Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

An edifice is more than a house and less than a City, though it may resemble a house from the outside and a city from within. From without, an edifice may seem self-contained and finite; from within, it may well extend beyond lines of vision, both spatially and temporally. In almost every possible way, edifices manifest a principle central to the description of most physical structures in fantasy: there is always more to them than meets the eye (> Little Big).

Because of the centripetal force they exert on the mind's eye, edifices tend to dominate their Landscape. In a physical sense, this is obvious; but it is also the case that those who rule edifices (whether they be Dark Lords, Knights of the Doleful Countenance, mages or monarchs – or simply fathers) tend also to be ruled by them, in the sense that they become tied to – and identified with – their abodes; that those who work and live in edifices tend to be described in the language of Estates Satire; that protagonists raised within edifices must escape (> Rite of Passage); and that protagonists who come to edifices do so in the furtherance of Quests. Edifices, therefore, occupy the very heart of the geographies of fantasy.

Any fantasy edifice conforms to at least some of the following range of descriptions: it is named or significantly "nameless"; it was built by a person mentioned in the text, or has always existed; it is larger inside than out; it contains or is a Labyrinth, one which quite possibly reveals (though not perhaps immediately) the bilateral symmetry of the Worm Ouroboros; its various façades each provide a different "reading" of the nature of the structure as a whole; it is the omphalos or navel of the City or the world, and is a capitol or cathedral or both; it is a Microcosm of the world; it is a Polder or a Portal (or even a set of portals); it is coextensive with the Underworld and/or the Heavens above (> As Above, So Below; Mirror); it is the World-Tree; it is coextensive with the mind of its builder or ruler (>>> Malign Sleeper); it is alive; it occupies simultaneously the past, the present, and the future; it is a Library and a Map; it tends to undergo Metamorphosis at the turning-point (or Recognition) of the Story, a metamorphosis which may have been hinted at throughout (>>> Trompe-L'oeil); it is a three-dimensional representation of Story; it represents, in the end, a consort of manifest or discoverable (rather than repressed) Realities, this final attribute distinguishing the fantasy edifice from its Horror sibling.

Edifices are found frequently throughout world literature, probably, in the West, beginning with the Tower of Babel (treated, most memorably, by Jorgé Luis Borges as a Library) or the Labyrinth at Knossos (> Daedalus; Minotaur). Camelot is possibly too vacuous to be deemed an edifice, but the sorcerer's illusory castle in Ariosto's Orlando Furioso (1516) is a labyrinth whose coils entrap the minds of its victims. The astonishing phantasmagoria on the five orders of architecture composed by Wendel Dietterlin (1550-1599) for his Architectura (graph 1593-1594; exp 1598) is a comprehensive analysis of the façade as an interface out of dream; it is also an uncanny prefiguration of the work of Giovanni Piranesi.

The first edifice to be described in a narrative context directly relevant to fantasy (and Horror) is almost certainly that in Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1765), described as being essentially animate and containing honeycombs of labyrinths beneath the ground that mirror the heaven-mimicking corridors of the higher regions. Lovel Castle, in Clara Reeve's The Champion of Virtue (1777; vt The Old English Baron 1778), introduces the forbidden inner chamber to the Gothic mix. The eponymous opposing keeps in Ann Radcliffe's The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne: A Highland Story (1789) seem part of an animate circumambient landscape. Edifices are of course extremely common in Gothic Fantasy – and perhaps the key to that subgenre. Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839) underlines the relevance of the edifice to horror and Dark Fantasy, making adroit claustrophobic use of the isomorphic relationship between Soul and surrounding bodily shell. A recent horror example (one of many) is the underground labyrinth-without-exit featured in Daemonic (1995) by Stephen Laws (1952-    ).

As the 19th century advanced, fantasy examples began to proliferate: the Snow Queen's Castle in Hans Christian Andersen's Snedrondingen (1844); the castle in George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin (1871), which features a Fairy Godmother in the tower and Goblins in the roots of the mountains below; the valley of The Masters in H P Blavatsky's The Secret Doctrine (1888), underneath which vast caverns house a library containing the secret history known only to Theosophy; the Nome King's palace in L Frank Baum's Ozma of Oz (1907); the eponymous structure in Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth (1908; 1910 chap) by Lord Dunsany; and the seeming tenement in Gustav Meyrink's The Green Face (1916), whose frontage resembles a skull and which contains a magic Shop, the Wandering Jew and mysterious passageways which debouch upon a theatre whose performances constitute a Revel.

20th-century examples are numerous. Among them are Badger's underground home in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows (1908), which is built over the ruins of an ancient city; Locus Solus, the surreal villa in Raymond Roussel's Locus Solus (1914), which surrounds an enormous garden; the impregnable fortress of Hefeydd Hen, which it takes Pwyll Pen Annwn 50 subjective years to penetrate in Kenneth Morris's The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed (1914); Storisende in James Branch Cabell's Biography of Manuel; the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma in Franz Kafka's Amerika (1927) and the eponymous castle in his Das Schloss (1926); the palace of Namirrha, larger inside than out, in Clark Ashton Smith's "The Dark Eidolon" (1935); the huge, ancient, many-chambered mansion in Clemence Dane's "Frau Holde" (1935), which heals its lodgers; Memison, the summer palace in E R Eddison's A Fish Dinner in Memison (1941); the department store in John Collier's "Evening Primrose" (1941); Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast; the Schloss of Count Johann von Hackelnberg, Reich Master Forester in Sarban's The Sound of his Horn (1952), which features large trees "actually knitted into the fabric of the building"; Aslan's How in the Narnia books by C S Lewis; The Last Homely House East of the Sea at Rivendell in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), along with many other fortresses and refuges to be found throughout the trilogy's immense back-story, the most formidable of which is perhaps Utumno, built 25,000 years earlier by Sauron the Dark Lord's predecessor and master; the Hall of Justice in Orson Welles's movie of Kafka's The Trial (1962); the Spiral Castle in Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three (1964); King Haggard's Castle in Peter S Beagle's The Last Unicorn (1968); the School of Roke in Ursula K Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea (1968); Penelope Farmer's eponymous The Castle of Bone (1972); the palace in Michael Moorcock's Gloriana (1978); at least three examples in Michael Ende's The Neverending Story (1979) – the Ivory Tower "as big as a whole city" at the heart of Fantastica, the Temple of a Thousand Doors, each door being a Portal, in the primordial desert that precedes Fantastica, and the huge structure that suddenly exfoliates around the Worm Ouroboros which enfolds the Water of Life; the apartment blocks in Dario Argento's movie Inferno (1980); the House Absolute in Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983); the eponymous maze-like bureaucratic palace, featuring a huge inner palace within the outer structure, in The Palace of Dreams (1981) by Ismail Kadare; Edgewood in John Crowley's Little, Big (1981); the Quirkian Hold in Nancy Kress's The Prince of Morning Bells (1981), which extends within a cliff-face downwards to a great library; the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness in Time Bandits (1981), in which the Supreme Being has incarcerated the Universe's Evil Genius and his cohorts; the London Pantheon in John M Ford's The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History (1983); the "new palace" of the Puppet emperor in Alasdair Gray's Five Letters from an Eastern Empire (1995 chap); the World-Tree first joked about and then encountered, full of Americans in the top branches, in Steve Erickson's Rubicon Beach (1986); Tamson House in Moonheart (1984) and Spiritwalk (omni 1992) by Charles de Lint; the hugely intricate palace where most of Stephen Donaldson's Mordant's Need sequence (1986-1988) is set; the eponymous Castle Perilous with 144,000 portals in John DeChancie's series starting with Castle Perilous (1988); the palace in Mark Helprin's Swan Lake (1989), with its 17,500 rooms, in the largest of which "the Duke of Tookiaheim used to fly his glider"; the vast, many-roomed Undermoment that underpins and interweaves the worlds in Tom de Haven's Chronicles of the King's Tramp (1990-1992); the intensely animate Castle Banat in Lucius Shepard's The Golden (1993); the Winchester Mystery House (a real-world edifice examined in fantasy terms) in Michaela Roessner's Vanishing Point (1993); the building in Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle (1986) and Castle in the Air (1990); the Gallery of Bone (where Old Father Time lives) in Simon R Green's Shadows Fall (1994); the Shrine of the Archangels and St John the Divine in Elizabeth Hand's Waking the Moon (1994); the St Petersburg Arms in William Browning Spencer's Zod Wallop (1995), being a hotel which is transformed into Grimfast, a Dark-Fantasy locus of threat, horror and Metamorphosis; the mountain-top castle of Torra Alta, in the labyrinth beneath which a Dragons' hoard contains weapons of magic power, in The Runes of War (1995) by Jane Welch (1964-    ); and the eponym of Jack Dann's The Memory Cathedral: A Secret History of Leonardo da Vinci (1995), a structure containing "hundreds of thousands" of images of Leonardo's life under its domes and in its labyrinths, and, at the knotted heart of it all, "as if it were a trompe l'oeil", himself. There are many more. [JC]

further reading: Murilo Rubião's "The Edifice" (trans The Ex-Magician and Other Stories coll 1979) is a fictional discourse on the subject.

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.