Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Brown, George Mackay

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(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 (1934-2016), 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


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.