive certainty. Clark Ashton Smith's "The Last Hieroglyph" (1935) is also ironic after its own gaudy fashion, but E Hoffmann Price's "The Shadow of Saturn" (1950) appears to take a more reverent view of the astrologer's art. Piers Anthony's Macroscope (1969) deploys the signs of the Zodiac in a ponderously symbolic manner in the interests of cultivating an eccentric bizarrerie. Credulity is rarely an asset in the composition of literary fantasies – a fact made painfully evident in the novels of sometime astrologer and general practitioner of the magical arts Dion Fortune – but The Finger and the Moon (1973), an eclectic magical romance by Geoffrey Ashe (1923-    ), is more graceful in its execution than most romances of its earnest stripe. [BS]

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.