Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Frazer, [Sir] James

(1854-1941) UK anthropologist, a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge 1879-1941, far more influential in the literary world than in the field of anthropology, where his conclusions – all based on vast sifts through secondary scholarship (he never made a field trip) – have received a decreasing amount of attention. Though he was a prolific writer, much of what he published is ancillary to his central work, the various editions of The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion (1890 in 2 vols; exp 1900 in 3 vols; much exp 1911-1915 in 12 vols; cut vt The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion: Abridged Edition 1922), which was followed by Aftermath: a Supplement (1936). The third edition appeared as a series of separately issued sections in eight parts: #1 The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings (1911 2 vols); #2 Taboo and the Perils of the Soul (1911); #3 The Dying God (1911); #4 Adonis Attis Osiris: Studies in the History of Oriental Religion (1906 2 vols; exp 1914); #5 Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild (1912 2 vols); #6 The Scapegoat (1913); #7 Balder the Beautiful: The Fire-Festivals of Europe and the Doctrine of the External Soul (1913 2 vols); #8 Bibliography and General Index (1915). Given the powerful literary resonance of such titles, it is not surprising that The Golden Bough has proved enormously rewarding for 20th-century writers in search of mythic provenances for their work. Grant Allen's The Great Taboo (1890) may be the first fiction to acknowledge the influence of The Golden Bough. Modernist writers like T S Eliot (1888-1965), D H Lawrence and Ezra Pound (1885-1972) all used JF's sonorously articulated speculations in their own search for order; for example, the Fisher King and Waste-Land motifs that shape Eliot's The Waste Land (1921 US) were inspired in part by JF.

The Golden Bough itself is the branch which a newly elected priest of Diana must pluck from a Tree in the grove sacred to her; afterwards, in his guise of King of the Wood, he must slay his predecessor. What is going on, according to JF, is the sacrificial killing of the Year King by his successor in a rite that invokes the Seasons through a concept of Fertility and renewal tied to vegetation Rituals. The king must die so that – in fantasy terms – the Land can begin to experience Healing.

JF's literary pieces – including a solitary fiction, "The Quest of the Gorgon's Head: A Fantasia" (1920) – were assembled in Sir Roger de Coverley and Other Literary Pieces (coll 1920). [JC]

other works (selected): Psyche's Task (1909; rev vt The Devil's Advocate 1928); Totemism and Exogamy (1910 4 vols); The Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead (1913-1924 3 vols); Folk-Lore in the Old Testament (1918 3 vols); The Worship of Nature (1926); The Gorgon's Head (1927); The Fear of the Dead in Primitive Religion (1933-1936 3 vols).

see also: Jessie L Weston.

[Sir] James George Frazer


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.