Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Almost every Creation Myth begins with Chaos, a time before Time when shape had yet to take shape. In Greek Myth there are at least two stories of primal creation, each beginning in Chaos, who (or which) may be an egg that contains time or an embodiment of the sense of primal beginnings who simply brings forth Nyx (Night), Gaia (or Gaea; Earth; see Goddess) and Erebos (the negative blackness beneath Gaia), whereafter sexual coupling and all our woes almost immediately ensue. At the end of time, too, Chaos takes in all the Stories that have been told through time. In fantasy, the most fruitful use of the concept can probably be found in the works of Michael Moorcock, whose Multiverse balances complexly between the rigours of Law and the dark loosening of the stays of Chaos. It is a vision of Balance central to the structure of many fantasy novels, especially those – e.g., Judy Allen's The Lord of the Dance (1976) – in which a cosmic Agon is replicated (see As Above, So Below) in the Rite of Passage of a young protagonist into a mature person who can accept the complexities of being; a bastardized reification, usually incompletely realized, of this notion of balance between Order (good) and Chaos (bad) can be found in many works of Genre Fantasy, like the novels by Brian Craig (Brian Stableford), Jack Yeovil (Kim Newman) and others based on the Warhammer role-playing Game. In John Grant's The World (1992), Chaos is realized as a macroscopic version, the Mistdom, of the quantum probability field (or virtual-particle sea), dissolution into which implies not only universal destruction but a cleansing, fusion and subsequent rebirth. Generally, however, the Time Abysses of fantasy stop short of contemplating the nothingnesses at the beginning and end.

Chaos is sometimes seen more literally and mundanely as the world system to which Faerie or Demons own allegiance, as the context in which their arbitrary Magic – as opposed to the legalistic rational magic of humanity – can operate. This version of the legend is intrinsically linked to the concept of the Polder and to Belatedness, when the chaotic is seen as a desirable state compared with the Thinning that will follow its demise. [JC]

see also: Elder Gods; End of the World.

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.