Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

1. A term which in literary criticism normally describes a group of works which address a single theme. The theme itself might be trivial; but most cycles accrete around significant subjects, like the stories that make up the Bible, the Matter of Greece (in Homer's Iliad [circa 800BC]), the Sagas that underlie Nordic Fantasy, the Matter of Britain and other constellations of material about the creation of worlds (> Creation Myths) and the founding of nations. The term has also been used to describe sequences of stories and poems, from Boccaccio's Decameron (circa 1350) and Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (circa 1387-1400) down to multi-volume Dynastic Fantasies. [JC]

2. Philosophies of history can argue that significant patterns recur, that history repeats itself in a non-trivial sense; these are frequently referred to as cyclical. The cyclical theories of history presented in The Decline of the West (1918) by Oswald Spengler (1880-1936) and A Study of History (1934-1961 12 vols) by Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975) have been influential in sf, less so in fantasy. Students of archaic religions (the most prominent 20th-century scholar in the field is perhaps Mircea Eliade) normally contrast the cyclical, Seasons-dominated nature of such faiths with the linear, end-oriented structure of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A sense that our actions eternally return to a central Story, and that our lives are renewed through Recognition of our role in that continuance, is deeply congenial to much fantasy. [JC]

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.