Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Barthelme, Donald

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(1931-1989) US writer whose short stories, for which he remains best known, are unduly constricted – and indeed betrayed – if treated as Fantasy. His short work was first assembled in several individual collections: Come Back, Dr Caligari (coll 1964); Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts (coll 1968); City Life (coll 1970); Sadness (coll 1972); Guilty Pleasures (coll 1974), published as nonfiction; Amateurs (coll 1976); Great Days (coll 1979); and Overnight to Many Distant Cities (coll 1983). Two compilations, each containing some new stories, were Sixty Stories (coll 1981) and Forty Stories (coll 1987). The Teachings of Don B. (coll 1992) ed Kim Herzinger assembles mostly uncollected material.

Of more direct fantasy interest are three of DB's four novels. Snow White (1967) is a Revisionist Fantasy in which the Snow White tale is subjected to a ruthless (and hilarious) secularization, with absurdist Timeslips working to pile Anachronism upon anachronism. The Dead Father (1975) gravely parodies the Quests common to fantasy narratives, as those who survive the death of the vast eponymous patriarch struggle to deliver his bier to a resting place; a fictional Book, A Manual for Sons, is inserted passim. The King (1990) places various actors out of the Matter of Britain into the heart of World War II, where they behave with exemplary (though dizzied) rectitude.

DB's value as a fantasy writer is greatest as a marker of boundaries. [JC]

other works: The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine (1971 chap), for younger children; Paradise (1986), associational.

Donald Barthelme


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.