Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor

(1772-1834) English poet, critic and philosopher whose work, and association with William Wordsworth (1770-1850), sowed the seeds of English Romanticism. An impressionable and precocious child, STC was heavily influenced by his reading of Fairytales and the Arabian Nights (see Arabian Fantasy), so that by the time he entered his teens he was already "habituated to the Vast", as he later reported. STC conceived with Robert Southey – who became a close friend and in-law (their wives were sisters) – the concept of a community where all were equal, a Pantisocracy, which they were going to establish on the banks of the Susquehanna River in New England, but the project collapsed through lack of funds. By 1795 he had allied himself to the German Romantics, and his discovery of metaphysics widened his appreciation of the supernatural and his belief in a world beyond his Perception of Reality. His increasing reliance on opium further shifted his imagination. All of this cosmic perception was channelled into a series of poems written from the summer of 1797 to the spring of 1798, including "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798 in Lyrical Ballads with Wordsworth; rev 1800), and first drafts of the incomplete "Christabel" (Part 1 1797; Part 2 1800) and "Kubla Khan" (1816), both in Christabel and Other Poems (coll 1816). All make extensive use of supernatural imagery. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (which was plotted with Wordsworth, who contributed a few lines), as well as evoking the pandimensional mysteries of the sea, describes a Rite of Passage and supernatural (or divine) retribution. The episode of the ghost ship is suggestive of Belatedness and hints at an association between the Ancient Mariner and other Accursed Wanderers like the Wandering Jew and the Flying Dutchman. The poem is refreshingly devoid of Gothic trappings, emphasizing STC's importance in the transition from Gothic Fantasy to Romanticism. "Christabel" made stronger use of Gothic imagery – indeed, it induced nightmare visions in Percy Bysshe Shelley – and in STC's depiction here of the Evil within humankind, especially the vampirical Lamia, he sought to distinguish between the supernatural of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and the preternatural, or the abnormal within the natural. STC fell short of completing a trilogy of the fantastic when his anonymous caller (the famed Person from Porlock) interrupted the composition of "Kubla Khan", which was developing into a depiction of Heaven of Xanadu to set against the Hell of "Christabel" and the Purgatory of the Ancient Mariner, thus representing a romantic version of Dante's Divina Commedia; some modern critics believe that the "Person from Porlock" tale is a myth, and that "Kubla Khan" is complete as it is. Despite writing for a further 30 years, STC never returned to the peak of supernaturalism marked by this brief outpouring, but it changed the world of Supernatural Fiction for ever. [MA]

Samuel Taylor Coleridge


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.