Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The abode of the Old Testament God, which also became – in the Jewish Religious Literature of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, and then in the Christian mythos – the place to which the souls of the virtuous were elevated after the Last Judgement. Various apocryphal documents, including Enoch, offer alternative accounts of a War in Heaven in which God expelled a host of rebel Angels, whose leader became the Christian Satan. Analogues of Heaven in other religious traditions include the Chinese T'ien and the Nordic Valhalla.

Having less melodramatic potential, Heaven is more rarely featured in literary fantasy than Hell; many imitations of Dante's Divine Comedy become distinctly awkward when they progress to the Paradiso phase, and the most reassuring fantasies of Spiritualism tend to be irritatingly vague. Many allegorical journeys heavenward, including those in Harry Blamires's Blessing Unbounded (1955) and Theodore Zeldin's Happiness (1988), pay far more attention to the stops en route than to the ultimate destination.

Fantasy's heavens often turn out dismal, as in Robert Nathan's There Is Another Heaven (1929), or perversely inconvenient, as in Mark Twain's Extracts from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven (1909), A E Coppard's "Clorinda Walks in Heaven" (1922), Alan Griffiths's Strange News from Heaven (1934) and Lester Del Rey's "Hereafter, Inc." (1939). Works of this stripe reproduce the "sour grapes" philosophy of many tales of mundane Immortality. The protagonist of Nelson Bond's "Union in Gehenna" (1942) is kicked out of Hell for making trouble, but finds Heaven far less congenial. Paradisal variants of the rich tradition of infernal comedies sometimes use the Elysian Fields in much the same way that writers like John Kendrick Bangs and Frederick Arnold Kummer use Hades; Eric Linklater's plays The Cornerstones (1942) and Crisis in Heaven (1944) are notable examples.

The heavens of Christian Fantasy are frequently modelled on the same kind of rural paradise as Eden; they are rather effete by comparison with the lushly sensual paradise of Islam. The embarrassingly condescending image of a US Negro Heaven in The Green Pastures (1929) by Marc Connelly (1890-1980) is also markedly less refined, and an uptight Anglican Heaven is sharply contrasted with other cultures' ideas of the good life in Andrew Lang's "In the Wrong Paradise" (1886). A determinedly earnest attempt to sophisticate the quasi-Edenic Christian image can be found in The Great Divorce (1945) by C S Lewis. The main rival to the quasi-Edenic image of Heaven is rather more in the vein of Eastern mysticism, involving a transcendental realm of light in which disembodied spirits dwell in unimaginable ecstasy. By their nature, such realms can be only briefly and distantly glimpsed in literary fantasy, as in Time Must Have a Stop (1944) by Aldous Huxley.

An unusually elaborate heavenly realm is mapped out in Steven Brust's To Reign in Hell (1984), but this is essentially a conventional Earth-clone of the kind favoured in Genre Fantasy. A Heaven exactly like Earth, except that everything works out for the best, is satirically displayed in Sweet Dreams (1973) by Michael Frayn. Sceptics sometimes argue that any imaginable Heaven would be so boring as to qualify as Hell – a case put with particular clarity in "The Choice: An Allegory of Blood and Tears" (1929) by S Fowler Wright (1874-1965). [BS]

see also: Afterlife; Posthumous Fantasy.

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.