Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The "savage and deformed slave" of William Shakespeare's The Tempest (produced circa 1611; 1623), described as son of the witch Sycorax and tamed into servitude by Prospero. His name is a part-anagram of "cannibal". As well as being an emblem of the untamed races of the New World and of the perennial question of whether savagery is innate or engendered by oppression (he remarks that teaching him language has taught him how to curse), Caliban is a personification of the wild semi-human who occupies an important place in much fantasy. We can, for instance, see him in J R R Tolkien's Gollum, whose Ring (like Caliban's Island, his by right of possession) is taken from him by superior beings and who is forced to serve his subjugator. Also like Gollum, Caliban fawns upon and worships and plots against his "masters" – and half-loves them.

Caliban is a rich enough figure to be the subject of reinterpretations of his role. Robert Browning shows him meditating on natural religion in his poem "Caliban upon Setebos". Tad Williams looks at the relationship between Caliban and Miranda in Caliban's Hour (1995), his "sequel" to The Tempest, told from Caliban's viewpoint. [AS]

see also: Bondage.

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.