Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Billy the Kid

William H Bonney (1859-1881) was a thief who shot other men in the back. He was also involved in range wars, and possibly originally cast in heroic roles because set in situations which called for the Hero he was not. Even before his early death he had become legendary as Billy the Kid through dime novels written about his imaginary exploits; this relationship between life and Legend has itself proved to be of "mythic" import. He is, in his legendary form, a significant component of the consensual Heroic-Fantasy hero, and the ambivalence between truth and legend is a useful distancing device within that form.

His story is told in Jorgé Luis Borges's "The Disinterested Killer Bill Harrigan" in A Universal History of Infamy (coll 1935; rev 1954). David Thomson's nonfantasy Silver Light (1990) copes with the intractability in real life of Billy the Kid as Icon by revealing only his shadow in the tale itself, which may be treated as a rumination upon the thesis that Billy the Kid created Hollywood rather than vice versa. In fantasy terms, the Kid is a Childe, a solitary figure driven woundedly to Quest for an outcome he is unlikely to survive. He appears in Samuel R Delany's The Einstein Intersection (1967) as Kid Death (and a version, with the same soubriquet, appears in Simon R Green's Deathstalker sequence of space operas), in A Captive in Time (1990) by Sarah Dreher (1937-2012), in The Ancient Child (1989) by N Scott Momaday (1934-    ), in Rebecca Ore's sf novel The Illegal Rebirth of Billy the Kid (1991), in John Jakes's sf novel Six-Gun Planet (1970), and in Blood Meridian (1985) by Cormac McCarthy (1933-    ), in which the Kid is complicit with a gang run by Death. There are many movies, of which at least one, Billy the Kid versus Dracula (1965) (see Dracula Movies), is Supernatural Fiction; Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire (1986), although a supernatural movie, is about not the Kid but a contemporary snooker player.

The Beard (1965) by Michael McClure (1932-    ) features an erotic dialogue between Jean Harlow and Billy the Kid, based on McClure's "Jean Harlow and Billy the Kid" (in Star coll 1970). Homoerotic and fantasticated use is made of the iconographic Billy in Billy the Kid (coll of linked poems 1959) by Jack Spicer (1925-1965), where Billy engages in various archetypal Rituals. [JC]


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.