Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Eliade, Mircea

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(1907-1986) Romanian writer, also a philosopher of comparative religion. He spent most of his life in exile elsewhere in Europe and, latterly, in the USA, where he was chairman of the Department of History of Religions at the University of Chicago.

Beginning his career in the early 1920s, he was an intensely prolific author of fiction and nonfiction alike, publishing over 1300 pieces over 60 years. Due to the wide range of his scholarship and to his peripatetic life, his bibliography is intricate. His doctoral dissertation, for instance, was written in English in 1931 for Calcutta University, translated into French as Yoga: Essai sur les origines de la mystique indienne (1936 France), and eventually recast as Le Yoga: Immortalité et Liberté (1954 France; trans Willard R Trask as Yoga: Immortality and Freedom 1958 US; rev 1969 US); and in that final form stands, along with Le Chamanisme et les techniques archaïques de l'extase (1951 France; exp version trans Trask as Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy 1964 US), as a standard and definitive examination of materials of deep interest to many readers of fantasy (see Shamanism). Other works of interest include Le Mythe de l'éternal retour: archétypes et répétition (1949 France; trans Trask as Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return 1954 US), Das Heilige und das Profane (1957 Germany; trans Trask as The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion 1959 US) and Mythes, Rêves et Mystères (1957 France; trans Philip Mairet as Myths, Dreams and Mysteries 1960 US). Running through ME's work is the elaborately articulated conviction that the cyclic patterns of archaic Religions sacralized the world in a fashion no longer available, and that through the understanding of the relationship between the twin poles of the sacred and the profane it is possible to begin to understand the intimacy between archaic humans and their sense of ultimate Being.

ME wrote fiction only in Romanian. His first works of fantasy interest were Lumina ce se stinge ["The Light that Fails"] (1931; exp 1934), involving Magic and an encounter with a demonic figure, and Domnisoara Christina ["Miss Christina"] (1936), about a Vampire which possesses the eponymous woman, whose unsuccessful subsequent attempt to seduce the protagonist is soon understood by him to represent an opening into the unknown that he has failed to accept. Some of ME's later work is available in English: Secretul Doctorului Honigsberger (coll 1940; trans William Ames Coates as Two Tales of the Occult 1970 US: vt Two Strange Tales 1986 US) contains "Doctor Honigsberger's Secret" and "Nopti la Serampore" (1939), trans as "Nights at Serampore"; Fantastic Tales (coll trans E Tappe 1969 UK) contains "Un om mare" (1948), trans as "A Great Man", and "Douasprezece mii de capete de vite" (1952), trans as "Twelve Thousand Head of Cattle", both originally assembled with other material in Nuvele ["Stories"] (coll 1963 Spain); Forêt Interdite (1955 France; ot Noaptea de Sânziene 1971 France; trans Mac Linscott Ricketts and Mary Park Stevenson as The Forbidden Forest 1978 US); Tales of the Sacred and the Supernatural (coll trans Ricketts and William Ames Coates 1981 US) contains "La Tiganci" (1962), trans as "With the Gypsy Girls", and "Les Trois Grâces" (1976); Pe strada Mântuleasa (1968 France; trans Mary Park Stevenson as The Old Man and the Bureaucrats 1979 US); Youth Without Youth and Other Novellas (coll trans Ricketts 1988 US) contains Die Pelerine (1976 chap Germany), trans as "The Cape", "Tinerete far de tinerete" (1978), trans as "Youth Without Youth", and Nouasprezece trandafiri (1980 France), trans as "Nineteen Roses".

Much of this work might be described as Supernatural Fiction; but ME utilized a conventional repertory of motifs and figures – demons, Serpents, Ghosts, searches for Immortality, Timeslips – to dramatize tightly argued metaphysical concerns. Much of his fiction hovers at the edge of the Fantastic and revolves around a sense that to penetrate into the fantastic and to unwrap the cloak of Being are similar activities. In this context, Time is simply another cloak of Illusion, another "camouflage", and tales like "Nights at Serampore" and "Doctor Honigsberger's Secret" utilize timeslip devices to engross their protagonists in transcendent realities. "With the Gypsy Girls" – the protagonist of which spends a night with three dancers and awakens 12 years later – makes play with the Time-in-Faerie motif. "The Cape" ironically opposes a totalitarian regime and a temporally unfixable message, which when deciphered calls upon the dreamers of the world – i.e., those who understand that the world is a veil – to unite. The Forbidden Forest, ME's most significant novel, parallels an individual search for Immortality and a Creation Myth for a Romania of dreams.

Some of the translations of ME's work are unreliable, and much remains unavailable to the English-language reader; his considerable importance to the 20th-century literature of the fantastic is not yet fully appreciated. [JC]

Mircea Eliade


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.