Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Austrian fantasy, like Austrian literature in general, is inextricably linked to German fantasy (see Germany). Nevertheless, there has been no lack of attempts to define a specific "Austrianness"; in fantasy it might be said to manifest itself in a predominance of the baroque, grotesque, love of paradox, imaginary states, morbid Love, decay and death.

In the 18th century there was a spate of popular ghost novels (see Ghost Stories), much as in the German states – some were imitations of the popular German writer Christian Heinrich Spiess (1755-1799). The 19th century saw the successful Viennese magic plays of Ferdinand Raimund (1790-1836) – e.g., Der Diamant Des Geisterkönigs ["The Diamond of the Spirit King"] (1824) – and Johann Nestroy (1801-1862) – e.g., Lumpazivagabundus (1833). Ghostly incidents and episodes are also to be found in the works of Austria's national icon, the dramatist Franz Grillparzer (1791-1872). An isolated writer of often debunking humorous Ghost Stories was Carl Stugau (1816-1890), with Unbegreifliche Geschichten ["Incomprehensible Tales"] (1863-1864), but Austrian fantasy proper originated with the Fin de Siècle flowering of the arts and continued to develop until about 1930, when the rise of Nazism stifled it.

During these years fantasy became an important branch of Austrian literature – especially if one includes the German-language writers from Bohemia and Moravia. Of these writers of fantastic literature, Franz Kafka is the only one firmly to have entered the mainstream of world literature; at the time, his voice was one among many. Unlike other writers of his day he had no love for the occult or supernatural; instead, he transformed the everyday world into an icy place ruled by anonymous bureaucratic forces. Only a few stories – including the famous Die Verwandlung (1916; trans as "Metamorphosis") – appeared during his lifetime. His approximate contemporary, Gustav Meyrink, became famous with Der Golem ["The Golem"] (1915), the Number One bestseller in Germany during WWI (see Golem). One of the reasons for Meyrink's continuing popularity, apart from his literary competence, is that many see him less as a fantasy writer than as a teacher of arcane wisdom. In many of his later novels the occult became more pronounced, but his complex Der Engel vom Westlichen Fenster (1927; trans as The Angel of the West Window 1991) is centred on the Elizabethan magician John Dee.

A writer in a similar occult vein was Franz Spunda (1890-1963), who wrote theosophic novels (see Theosophy) charged with a rather crude sexuality: Devachan (1921), Der gelbe und der weiße Papst ["The Yellow and the White Pope"] (1923), Das ägyptische Totenbuch ["The Egyptian Book of the Dead"] (1924) and Baphomet (1928); the last of these is about a scion of the last Emperor of Byzantium fighting satanic Knights Templar.

One of the "Three Musketeers" of the German fantastic revival after 1900 – the other two were Meyrink and Hanns Heinz Ewers – was Karl Hans Strobl (1877-1946), a rabid Czech-hater and German nationalist from Moravia. In later years he became a high official in the Nazi writers' organization, but earlier he did much for fantasy as a writer, editor and reviewer. In 1919-1921 he edited the beautifully illustrated German fantasy magazine Der Orchideengarten ["The Orchid Garden"], the first such Magazine in the world. His novels, such as Eleagabal Kuperus (1910), are marred by his openly propagandistic dislike for materialism and socialism, but in his shorter work he showed himself an able writer and he covered the whole spectrum of fantastic themes. His stories are collected in Die Eingebungen des Arphaxat ["The Inspirations of Arphaxat"] (coll 1904), Die knöcherne Hand ["The Bone Hand"] (coll 1911), Lemuria (coll 1917) and others.

Alfred Kubin (1877-1959) was the leading German artist and illustrator of Horror-fantasy, but he also wrote a novel that, in its sexual symbolism, catastrophism and exotic imagery, came to be seen as prophetic of the horrors to come: Die andere Seite (1909; trans Denver Lindley as The Other Side 1967 US). The narrator, the author's alter ego, visits an eccentric Utopia, the Traumreich ("Dream Realm"), founded somewhere in Asia by a friend of his youth, and witnesses the downfall and phantasmagoric destruction of it and its capital.

Quite the opposite of such writers as Meyrink and Spunda was Leo Perutz, a Jewish writer from Prague; in the last decade his work has enjoyed a revival. Influenced by him was the aristocratic Alexander Lernet-Holenia (1897-1976), whose masterpiece is a fantasy about death, the novella "Der Baron Bagge" (1936; trans Jane B Greene 1956); in translation it was collected in Count Luna: Two Tales of the Real and Unreal (coll 1956) along with "Graf Luna" (1955; trans Richard and Clara Winston 1956).

Perutz's contemporary and perhaps rival Otto Soyka (1882-1955), once a bestseller, is now completely forgotten. His theme was power – the power of individuals over others through the use of psychic forces, suggestion or chemistry; examples are Die Traumpeitsche ["The Dream-Whip"] (1921) and Der Seelenschmied ["The Soul-Smith"] (1931). In Eva Morsini, die Frau, die war ["Eva Morsini – The Woman that Was"] (1923) a modern woman is apparently possessed (see Possession) by the spirit of Catherine the Great. Paul Busson (1873-1924) wrote an excellent historical novel of Reincarnation in Die Wiedergeburt des Melchior Dronte (1921; trans as The Man Who Was Born Again 1927) and some collections of "curious tales", the best of which is Seltsame Geschichten ["Strange Tales"] (1925).

Perhaps the most typically Austrian fantasy writer was the scurrilous Fritz von Herzmanovsky-Orlando (1877-1954). Almost unpublished during his lifetime, his work achieved literary success in 1958-1963, when the eminent critic Friedrich Torberg (1908-1979) brought out a heavily edited four-volume collection of his works, stressing the comic element and editing out the esoteric and mythological bits. Since then Herzmanovsky-Orlando's collected works have been released in 10 volumes, with the original texts restored. The only novel by Herzmanovsky-Orlando to be published during his lifetime, Der Gaulschreck im Rosennetz ["A Scare-nag in the Rosy Net"] (1928), tells of a lowly bureaucrat who wants to give his emperor as a birthday present a necklace made out of the milk teeth of virgins. Echoes of Herzmanovsky-Orlando are to be found in the works of Peter Marginter (1934-2008) – Der Baron und die Fische ["The Baron and the Fishes"] (1966; rev 1980) and many others – and Herbert Rosendorfer (1934-2012), especially in his first novel, Der Ruinenbaumeister (1969; trans Mike Mitchell as The Architect of Ruins 1992 UK), a convoluted work made up of stories within stories in the manner of Count Jan Potocki's The Saragossa Manuscript (1804 and 1805; trans 1960).

Two singular and forgotten novels are the huge Freinacht ["Extra Night"] (1935) by Julius Pupp (1886-1974), a journey into a fantasy world of Spirits where the hero, accompanied by Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655), has adventures in many historical societies from Ancient Egypt to Babylon; and Hans Adam Löwenmacht (1938) by Rudolf Slawitschek (1880-1945), a panoramic journey through a baroque Bohemia, full of Magic lore and a plethora of fantastic beings – a wonderfully inventive romp.

Many other stories of the fantastic were contributed by Austrian literary figures such as Franz Werfel (1890-1945), Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) and Max Brod (1884-1968). Sometimes these tales were directly influenced by psychoanalysis; in turn, the early Viennese psychoanalysts – like Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) – often commented favourably on fantasy writers. A Genre-Fantasy writer much valued by some connoisseurs was the now almost completely forgotten Leonhard Stein.

Aside from Peter Marginter, several other writers on the current Austrian literary scene are fantasists. Daniel Wolfkind (real name Peter Vujica; 1937-2013) has written two volumes of surrealist (see Surrealism) short stories, the first being Mondnacht ["Lunar Night"] (coll 1972). Barbara Büchner (1950-    ) has written some material of note. The dark, brooding and sublimely erotic short stories of Barbara Neuwirth (1958-    ) have been published in In den Gärten der Nacht ["In the Gardens of Night"] (coll 1990) and Dunkler Fluß des Lebens ["Dark River of Life"] (coll 1992). Christoph Ransmayr (1954-    ) wrote what proved an international bestseller: his Ovidean fantasy Die letzte Welt (1988; trans as The Last World 1990 US). The most consistently fantastic has been H C Artmann (1921-2000), a poet, playwright, author and translator who likes to play with language and elements of genre literature like the old Dime Novels. His forays into fantasy include Parodies of Draculadracula, dracula (1966) – and FrankensteinFrankenstein in Sussex (1969); his tök ph'rong süleng is a Werewolf story.

Representative anthologies are Jean Goyory's Phantastisches Österreich ["Fantastic Austria"] (anth 1976), a somewhat different version of an anthology first published in French in Belgium as L'Autriche fantastique avant et après Kafka (anth 1976), and The Dedalus/Ariadne Book of Austrian Fantasy: The Meyrink Years 1890-1930 (1992 UK/US) ed and trans Mike Mitchell; the latter includes representative works by Meyrink, Strobl, Herzmanovsky-Orlando, Perutz, Schnitzler, Busson and many others. [FR]


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.