Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Greek name for the God known in Roman Mythology as Mercury. He is the messenger of the gods, patron of those who go on journeys and of those who simply wander, and patron also of thieves. He is a marker of Thresholds, a Liminal Being, the original psychopomp in charge of guiding dead souls through Hades, a Trickster – "the thief-god, the god of roadways and night journeys [see Night Journey], the god of here-and-gone, the easer through the shadows, the finder in the dark", according to Russell Hoban's The Medusa Frequency (1987). As a figure who signals by craft and Dream the possibility of fundamental change – and one who (by inspired confusion with his son Hermaphroditus) bears a heavy charge of sexual ambivalence – Hermes often appears in texts where the longed-for change must be accomplished against the way of the world. In stories written around the Fin de Siècle, therefore, he can be seen guiding trapped homosexual men into the epiphany of an Otherworld, possibly indistinguishable from death – as in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice (1913). Several stories by E M Forster reflect Hermes's complex, blasphemous appeal.

In his guise as Harlequin (see Commedia dell'Arte) he is a mocker, a scamp, and a dissolver of worlds. [JC]

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.