Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Millhauser, Steven

(1943-    ) US writer whose first novel, Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright (1972), remains his best-known; although not fantasy, its intensely hilarious recounting of the life of a child in the form of a hagiographic literary biography constantly urges otherwise mundane material into the fantastic. Portrait of a Romantic (1977) performs a similar feat with an adolescent. SM's third novel, From the Realm of Morpheus (1986), is a full-blown fantasy whose narrator descends through a neighbourhood Portal into the Underworld, where he enters an environment which (though substantial to his senses) derives its logic from Dream and literary analogue. Some episodes – as in a Library which clearly refers to the work of Jorge Luis Borges – are without satisfying narrative closure; others – as in the sequence in Atlantis – are redolent of fantasy's grounding in Story. The overall brokenness of the text – which has reminded critics of Herman Melville's Mardi and a Voyage Thither (1849) – may have been caused by rumoured severe editorial cutting of the original manuscript.

SM's short fiction is more coherent. The stories assembled in In the Penny Arcade (coll 1986) reflect with concision upon the conventions which govern our Perceptions of what is real and what is fantastic, in life and in art. The Barnum Museum (coll 1990) assembles several stories that retell and rather abstractly revise some central fantasy tales, including Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Little Kingdoms: Three Novellas (coll 1993) contains, in its longest tale – "The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne" – an analysis in fantasy terms of a cartoonist whose life and art seem clearly to reflect that of Winsor McCay, and who passes literally over into the world of his imagination. As a writer of literary fantasies SM may treat such passages with ambivalence, but the dream-like potency of his best work calls most powerfully, as though the Other were indeed true. [JC]

Steven Millhauser

links

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.