Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Farmer, Penelope

(1939-    ) UK writer who began publishing fantasy, initially for a YA audience, with the Charlotte and Emma sequence: The Summer Birds (1962), Emma in Winter (1966) and Charlotte Sometimes (1969). In the first volume, the sisters Charlotte and Emma Makepeace meet a boy who teaches them the art of flying (see Talents), but who cannot persuade them to enter his Otherworld country at summer's end in order to save his folk; this task is left to another girl. In the second tale Emma lives a life in a Dream world, but returns. In the third Charlotte Timeslips repeatedly into the life of a girl in 1918, but finds, in the end, her way home again.

The realism of these stories, which is bracing but melancholy, pales in comparison to the matured hardness of vision expressed in A Castle of Bone (1972), in which what initially seems a fantasy adventure – a young boy finds a cupboard in a magic Shop which not only works as a Portal but subjects those who pass through it to Metamorphosis – proves a grave and transformative tale of maturation. The castle of bone is both an Edifice in the Otherworld and the protagonist's own body (see Recognition); and the cast must, in a cruel Rite of Passage within that castle, somehow transcend the eternal demand of the Goddess for a sacrificial consort. Some of the thematic material in this book, which remains PF's most complex and sustained single fantasy, reappears in Year King (1977).

Some of PF's later work, like Eve: Her Story (1985), which retells the Adam and Eve story from a feminist perspective, more explicitly enters adult territory, though with no gain in complexity over her remarkable YA tales. Other stories of interest include Glasshouses (1988) and Thicker than Water (1989), in which a Ghost from the Industrial Revolution seeks a resolution of old wrongs. [JC]

other works: The Magic Stone (1964 US); a set of retellings of well known Myths, being Daedalus and Icarus (1971), The Serpent's Teeth: The Story of Cadmus (1971), The Story of Persephone (1972) and Heracles (1975); William and Mary (1974); Stone Croc (1991).

Penelope Jane Farmer


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.