Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Dinesen, Isak

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Pseudonym of Danish writer Karen Blixen (1885-1962). Her transfiguration of supernatural or mundane material alike into tales profoundly infused with a sense of the shaping importance of Story marks her as a deeply significant 20th-century figure, a writer whose works have been widely understood as a sustained attempt to redeem a Storied world from the secularizing dehydrations of history. Her work is intricately artificial, with Frame Stories and embedded multi-voice narrations presenting material in a fashion so ornate and dancelike that her works seem to manifest themselves most vividly as dreamish Commedia dell'Arte. Though her early work – much of it translated with other material as Carnival: Entertainments and Posthumous Tales (coll 1977 US) – was first written and published in Danish (beginning 1907), all her mature stories were first published in English, and always in her own words. Collections include Seven Gothic Tales (coll 1934 UK/US), Winter's Tales (coll 1942 US; cut vt The Dreaming Child and Other Stories 1995 chap UK), Last Tales (coll 1957 UK/US), Anecdotes of Destiny (coll 1958 US) and Ehrengard (1963 chap UK/US). Her one novel, Gengaeldelsens Veje (1944; trans Clara Selborn as The Angelic Avengers 1946 UK) as by Pierre Andrézel, was not initially known to be by Blixen; it is a nonfantastic melodrama.

Tales of interest from Seven Gothic Tales include "The Monkey", in which a mother superior, changed into a Monkey, gives corrupt advice to a young man, and the long novella "The Dreamers", in which a Revenant singer fascinates several men who are unaware that it is her passionate art that allows her to appear among them. In "The Sailor-Boy's Tale", from Winter's Tales, a young lad saves a Bird from strangling, an act which later saves his life, as the bird was a Shapeshifter and owes him. In "The Dreaming Child", from the same volume, a young child so powerfully imagines an enriched life for himself that the adults who surround him live his fantasy. In "Echoes", from Last Tales, a revenant Opera singer finds that her voice has come to life again in a choirboy; but puberty intervenes. "The Diver", from Anecdotes of Destiny, allegorizes a discussion about love in an Arabian-Fantasy frame; "Tempests", from the same volume, fabulates ornately upon the play by William Shakespeare. Ehrengard, set in a 19th-century Ruritania, superficially avoids any fantasy element, while at the same time, at the level of Story, constantly invoking a sense that an archaic Twice-Told tale is "telling" its protagonists who they truly are, and how they must behave. [JC]

Karen Blixen


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.