Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
MacLeod, Fiona

Pseudonym of William Sharp (1855-1905) for his mystical and religious Celtic Fantasies. He was intensely secretive about this alter ego, retaining the separate identity until his death. The works as FM are so different from Sharp's own relatively unmemorable books as to suggest a split personality. Most of the FM stories, novels and poems were concentrated into four years (1893-1896), produced almost with the fervour of religious experience. All have a dreamlike spiritual quality, capturing the folk-memory of Celtic myth and legend. Their popularity contributed to the Celtic revival of the 1890s. The best short fiction and sketches appeared as The Sin-Eater and Other Tales (coll 1895) and The Washer of the Ford and Other Legendary Moralities (coll 1896), which are mostly stories of spiritual Transformation and second-sight (> Talents). In both books the title story features mythic characters whose actions consume or purify the sins of others. Later collections, especially The Dominion of Dreams (coll 1899) and Where the Forest Murmurs (coll 1906), contain mystical nature pieces that often lack a storyline but are strong on atmosphere. The early stories were reassembled as The Shorter Stories of Fiona Macleod, Vol. I Spiritual Tales, Vol. II Barbaric Tales, Vol. III Tragic Romances (coll 1895); the complete Works of Fiona Macleod (coll 1910-12 7 vols) was ed Elizabeth Sharp (Sharp's wife). A more recent selection forms the second part of The Gold Key and the Green Life (coll 1986) ed Elizabeth Sutherland.

FM's novels – Pharais (1894), The Mountain Lovers (1895) and Green Fire (1896) – are essentially nonfantastic, though all three may be perceived as allegorical in their use of death (of the adults) and rebirth (through the children) as a transformation from an earthly Hell to some other Heaven. Pharais is Gaelic for Paradise; this paradise cannot be earned without trial. The closest to fantasy is Green Fire, a nature myth about two sisters, one of whom reflects the darkness of earth while the other (Annaik) has the feyness of spirit. The latter, after an incestuous relationship with her brother, re-unites with the Forests. The novel may have influenced Algernon Blackwood in The Bright Messenger (1921). FM always intended to return to the character of Annaik to tell her story in full, but never did.

It has been widely claimed that William Sharp invented the forename "Fiona" for his pseudonym, but this is in fact untrue. In Scottish Forenames (1996) Donald Whyte observes that James Macpherson (1736-1796) used "Fiona" as a name in his "Ossian" works (> Celtic Fantasy), and anyway the name was in use in real life before then: the Lord of the Isles and his wife Fione are recorded as having given an endowment to Paisley Abbey, Scotland, circa 1175. [MA]

other works: The Divine Adventure; Fiona: By Sundown Shores: Studies in Spiritual History (coll 1900).

further reading: William Sharp (Fiona Macleod): A Memoir (1910-1912 2 vols) by Elizabeth A Sharp; William Sharp – "Fiona Macleod", 1855-1905 (1970 US) by Flavia Alaya.

William Sharp


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.