Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

In Genesis xi a tower is built with the intention of reaching Heaven; God halts the project and punishes its builders' hubris by fragmenting their language so they can no longer communicate – a Myth of Origin for the world's diverse languages. John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) describes the incident approvingly. Jorge Luis Borges elaborates the theme of noncommunication in "The Library of Babel" (1941), whose exhaustive Library contains all knowledge in every language, but lost amid all possible lies and gibberish: the hubris of attempted all-embracingness automatically brings confusion. C S Lewis's That Hideous Strength (1945) echoes the description of Babel in the poem "The Monarchie" (1554) by Sir David Lindsay (1486-1555) – "The Shadow of that hyddeous strength/Sax myle and more it is of length" – and inflicts the Curse of scrambled language on builders of a metaphorical tower, the hateful ideological structure of the N.I.C.E. (which is already mired in obfuscatory jargon). "The End of the Axletree" (1983) by Alasdair Gray is a Revisionist-Fantasy retelling whose tower-builders pierce the physical roof of the sky and unleash a vast Flood.

The portrait of the Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel almost certainly shapes Western images of this first Edifice, and has been an Underlier for fantasy edifices ever since. [DRL]

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.