Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Beckett, Samuel

(1906-1989) Irish writer and playwright, in France from 1937. Although rarely considered a writer of fantasy – when En Attendant Godot (1952 France; trans SB as Waiting for Godot: Tragicomedy in 2 Acts 1954 US) was first performed it was explicated in terms of existentialism or the "theatre of the Absurd" – SB has been an author of Fabulations throughout his long career. Murphy (1938 UK) has no fantasy elements, but its antirealistic features marked SB as closer to the fantasia of James Joyce and William Butler Yeats than to the concerns of 1930s social realism. Watt (written 1943-1945; 1953 France), funnier and bleaker than Murphy, offers a protagonist who seeks, in Raymon Federman's words, to enter "a zone of creative consciousness where he would no longer be bound by temporal and spatial dimensions"; and the trilogy of novels that SB wrote in French – Molloy (1951 France; trans SB and Paul Bowles 1955 US), Malone meurt (1951 France; trans SB as Malone Dies 1956 US) and L'Innommable (1953 France; trans SB as The Unnamable 1958 US), assembled as Three Novels (omni 1965 US) – whose protagonists lose ontological fixity and seem to blur identities (The Unnamable can be read as a Posthumous Fantasy), are in no way realistic narratives.

SB's plays after Godot are more overtly fantastic than his prose. Fin de partie: Act sans paroles (produced 1957; coll 1957 France; trans SB as Endgame, followed by Act without Words coll 1958) is sf, set in the aftermath of a worldwide Holocaust. Happy Days (produced 1961; 1962) features a protagonist embedded in a mound of earth. Play (produced 1963 as Spiel trans Erika and Elmar Tophoven; produced in English 1964; in Play and Two Pieces for Radio coll 1964) is an Afterlife fantasy, set in a harrowing Purgatory that recalls Dante. The tv play Eh Joe (produced 1966; in Eh Joe and Other Writings coll 1967) tells of a Haunting. SB's last works of prose trace a similar path away from narrative reality. Comment C'est (1961 France; trans SB as How It Is 1964 US) is another fantasy of Purgatory, as are Le Depeupleur (1971 chap France; trans SB as The Lost Ones 1972 chap UK) and the subsequent, still shorter prose pieces that SB produced towards the end of his life.

SB's influence on post-WWII literature has been enormous; most fabulists, from Donald Barthelme and Thomas Berger in English to Peter Handke and Thomas Bernhard in German, have created oeuvres recognizably shaped by his presence. Often seen as a follower of James Joyce but later realized to be closer to Franz Kafka, SB incomparably dramatizes, as John Updike has noted, "the guttering spiritual condition of human life amid our century's material blaze". [GF]

other works: More Pricks than Kicks (coll 1934 UK); Krapp's Last Tape and Other Dramatic Pieces (coll 1960 UK); Ghost Trio (televised 1976 UK); Worstward Ho (1984 chap US).

Samuel Beckett


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.