Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The recurrence in an organism or part of an organism of a form typical of its remote ancestors. In fantasy, trivial atavistic symptoms are frequently associated with Curses, but more extreme reversions to ancestral type are featured in stories of atavistic Metamorphosis, many of which qualify as borderline Science Fiction. Max Brand's oft-reprinted "That Receding Brow" (1919) is perhaps the best-known fantasy of atavism; an earlier example is Jack London's "When the World Was Young" (1910). Atavisms which reveal unorthodox ancestries crop up in Royal W Jimerson's "Medusa" (1928) and H P Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth (1936). Stories of induced atavism, involving some kind of "ancestral memory", include Leonard Cline's The Dark Chamber (1927), Alan Sullivan's In the Beginning (1927), Edison Marshall's Ogden's Strange Story (1928; 1934), Norman Springer's The Dark River (1928), Neil Bell's The Disturbing Affair of Noel Blake (1932) and Paddy Chayefsky's Altered States (1978). Also, there are stories in which psi powers are an atavism, the thesis being that once all human beings had such Talents but these were extinguished by the process of civilization, yet can re-emerge atavistically in rare individuals. [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.