Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Frye, Northrop

(1912-1991) Canadian literary critic. NF's greatest achievement, and a book deeply relevant to fantasy, is his Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (1957), where he attempts to establish a structure to incorporate and analyse all works of literature. In the third essay, "Theory of Myths", he posits as a general background an upper, benign world of "Innocence" and a lower, inimical world of "Experience", and sees four basic narrative patterns, or mythoi, operating against this background: Romance, which moves circularly within the realm of Innocence; irony/Satire, which moves circularly within the realm of Experience; comedy (see Fantasy; Humour), which proceeds linearly from Experience to Innocence; and tragedy, which proceeds linearly from Innocence to Experience. These four mythoi can be further united into one grand, circular narrative analogous to the four Seasons: comedy = spring, romance = summer, tragedy = autumn and irony/satire = winter. In the first essay, "Theory of History", NF posits a different sort of cycle moving against this backdrop as a culture proceeds through its literary history, characteristically beginning with Myth (stories focused on Gods) and moving downward via Romance (demigods and Heroes) and High Mimetic (noble people) to the Low Mimetic (common people) and finally to Irony (commonplace or ignoble people); then beginning again with a new age of myth. [GW]

other works: T.S. Eliot (1963); The Well-Tempered Critic (1963); Fables of Identity: Studies of Poetic Mythology (1963); The Educated Imagination (1964); A Natural Perspective (1965) and Fools of Time (1967), both on William Shakespeare; The Return of Eden (1965), on John Milton; The Modern Century (1967); The Critical Path (1971); The Bush Garden (1971); The Secular Scripture (1976).

Herman Northrop Frye


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.