Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Davies, Robertson

(1913-1995) Canadian writer whose work is suffused with a delighted awareness of the Fantastic and the grotesque. In almost diametrical opposition to John Crowley's use of the techniques of mimetic fiction to insinuate the fantastic into everyday life, RD uses fantasy tropes – e.g., the Quest for the Hero's true origins or the decoding of gnostic lore which results in a Transformation of the worldview – to illumine the beauty and magical potential in the mundane.

In Tempest-Tost (1951), the first volume of the Salterton Trilogy – the others being Leaven of Malice (1954) and A Mixture of Frailties (1958), all being assembled as The Salterton Trilogy (omni 1986 UK) – the transformation comes about through the attempt to replicate William Shakespeare's The Tempest (performed circa 1611; 1623) in the superficially stolid town of Salterton. In the Deptford TrilogyFifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972 US) and World of Wonders (1975), assembled as The Deptford Trilogy (omni 1983 UK) – a strange murder opens the way for an exploration of hidden longings and fantastical discoveries. Using the realms of Magic and Myth as haloed through the Archetypes of Jungian Psychology, the characters walk a glittering Labyrinth of plot and subplot which leads to self-knowledge and expiation. In the Cornish TrilogyThe Rebel Angels (1981), What's Bred in the Bone (1985) and The Lyre of Orpheus (1988) – the supernatural element is more directly present. In The Lyre of Orpheus, for instance, the spirit of E T A Hoffmann, dwelling in uneasy Limbo, watches over the completion and presentation of his unfinished Opera by the Cornish Foundation and its Trustees – the same Trustees who, together with the enigmatic Francis Cornish, were the protagonists of the two earlier volumes. High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories (coll 1982; cut vt A Gathering of Ghosts 1995 chap UK) assembles Ghost Stories couched within the frame of Christmas; this won a World Fantasy Award. Murther & Walking Spirits (1991) is a Posthumous Fantasy whose protagonist views his own and his ancestors' lives as a sequence of movies. The Cunning Man (1995) explores the nature of religious belief and the relationship of mind to body through the story of a doctor – the cunning man of the title – whose life was saved by the magical intervention of a female Shaman in his childhood. The interweaving of preternatural event and scientific training leads to a synthesis of the two which might stand as a paradigm of RD's outlook.

RD's largeness of spirit and richly comic view of humanity – as a species of creation absurd yet always capable of the sublime – give his books their distinct and irresistible flavour. [JR/JC]

other works: A Masque of Mr Punch (1963), a play.

William Robertson Davies


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.