Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Benson, E F

(1867-1940) UK writer, brother of A C Benson and Robert Hugh Benson, best-known during his lifetime for his first novel, Dodo (1893), but subsequently more famous for his nonfantasy Mapp and Lucia sequence (the mid-1980s sequels by Tom Holt likewise have no fantasy content) and for his short Supernatural Fictions. His supernatural novels, like his short stories, tend to treat the supernatural as invasive (> Horror). The first, The Luck of the Vails (1901), is a murder mystery in which a goblet embodies a Curse upon its owners. In The Image in the Sand (1905) an occultist releases an evil Spirit from Bondage. The Angel of Pain (1905 US) also features occult investigations that go desperately wrong. The House of Defense (1906 Canada) is a horror tale. David Blaize and the Blue Door (1918) sentimentally conveys its young hero – who appears in two other (nonfantasy) novels, David Blaize (1916) and David of King's (1924) – into a Wonderland based fairly closely on Lewis Carroll's. Across the Stream (1919) returns to the admonitory mode of earlier work in the story of the Debasement of its protagonist through the influence of a Demon that haunts him in the shape of his dead brother. Colin: A Novel (1923) and Colin II (1925) together tell the story of a Pact with the Devil whose consequences extend from Elizabethan times to the present, once more focusing with palpable fascination upon the Evil that emanates from young men who embrace dissolute lives. Two of EFB's late novels are of interest: The Inheritor (1930) again features a family curse – engendering the birth of Monsters – and a protagonist tempted by perversion; Raven's Brood (1934) carries into a rural setting some of the same concern about the embracing of intrusive evil, with a wife who turns out to be a Witch.

Perhaps more interesting to contemporary readers, EFB's short stories – the later ones are slimmer, less portentous and more effective than the earlier – traverse much the same territory. The most important collections are The Room in the Tower (coll 1912) – a typical story in which is "The Shootings of Achnaleish" (1906), about a Scottish village whose inhabitants can shapeshift into hares – Visible and Invisible (coll 1923), which includes the remarkable "The Outcast" (1922), whose outwardly beautiful but inwardly loathsome protagonist may well be a Reincarnation of Judas Iscariot; Spook Stories (coll 1928), which includes "The Temple" (1924), about a house built within a stone circle where ancient sacrifices are re-enacted; and More Spook Stories (coll 1934). This last includes "Monkeys" (1933), in which an ancient curse causes the death of a surgeon who rifled an Egyptian tomb of broken vertebrae because he thought the technique used to heal them might be of use to 20th-century humanity, and "Pirates" (1928), which expresses nostalgia for an Eden where, as a child with the ghosts of his siblings, the narrator can once again be a brigand terrorizing chaste lawns. Posthumous collections emphasizing stories of fantasy interest include The Tale of the Empty House and Other Ghost Stories (coll 1986) ed Cynthia Reavell, The Flint Knife (coll 1988), Desirable Residences (coll 1991) and Fine Feathers (coll 1994), the last three ed Jack Adrian and including much previously uncollected material; The Collected Ghost Stories (coll 1992) ed Richard Dalby, despite its title, omits most of the contents of these two volumes.

Although EFB was a friend of M R James, he only occasionally wrote stories under James's overt influence (> James Gang). He was a more versatile writer than James, and his sense of the allure of Evil was far more urbane, even though his favourite locales were rural enclaves typically subjected to visits by city gentlemen who then Learned Better. EFB has been neglected for most of the past half-century but is now enjoying a modest revival. [JC]

other works: The Valkyries: A Romance Founded on Wagner's Opera * (1903); The Countess of Lowndes Square (coll 1920), containing three stories of genre interest; "And the Dead Spake – " and The Horror-Horn (coll 1923 chap US); The Myth of Robert Louis Stevenson (1925; 1992 chap); The Horror Horn (coll 1974) ed Alexis Lykiard, mostly Horror; Demoniacal Possession (1992 chap), a talk; The Man who Went Too Far (1904; 1992 chap); The Technique of the Ghost Story and Three Short Stories (coll 1993 chap); The Heart of India (coll 1994 chap) ed Jack Adrian; Weepies (coll 1995 chap) ed Jack Adrian.

Edward Frederick Benson

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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.