Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Irwin, Robert

(1946-    ) UK academic and writer whose work in Arabian studies, of importance in itself, underpins the world envisioned in his first and most famous novel, The Arabian Nightmare (1983; rev 1987 US). Scholarly texts include The Middle East in the Middle Ages: The Early Mamluk Sultanate, 1250-1382 (1986), The Arabic Beast Fable (1992 chap) and The Arabian Nights: A Companion (1994).

The Arabian Nightmare is a definitive rendering of its central conceit. Its protagonist Balian falls into a nightmare which causes infinite suffering and cannot be recollected upon awakening; he dreams he awakens but only falls further; the Story of each further descent is itself embedded deeper within the overall structure; but none of the stories end, nor does the nightmare, unless the identity of the final teller of the tale of the protagonist – for he is the Ape of God – means that Balian is now in Hell. (>>> Arabian Nightmare.)

In his later fiction RI's powerful shaping gift is embodied in work which thrusts at the boundaries of the Fantastic but does not cross over, except for "Waiting for the Zaddik" in Tales of the Wandering Jew (anth 1991) ed Brian Stableford. RI's later novels include The Limits of Vision (1986), whose protagonist is aided by imagined helpers in her fight against the Demon of dirt, Mucor, whom she has also "imagined" – a dangerous term to use without quotes in any story by RI, whose plays with narrative structure constantly challenge any clear distinction between the imagined and the real (>>> Reality). Neither The Mysteries of Algiers (1988) nor Exquisite Corpse (1995) is fantasy, though the second in particular continues to harass the gates of Perception. [JC]

Robert Graham Irwin

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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.