Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Mesmerism

Invented by Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) and the forerunner of modern hypnotism, this involved the transmission between individuals of "animal magnetism", a kind of lifeforce which could induce "trance" states. It was quickly adopted as a staple of Occult Fantasy by such writers as E T A Hoffmann and was recruited as a device to add plausibility to Visionary Fantasies like "A Mesmeric Revelation" (1844) by Edgar Allan Poe and The Soul of Lilith (1892) by Marie Corelli. Mesmeric theory also provided mechanisms for Identity Exchange, as in The Doubts of Dives (1889) by Walter Besant, and psychic vampirism (> Vampires), as in The Parasite (1894) by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The literary image of the hypnotist was largely determined by the characterization of Svengali in George du Maurier's Trilby (1894) (> Svengali), whose imitations include The White Witch of Mayfair (1902) by George Griffith (1857-1906) and The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1927) by Hanns Heinz Ewers. Hypnotic "regression" is employed in some tales of Reincarnation, including a few by H Rider Haggard, but the use of the motif in fantasy has now declined dramatically – although a form of mesmerism is part of the standard armoury of many Wizards, and their Illusions may have all the trappings of mass hypnosis. [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.