Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Manicheism

Syncretic religion founded in Babylonia by Mani (216-circa 276) which fused Christian and Buddhist ideas with the Dualist tradition of Zoroaster to produce alternative accounts of the War in Heaven, the creation of Adam and Eve and many other aspects of the Christian mythos. The Christian Church condemned Mani's doctrines, and tended thereafter to consider all forms of Dualism – assertions that the Universe is the battleground of more-or-less equal forces of Good and Evil – as variants of the Manichean heresy.

Individual writers of considerable importance in the fantasy tradition who knowingly embraced some form of quasi-Manichean philosophy include William Blake and John Cowper Powys, but it can readily be seen that the framing assumptions of modern Genre Fantasy are Manichean, typically involving incarnate forces of Good and Evil. The Zoroastrian opposition of Ormazd and Ahriman – symbolizing Light and Darkness – is recalled in The Cosmic Puppets (1957) by Philip K Dick (1928-1982) and echoed in such Day/Night oppositions as the one featured in Roger Zelazny's Jack of Shadows (1971), while Thomas Burnett Swann's Biblical fantasies How are the Mighty Fallen (1974) and The Gods Abide (1976) oppose Yahweh to Ashtaroth. Michael Moorcock's many Sword and Sorcery series set a significant trend by representing the fundamental conflict as Order versus Chaos, but the Dark Lord who symbolizes absolute Evil remains a staple of Heroic Fantasy. J R R Tolkien's Sauron provided the most influential prototype; other significant Avatars include Stephen R Donaldson's Lord Foul, David Eddings's Torak and Guy Gavriel Kay's Rakoth Maugrim. In these cases and almost all others the powers of Light are much less well defined, their hypothetical parent-figure remaining remote and unseen while Heroes and Heroines function as redeemers. [BS]

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.