Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Dickinson, Peter

(1927-2015) UK writer, born in what is now Zambia; he is married to Robin McKinley. PD is well known for his detective fictions, four of which – Sleep and his Brother (1971), The Green Gene (1973) and the Alternate-World sequence King and Joker (1976) and Skeleton-in-Waiting (1989) – are of sf/fantasy interest. He is equally well known for his YA fiction, including the Changes sequence – The Weathermonger (1968; rev 1969 US), Heartsease (1970) and The Devil's Children (1971), assembled as The Changes (omni 1975; vt The Changes Trilogy 1985; vt The Changes: A Trilogy 1991 US). In this Sleeper Under the Hill fantasy the sleeper who awakes, and who has been transforming the UK into a kind of Land-of-Fable Dark Ages, is revealed to be Merlin; his effect on the land and the Matter of Britain is by no means good. Superstition and Witch-hunting are rife; and it is fortunate that the young protagonists are able to persuade him to go back to sleep. A later work, Merlin Dreams (coll of linked stories 1988), offers a different Merlin, one who longs to escape the burden of his Shaman-like powers in slumber, awakening only at intervals to pass on a tale invoking Motifs and Underliers from the Arthurian cycle (> Arthur).

There is little sameness in PD's choice of subject matter, though an unfailing civility of utterance sometimes gives a deceptive sense of equipoise to tales which are – especially for a YA audience – clearly meant to challenge preconceptions. Emma Tupper's Diary (1971) features an ambivalent encounter with the Loch Ness Monster (> Animals Unknown to Science). In The Gift (1974) a young man with the Talent of clairvoyance must defend his family from a destructive lunatic; the family itself is significantly dysfunctional, and the tale leaves no secure base. In The Blue Hawk (1976) a young initiate into an archaic priesthood in a land-of-fable Egypt causes the death of his pharaoh, and becomes involved in a grinding internecine war between priests and men of war as Magic begins to disappear from a world the Gods are leaving. Healer (1983; vt The Healer 1985 US) portrays a young woman whose Talent is healing, and who is co-opted by a foundation whose motives are both ominous and plausible. Giant Cold (1984 chap) is an ironized but moving Fairytale. A Box of Nothing (1985) and Time and the Clockmice, Etcetera (1993) are both Fables, one about a boy who wants nothing and gets a box of it, the other about a theft of time, and attempts at its recapture.

Some of PD's tales wear an air of bemused civility; but never does his decency of mien ultimately hide the operations of a cool, disillusioned, wise mind. Very quietly, PD has written a canon of central texts. [JC]

other works: Sleep and His Brother (1971); The Iron Lion (1972 chap US; rev 1983 chap UK), a fairytale; Mandog (1972) with Lois Lamplugh (1921-    ); The Dancing Bear (1972), for children; Chance, Luck and Destiny (coll 1975), which contains some fiction; Annerton Pit (1977), YA sf; Walking Dead (1977), which almost rationalizes Zombies; Hepzibah (1978 chap); The Flight of Dragons (1979), nonfiction; Tulku (1979), featuring magic in Tibet; City of Gold (1980); The Seventh Raven (1981); Hundreds and Hundreds (anth 1984), edited for charity; Eva (1988), sf; A Bone from a Dry Sea (1992), associational; Shadow of a Hero (1994), associational.

Peter Malcolm de Brissac Dickinson


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.