Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Hazel, Paul

 Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com

(1944-    ) US writer and teacher whose Finnbranch sequence – Yearwood (1980), Undersea (1982) and Winterking (1985), all three assembled as The Finnbranch (omni 1986 UK) – presents again and again, in cyclical form, versions of the birth, heroic adulthood and death of a hero named Finn. Though much of the imagery accompanying and intensifying the reiterations of Finn's life-course derives from Celtic Fantasy, and inevitably relates to the Finn Mac Cool cycle, the sequence is in no clear sense obedient to any single underlying Northern Story, Celtic or Arthurian (see Arthur) or Teutonic (see Nordic Fantasy), though elements from these and other cycles appear throughout. Over the course of the first two volumes, which are both set in Otherworld-tinged Celtic Landscapes, Finn undergoes several of the Metamorphoses typical of Celtic fantasy at its most unrelenting. In the third volume, told in the guise of an Alternate-World tale set in a displaced 20th-century USA, Finn surfaces into a more socialized world but remains tied to the wheel of the central story that arguably generates heroic cycles: the Threshold-crossing wheel of life that turns birth into triumph into death and (in some traditions) into birth again. The language throughout is strikingly intense, allusive, dislocatingly dreamlike, vivid.

The Wealdwife's Tale (1993) is once again understandable as a meditation on the wheel of life, here in the guise of a fantasia very loosely based on the Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas". Waldo Wenceslas is not a king but a duke, a scholarly, vague, haunted Knight of the Doleful Countenance; and his tiny fiefdom is impinged upon both by a mundane landscape which closely resembles Colonial New England and by a deathly Mirror fiefdom which seems reachable only by members of the Wenceslas family, each of whom acts in strict accordance with a pattern or story laid down generations earlier. Obsessed by the death of his wife Elva decades earlier, Wenceslas goes literally Into the Woods (the novel is a classic example of this Topos) in search of her, but does not recognize the old woman he meets as Elva. She brings him to a young girl, Alve, and accompanies them back to the fiefdom, where they prepare to marry. Wenceslas's three sons then go into the woods, there dying and being reborn as a "brollachan" – a tripartite hedge, a cruel embodiment of the greenwood in the guise of a grotesque Parody of the Green Man. His daughter, too, vanishes into the woods, and is rescued by young Odlaw (Waldo reversed) from the other side, who weds her. Tragedies ensue.

Both Finnbranch and The Wealdwife's Tale operate at a level of originality rarely found in fantasy. [JC]

Paul Hazel


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.