(1921-1996) Scottish writer who was born in and rarely left the Orkney Islands; he visited England only once, in 1989. The Orkneys were the setting for his first poem – "Prayer to Magnus" for The New Shetlander in 1947 – and for almost all his subsequent poetry and fiction. Much of the latter is influenced by the worldview of the 13th-century Orkneyinga Saga, and his plots often explicitly rework these Legends. Stories of genre interest appear in A Calendar of Love (coll 1957), A Time to Keep (coll 1969) – whose contents differ from the compilation A Time to Keep (coll 1986 US) – Hawkfall (coll 1974), The Sun's Net (coll 1976), Witch (coll 1977), Andrina (coll 1983), Christmas Stories (coll 1985), The Golden Bird: Two Orkney Stories (coll 1987), The Masked Fisherman (coll 1989) and The Sea-King's Daughter/Eureka! (coll 1991 chap). Frequently a thread of fantasy is conveyed through plots subtly based on ballads. Of his novels, Magnus (1973) treats its historical protagonist in mythic fashion, and Time in a Red Coat (1984) is a Time-Travel fantasy in which a young girl's birthgift sends her through various epochs whose horrors gradually stain her clothing the colour of blood. Beside the Ocean of Time (1994) recounts the history of a northern Island – including Selkies – through the Dreams of its protagonist, who finally represents the power of Story to redeem the lost world. Mermen (> Mermaids) appear in the children's stories assembled in The Two Fiddlers (coll 1974). Several compositions by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (1934- ), also resident in the Orkneys, are based on GMB's work, most notably perhaps The Martyrdom of St Magnus (1977), a fantasy Opera based on Magnus. [JC]
Works for children: Pictures in the Cave (1977 chap); Six Lives of Fankle the Cat (1980 chap); Keepers of the House (1986 chap); Letters to Gypsy (1990 chap).
Plays: A Spell for Green Corn (1970); Three Plays (coll 1984), including "The Voyage of Saint Brandan".
George Mackay Brown