Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Beatles, The

UK musicians George Harrison (1943-2001), John Lennon (1940-1980), Paul McCartney (1942-    ) and Ringo Starr (real name Richard Starkey; 1940-    ). Their contributions to written fantasy were exclusively Lennon's books In His Own Write (1964) and A Spaniard in the Works (1965), collections of stories and sketches filled with non sequiturs, puns and other wordplay. These schoolboy entertainments have not aged well.

In their later years as a band, working primarily in the studio, the Beatles wrote and performed a number of "psychedelic" songs with fantastic or surrealistic language and sound effects. Notable examples include: McCartney's and Lennon's "Yellow Submarine" (1966), a children's song; Lennon's oracular "Tomorrow Never Knows" (1966); Harrison's sermon on Hindu mysticism, "Within You Without You" (1967); McCartney's haunting "The Fool on the Hill" (1968), which some thought was a song about Christ; Lennon's chaotic and apocalyptic sound collage "Revolution #9" (1968); Lennon's "Cry Baby Cry" (1968), which mimics the language of nursery rhymes; and Starr's undersea fantasy "Octopus's Garden" (1969). Two of Lennon's songs stand out: "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" (1967), surely designed to convey the feeling of an LSD trip (though Lennon insisted the song was inspired by one of his son's drawings), and "I Am the Walrus" (1967), a grimmer journey through similar territory with references to Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allan Poe.

As moviemakers, TB were solely responsible for Magical Mystery Tour (1967 tvm), generally regarded as not good. They had little control over their other movies, two of which are of fantasy interest: Help! (1965) is a spy spoof with sf and fantasy elements (a magic Ring, shrinking, etc.), and Yellow Submarine (1968) is an Animated Movie suggested by their songs. Years after their break-up TB inspired a less worthy live-action fantasy movie, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1977), with the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton as hapless stand-ins. A US tv animated series, The Beatles (1964-1966), also with no Beatles participation, had some fantasy elements. There was also a movie version of the popular stage show Beatlemania (1980), with Beatles impersonators performing songs backed by spectacular visual effects. Harrison's Handmade films also produced Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979).

The Beatles' solo careers after 1970 displayed much less interest in fantasy – though one can mention Starr's roles as Merlin in Son of Dracula (1974), which he also produced (see Dracula Movies), as the eponymous Caveman (1981), and as the miniature conductor in the first seasons of the children's tv series Shining Time Station, based on the Reverend W Awdry's Thomas the Tank Engine stories; and Harrison served as executive producer and theme-song writer on Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits (1981).

The Beatles entered the realm of urban Folklore in 1969, when a fan observed that the mumbled words at the end of "Strawberry Fields Forever" (1967), played backwards, were "I buried Paul" (though Lennon claimed he had actually said either "Strawberry jam" or "I'm very bored"). Similar backwards messages were discovered in other songs – "Paul is gone, man, miss him, miss him" at the end of "I'm So Tired" (1968), and "Turn me on, dead man" in "Revolution #9" – which inspired the story that Paul had died in a late-1966 car accident ("He blew his mind out in a car" says "A Day in the Life" [1967]) but had been secretly replaced by a Scottish lookalike named William Campbell. A variant was that Paul had staged his own death so as to go live on a remote Greek island with other supposedly dead rock stars like Brian Jones, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison; deciphering all the album clues would yield a phone number which one could dial to get a plane ticket to the island hideaway. [GW]

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.