Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Bierce, Ambrose

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(1842-circa 1914) US writer and journalist, of intense interest for his work in all areas of the fantastic. He began publishing work of genre interest with "The Haunted Valley" for the Overland Monthly in 1871, several years after he had left the US Army, having served throughout the Civil War – an experience that marked him for life. Indeed, throughout his career – which was marked by much travel, including a three-year stay in London – he gazed upon the USA with a born exile's cold and solitary eye, through fiction, essays and the black aphorisms published in newspapers over the years and assembled late in his life as The Cynic's Word Book (coll 1906; exp vt The Devil's Dictionary 1911; exp ed Ernest Jerome Hopkins vt The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary 1967).

It is perhaps not surprising that his greatest stories involve solitary figures in extremis or that, when the supernatural intervenes, it does so with an effect of venomous irony. His best work – Horror stories like "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" (1886) (for both > Posthumous Fantasy) and "The Death of Halpin Frayser" – appears in two volumes of stories, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (coll dated 1891 but 1892; vt In the Midst of Life 1892 UK; exp under original title 1898 US) and Can Such Things Be? (coll 1893; exp 1923), which also contain a number of sardonic Ghost Stories, of which the best is "The Damned Thing". Some additional stories appear in various collected editions. AB's fantasy is almost completely restricted to two volumes: Cobwebs from an Empty Skull (coll dated 1874 but 1873 UK; vt Cobwebs: Being Fables of Zambri and Parsee circa 1874 UK) as by Dod Grile, which contains humorous satirical sketches in Fable form; and Fantastic Fables (coll 1899; cut vt Fantastic Debunking Fables circa 1926), some of whose contents are little more than aphorisms expanded into anecdotes. But even in his most minor work an astonishingly sharp mind, never at rest, makes itself felt. [JC]

other works: The Fiend's Delight (coll circa 1872 UK) and Nuggets and Dust, Panned out of California (coll circa 1872 UK), both as by Grile; The Dance of Death (1877) with Thomas A Harcourt, AB writing as William Herman; The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce (coll 1909-1912 12 vols); Ten Tales (coll 1925 UK); Tales of Ghouls and Ghosts (coll circa 1926 chap); Tales of Haunted Houses (coll circa 1926 chap); Eyes of the Panther (coll 1928 UK); The Collected Writings of Ambrose Bierce (coll 1946; vt The Best of Ambrose Bierce ?1984); Ghost and Horror Stories of Ambrose Bierce (coll 1964) ed E F Bleiler; The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce (coll 1970); The Devil's Advocate: An Ambrose Bierce Reader (coll 1987; vt In the Midst of Life UK); An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and Other Stories (coll 1995 chap UK).

further reading: Ambrose Bierce: A Biography (1968) by Richard O'Connor.

Ambrose Gwinett Bierce


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.