Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Holocaust and After

In Science Fiction, Supernatural Fiction, Horror and Fantasy alike, the future holocaust is a world-changing disaster in whose survivors must begin civilization again from scratch. Sf tales normally offer arguments from history about the holocaust's cause. The other genres may show the end of the world in nonsecular terms which might reflect a belief in damnation, but which do not, for most readers today, constitute arguments from history; for example, the holocaust, as remembered in David Gemmell's Jerusalem Man sequence, is tied not to history as we know it but to an argument that unholy Vengeance has somehow been cast forward from the time of Atlantis.

Fantasy stories – which do not claim to offer arguments from history about the events they depict – are not often set in any particular year, and very rarely in a specific near future, so post-holocaust fantasies are rarely concerned with the event itself (details of which have likely been lost to the protagonists' known history). Fantasy tales set in something approximating the near future include: Robert Adams's Horseclans sequence, depicting a romanticized post-holocaust Landscape; Alan Brenner's Dance of the Gods tales; John Christopher's The Prince in Waiting sequence; Storm Constantine's Wraeththu books; and Fred Saberhagen's Empire of the East Sword-and-Sorcery sequence, in which atomic fireballs have been turned into Demons. Fantasy set in Dying-Earth venues (>>> Science Fantasy) may or may not incorporate references to the holocaust in terms reminiscent of the Myth of Origin; M John Harrison's Viriconium books, for instance, contain coded references of this sort. The series started with Black Trillium (1990) by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May and Andre Norton is set in a post-holocaust Secondary World, which is possibly another planet, colonized from Earth – which might make this long tale a Rationalized Fantasy in two senses, in that in this world Magic works.

In full Fantasy, from J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) onwards, the opposition between Good and Evil is often made literal by contrasting the primal healthy Land with the Waste Land created subsequently by a sterile Dark Lord envious of the plenitude of the Good. That waste land may be described in terms analogous to those used to describe post-holocaust landscapes, and some critics have, indeed, understood Tolkien's novel to present an Allegory of the devastations of World War I. Such suggestions are only moderately enticing. [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.