Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Bain, F W

(1863-1940) UK writer long resident in India, who published a series of novella-length stories based on Hindu mythology: A Digit of the Moon (coll of linked stories 1899), The Descent of the Sun (1903), A Heifer of the Dawn (1904 chap) and In the Great God's Hair (1904 chap), all four assembled as A Digit of the Moon and Other Love Stories from the Hindoo (omni 1910 US), plus A Draught of the Blue (1905 chap), An Essence of the Dusk (1906 chap), assembled as A Draught of the Blue Together with An Essence of the Dusk (omni 1906 US), plus An Incarnation of the Snow (1908 chap), A Mine of Faults (1909), The Ashes of a God (1911), Bubbles of the Foam (1912), A Syrup of the Bees (1914), The Livery of Eve (1917) and The Substance of a Dream (1919), the last being assembled with Bubbles of the Foam as The Substance of a Dream Together with Bubbles of the Foam (omni 1919 US). In A Digit of the Moon FWB represents his tales as translations from a Sanskrit manuscript, The Churning of the Ocean of Time, a title clearly intended to echo the actual Sanskrit Ocean of Story; by The Substance of a Dream he had admitted that he had composed them himself.

Each story has a ruminative preface explaining its meaning according to Hindu philosophy (often with an anecdote from FWB's life in India), as well as an apparatus of footnotes (prefiguring Jack Vance's similar strategy) to explain the Sanskrit words and Hindu concepts (such as Reincarnation) that lie thick upon the page. The stories are told in a cool but rapturous Diction that owes something to Victorian Oriental Fantasy and something perhaps to William Morris. A Digit of the Moon is a series of Fables constituting a Riddle for a king trying to win the hand of a princess of great wisdom; most of the rest have Frame Stories told by the great god Maheshwara, including The Substance of a Dream, probably the finest: it is unusual in being told in the first person, by a young musician erotically obsessed with a sequestered queen he first saw in a Dream. While remaining, like the rest, curiously chaste, it still attains a remarkable intensity of emotion. It seems a pity that, apart from a few excerpts, FWB's body of work has remained out of print for half a century. [DK]

other works: Christina, Queen of Sweden (1890), The Bullion Report, and The Foundation of the Gold Standard (privately printed 1896 chap), The Corner in Gold: Its History and Theory (privately printed 1893 chap).

further reading: Francis William Bain (1963) by Keshav Mutalik.

Francis William Bain


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.