Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Fantasy biology has three main threads. On the one hand, there is a rich mythology of fabulous plants and animals, some of which were once believed to exist and thus figured in such classic protoscientific works as the Historia Naturalis (circa 60AD) of Pliny the Elder (23-79). Many are given separate consideration in these pages; others may be found under such headings as Animals Unknown to Science, Mythical Creatures and Birds. The Bestiaries popular in the 11th-13th centuries attributed complex symbolic meanings to both real and unreal animals – a device echoed in modern fantasy by Charles Williams's The Place of the Lion (1931) and Jorge Luis Borges's The Book of Imaginary Beings (1967; trans 1969). On the other hand, there is a tradition of thought which descends from the animistic assumption that all things are endowed with controlling Spirits, which equips plants with such associative entities as Dryads and flower Fairies and which sometimes functions as an "explanation" of such phenomena as Theriomorphy. Such notions are tacitly echoed in traditional Beast Fables and in the modern literary convention which permits anthropomorphization of animal consciousness for narrative purposes (> Animal Fantasy; Talking Animals). The third thread comprises Imaginary Animals, devised by fantasy writers to populate their Secondary Worlds. A sidebar concerns the biology of Vampires, Werewolves and the other denizens of Supernatural Fiction.

It is unusual to find much use being made of such exploded biological theories as the notion of spontaneous generation. Real biological data are, however, often used to add realism to anthropomorphized animal fantasies, as in Richard Adams's Watership Down (1972) and William Horwood's Duncton Wood (1980). Fantasies which allegorize the process of evolution include Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies (1863) and Gerald Heard's Gabriel and the Creatures (1952). The extrapolation of ideas drawn from ecology into a form of "ecological mysticism" which supernaturalizes the supposed "balance of nature", pioneered by W H Hudson in A Crystal Age (1887), is a significant strand in much modern fantasy; striking examples include Cobwebwalking (1986) by Sara Banerjii (1932-    ) and "Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come out Tonight" (1987) by Ursula K Le Guin. Notable phantasmagoric ecosystems which belong more to fantasy than to Science Fiction are featured in the fungal forest sequence of Etidorhpa (1895; rev 1901) by John Uri Lloyd (1849-1936), William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land (1912), David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) and Inrock (1983) by Desmond Morris (1928-    ). [BS]


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.