Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Carroll, Jonathan

(1949-    ) US-born screenwriter and author, long resident in Vienna, where he has set some of his fiction, though Los Angeles, where he was raised and where he does his movie work, remains a central venue. As an author, JC walks alone, in wary solitude: some of his work verges on sf; much of it makes guarded and ironized use of fantasy Motifs and Otherworld venues; and he is frequently thought of as primarily a horror writer. His best novels, however, touch on all three genres, illuminating them. Though he received a 1988 World Fantasy Award for "Friend's Best Man" (1987), he is less known for his short stories, which have been assembled as Die Panische Hand (coll 1989 Germany; exp as The Panic Hand 1995 UK).

JC first novel, The Land of Laughs (1980 US), is his most unequivocal fantasy. Two young potential biographers of the dead Marshall France, the most famous of whose books for children is The Land of Laughs (see Books), anticipate collaborating in their work. Together they visit Galen, Missouri, where France lived all his life; and gradually discover the town is a claustrophobic Polder whose inhabitants have been possessed by France's Story of their past and future lives, as continued in his Journal, which carries their tale down the centuries. Hints of Godgame in the novel are initially provocative but – as is typical of JC's work – the controlling artist/Magus fails to grant his players free will or the capacity to learn from their trials. France's self-absorption makes the conclusion of The Land of Laughs more like horror than fantasy, where stories tend to transform protagonists more often than to imprison them. JC's seeming distrust of happy endings, a distrust which "lets down" the strong fantasy stories he is entirely capable of beginning, may help explain the dis-ease he causes in some readers.

After the more tentative Voice of our Shadow (1983 US) JC embarked upon his major project to date, an untitled sextet of linked novels: Bones of the Moon (1987 UK; rev 1987), Sleeping in Flame (1988 UK), A Child Across the Sky (1989 UK), Outside the Dog Museum (1991 UK), After Silence (1992 UK) and From the Teeth of Angels (1994 UK), with Black Cocktail (1990 UK) as a loose pendant. The overall title of the series could easily be "Answered Prayers" (see Answered Prayers); certainly, in volume after volume, artist protagonists both charge their intimates harshly for the privilege of being close to the making of works of art and themselves pay heavily for having their prayers for success answered in the affirmative.

Of the six, Bones of the Moon most resembles a fantasy novel. Its female protagonist, post-abortion, is drawn into an Otherworld called Rondua whose Reality is a barbed manifestation of the internal dramas (see Jungian Psychology) of her own psyche, and where she must attempt to save both her kingdom (i.e., herself) and her unborn son from a maniacal killer (and profoundly defective Magus) called Jack Chili. Soon Rondua begins to impose itself Crosshatch-fashion upon the real world, and the fight for life climaxes in both inner and outer realms. She seems to win, and the story becomes a book, which she writes, called Bones of the Moon. Sleeping in Flame more problematically faces its artist protagonist in Vienna with a warped magus who is a Twice-Told Rumpelstiltskin, and who seemingly fails in his attempts to disrupt a growing family. In A Child Across the Sky a dead man's video (like France's book in The Land of Laughs) inspires a film director to afflict those around him with the successful re-making of the dead man's last, failed movie. In Outside the Dog Museum an architect must fumblingly attempt to justify his life in terms of the construction of the eponymous Edifice for an Eastern potentate. After Silence (which arguably contains no supernatural element at all) carries a successful cartoonist into a hell he has (perhaps) constructed for himself, as it may be he has (like a deranged magus) created the sins which he "discovers" in his wife's past. And From the Teeth of Angels (which may or may not terminate the sequence) contains strong hints – through the grotesque and haunting presence of a personification of Death – that all the previous protagonists may have indeed been victims of a parodic Godgame, in which the dice are loaded. The sense that everyone in the sequence is spiritually parched may come (it is hinted) from the fact that their lives have been savoured by a God who likes the sweet smell of success.

In JC's work, happy endings are truces, not consummations. A huge amount of artistic endeavour is described throughout his work, but few triumphant Recognitions. There seems little doubt that this is deliberate. JC is a profound, ironic, scathing poet of the terror of the prison of mortality. [JC]

Jonathan Carroll


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.