Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Gnostic Fantasy

The Gnostic sects (> Religion) which flourished in the 2nd century AD laid claim to esoteric spiritual knowledge (Greek gnosis) resulting from special revelation. Thus Rosicrucianism and Theosophy are in a sense gnostic, and GF may in fact loosely describe any Fantasy of History whose emphasis is on genuinely spiritual rather than political Secret Masters. Another frequent tenet of Gnosticism, that the physical world is an imperfect and even Evil creation (thus leading to Manicheism), is complemented by the central notion of an ideal Reality – the Pleroma or celestial totality – of which our world is only a Shadow. Roger Zelazny's Amber sequence revolves around this trope – for Earth is only one of many shadows of Amber – and E R Eddison's Zimiamvia books share it. Even C S Lewis introduces this GF element when the Narnia of The Last Battle (1956) proves to be a mere shadow of its "more real" original in Heaven; there is also something of GF in the special revelations, mediated by Angels, vouchsafed to Lewis's Ransom in his Christian Fantasy That Hideous Strength (1945) – reminding us that, to modern eyes, Gnosticism seems very close to the early Christianity which denounced it as heresy. John Crowley piercingly evokes the GF yearning for that true and ultimate Reality in Aegypt (1987); Franz Kafka and Jorge Luis Borges can be interpreted as gloomy modern Gnostics for whom this fallen world is an endless Labyrinth of texts and sophistries, without any exit to transcendence. [DRL]

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.