Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Mailer, Norman

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(1923-2007) US writer and public figure who has been at the centre of US intellectual life since the publication of his first novel, The Naked and the Dead (1948). Although not identified with genre fiction, all of NM's later works contain elements of fantasy; he returns repeatedly to an imaginative world containing spirits, paranormal phenomena and magical correspondences. Barbary Shore (1951), which largely comprises a psychodrama between a secret policeman and a former revolutionary, takes an unexpected leap into Fabulation when the "little object" whose return the secret policeman seeks proves to be the revolutionary's ideals, and the novel dissolves into Allegory. The Deer Park (1955) was first projected as one of seven volumes that would constitute the successive Dreams of an artist manqué whose compromised existence was reflected, though reshaped by mythopoeia, in his dream-life; "The Man who Studied Yoga" (1957), a long story, was the prologue to this (later abandoned) novel cycle.

Much of NM's career has been devoted to his "long novel": an enormous work that would force "an entrance into the mysteries of murder, suicide, incest, orgy, orgasm and Time". Most of the major works he has published since 1955 have been successive fragmentary attempts to write this book. "Advertisements for Myself on the Way Out" (1959) and "The Time of her Time" (1959) are fragments from one such assault on this, which is evidently to be a Posthumous Fantasy narrated by a murder victim. Why Are We in Vietnam? (1967) – a short novel fraught with telepathy and magical thinking (> Talents) – was written, NM later acknowledged, as the prologue for a long and violent novel about a senseless crime, from the writing of which he finally recoiled. Ancient Evenings (1983), his first long novel after The Naked and the Dead, proved to be another posthumous fantasy: it is the recollection, by one of the seven Souls of a murdered young man in ancient Egypt, of hearing his great-grandfather relate the wonders of his long life and three earlier lives through a late evening in the company of the Pharaoh. Harlot's Ghost (1991), even longer, presents the memoirs of a CIA agent whose career spans the history of that organization – a Frame Story involves the apparent Ghost of his dead Mentor. Both novels are the opening volumes of uncompleted sequences. Tough Guys Don't Dance (1984) is a murder mystery charged with spirits, clairvoyance and Magic.

NM's career as a novelist has been shaped – perhaps deformed – by his struggle to resolve his own artistic sensibility with the tenets of the great literary Modernists who reigned during his formative years. The place of his fiction in his large and uneven oeuvre – and of the role of the fantastic in his fiction – remains to be assessed. [GF]

other works: An American Dream (1965), a novel filled with magic; The Executioner's Song (1979), nonfiction, though NM called it a novel; Of Women and their Elegance (graph 1980), text (accompanying photographs) "narrated" by Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962).

Norman Mailer


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.