Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Love is frequently represented as if a quasi-supernatural force, so irresistible that in the morally ordered world of fiction it readily becomes a progenitor of Miracles. Gods often featured in modern fantasy to represent the awkward waywardness of erotic feelings include Aphrodite and Cupid, while love Potions are a chief stock-in-trade of Witches. The most luridly heartfelt of all fantasy novels are sentimental stories in which love defies death and transcends time (see Timeslips; Reincarnation); examples include Pharaoh's Daughter (1889) by Edgar Lee and Love Eternal (1918) by H Rider Haggard, not to mention the latter's She (1886).

Notable accounts of fantasticated love include Spirite (1865) by Théophile Gautier, Peter Ibbotson (1891) by George du Maurier (1834-1896), Nephelé (1896) by F W Bourdillon, Aphrodite (1895) by Pierre Louÿs, Going Home (1921) by Barry Pain, The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924) by Lord Dunsany, Portrait of Jennie (1940) (see also Portrait of Jennie [1948]), So Love Returns (1958) by Robert Nathan, Bid Time Return (1975) by Richard Matheson, The Dream Years (1985) by Lisa Goldstein and Replay (1987) by Ken Grimwood. A few of these have been adapted for the cinema, which has also treated the theme in such movies as The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947), All of Me (1984), Always (1989), Ghost (1990), Truly Madly Deeply (1991), Groundhog Day (1993) and the various versions of Svengali – countless others could be cited.

In High Fantasy the importance of love is generally as a plot driver. This has been the case ever since the earliest Folktales and Fairytales – i.e., since before the genre of Fantasy itself emerged. The love between Lancelot and Guinevere, and of Arthur for his Queen, is crucial to the version we now accept of the Arthurian cycle; the situation is parallelled in the legend of Tristan and Iseult. Of the tales recorded by the Grimm Brothers, "Rumpelstiltskin" is one of many whose plot is underpinned by the power of love, and Rapunzel let down her long gold hair for reasons of love. Love of a totally non-erotic form is what drives Gerda on her Quest to rescue Kai in Hans Andersen's "The Snow Queen", and a similar chaste dynamic moves the tale of Irene and Curdie in George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin (1872). It is impossible to estimate how many Genre Fantasies centre on a Quest by the Hero to regain his true love, either to rescue her from some Dark Lord (and thereby, as an aside, save the world) or to demonstrate his prowess and thus stop her marrying another. Love of a non-sexual kind can bind together Duos, or sexual love can eventually burgeon between them – indeed, in modern fantasy, wherever love is a primary motif in a tale, Sex is generally not far behind (though it may, as it were, not catch up until the page after the end of the novel), but usually it is love rather than lust that drives the tale. [BS/JG]

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.