Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Gaarder, Jostein

(1952-    ) Norwegian philosopher and writer, only two of whose books have to date appeared in English. Kabalmysteriet (1990; trans Sarah Jane Hails as The Solitaire Mystery 1996 UK) traces the late 20th-century Quest of a young boy and his father for the mother and wife who had abandoned them; en route, a mysterious Dwarf gives the boy a magnifying glass by which he is able to read the tiny print in a Book given him by a baker, who turns out to be his long-lost grandfather. This book tells the tale of a sailor shipwrecked in 1842 on an Island inhabited by animate playing cards, subject of a Godgame created by a previous castaway; but it also tells the story of the boy's quest in terms dictated by patterns foretold 150 years earlier by the animate cards, leading to the philosophical inference that human beings are themselves actors in some inescapable, greater Story or godgame. The dwarf turns out to be the immortal Joker (see Trickster) from the original deck.

Sofies verden (1991; trans Paulette Møller as Sophie's World 1994 US), which is more complexly sustained, starts with 14-year-old Sophie receiving periodic letters on the cyclical (see Cycles) history of philosophy from an anonymous philosopher; while much of the text continues as an episodic popularization of this subject, the Frame Story deploys fantasy tropes extensively and, for the most part, knowledgeably. Sophie and the philosopher, Alberto Knox, prove to be characters in a book written as a birthday present by a man for his daughter Hilde, who is the same age as Sophie; Sophie's World is thus not only a book but a book within a book. Sophie and Knox, discovering the state of their own Reality, plot to find a way of continuing their lives beyond the end of the story of which (as in the earlier book) they are the focus and by which they are driven – and at last do so, although in an Alternate Reality, mapped onto our own, inhabited by fictional, legendary, mythological and Fairytale characters; Hilde conspires to help them attain this state. Discovery of the core of philosophy is symbolized by a journey Into the Woods by Sophie and Knox to reach a house that exists in their world but is also the home of Hilde and her parents. Mundane reality is depicted as a sort of Faerie, and the different timescale – because Hilde reads the book far quicker than Sophie and Knox live it – as an equivalent of Time in Faerie; in this context, the relationship between the two realities eventually reverses. A Mirror is a quasi-Portal between the two realities; Dreams allow a degree of interaction between them; Hilde's father is playing a godgame with Sophie's reality, while Knox is a Magus within it. Countless other fantasy themes are invoked.

The didactic bulk of the book is lightly – probably too lightly – rendered, and there are some curious omissions from the history, particularly bearing in mind the nature of the fantasy: Kurt Gödel (1906-1978) and Werner Karl Heisenberg (1901-1976) are among the notable absentees. The name Sophie derives from Sophia, the name given by early Judeo-Christians to the feminine aspect of God (see also Goddess) and also the Greek word for "wisdom". [JG/JC]

Jostein Gaarder


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.