Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Morris, Kenneth

(1879-1937) UK writer born and raised in Wales; he was active in Theosophy all his adult life, and was employed by the Universal Brotherhood and Theosophical Society in California 1908-1930, there doing almost all of his creative work. Though he wrote three novels, 40 stories, a number of plays and considerable nonfiction, KM published only two books beyond Theosophical circles, and seemed indifferent to worldly success. This obscurity was deepened by his use of a wide range of pseudonyms for his short fiction, including C ApArthur, Walshingham Arthur, Aubrey Tyndall Bloggsleigh, Floyd C Egbert, Hankin Maggs, F McHugh Hilman, Ambrosius Kesteven, Maurice Langran, Fortescue Lanyard, Venon Lloyd-Griffiths, Jefferson D Malvern, Patton H Miffkin, Bingham T Molyneux, Sergius Mompesson, Evan Gregson Mortimer, Ephraim Soulsby Paton, Quintus Reynolds, Evan Snowdon, Wentworth Tompkins and Thomas J Wildredge. His first novel appeared as by Cenydd Morus. It is only in the 1990s that his collected stories and his last novel have appeared.

Because of the range of names used, it is not easy to identify his first story, but Douglas A Anderson, who edited The Dragon Path: Collected Tales of Kenneth Morris (coll 1995), thinks KM began publishing fiction with "Prince Lion of the Sure Hand: A Story for Children" for The Crusader in 1899. The stories assembled as The Secret Mountain and Other Tales (coll 1926) were selected from work written after 1914, and generally promulgate Theosophical principles with unobtrusive and supple tact. The world of the senses can be understood as manifesting a stage of meaning, a phase in the progression towards a higher reality, but with full Reality always immanent. Mortality is generally contrasted with Immortality as a matter of choice: mortals choose to serve, immortals choose transcendence. The settings run from the Wales of Celtic Fantasy, with which KM is most closely associated, through Greece, Rome, India and China. Sages and other Liminal Beings offer gnomic advice, and point the way upwards. The narratives tend to serenity.

He is best-remembered for the Pwyll sequence of Celtic fantasies: The Fates of the Princes of Dyfed (1914) as by Cenydd Morus and Book of the Three Dragons (1930), only the first two-thirds of the latter tale being so far published. That tale is initially a closely Twice-Told (but ultimately very divergent) recasting of the first and third branches of the Mabinogion, and describes the long, slow, tortured coming to greatness and wisdom of Pwyll Pen Annwn, the mortal king of Dyfed and a Hero whose life is inextricably entangled with the Gods. The setting is in part a Land-of-Fable Wales, in part Faerie; the two realms Crosshatch constantly, and it is often unclear whether Pwyll is in mortal or immortal countries, whether he is in the Three Islands of the Mighty (> Archipelago) or in the Country of the Immortals. Certainly the Wales he dominates is so interfused with Magic, and so tied in its weal to the fate of the heroes who rule it, that it may be considered a genuine Land, almost as though it were a full Secondary World.

Pwyll himself is radiant with bravery and compassion, but all too mortal. He is doomed to fall in love with and – after a year-long Quest for a magic basket with which he will entrap the elf-like god who has claimed her – wed the goddess Rhiannon, one of the two versions of the Goddess in this long tale; the other, Ceridwen, who wears Rhiannon's semblance at one point in order to test Pwyll, is "the foster-mother of the Immortals, and queen of all the green things in the world".

KM's style is "bardic", but without any descents into sentimentality or bathos; his control of long prose rhythms is perhaps unmatched in 20th-century fantasy literature. When KM leaves Celtic fantasy, his style becomes more liquid, faster, but dense. It is in this mode that he wrote his last novel, the posthumous The Chalchiuhite Dragon: A Tale of Toltec Times (1992); set in an Edenic pre-Columbian Polder called Huitznahuac, this tells of the coming to wisdom of the Toltec Topiltzin, who becomes a philosopher king after causing the assassination of Nopaltzin, whose son he adopts, and who turns out to be the Reincarnation of the god Quetzalcoatl, who will bring even greater illumination to the land. KM's influence has been small, but he is central to the genre. [JC]

other works: On Verse, "Free Verse", and the Dual Nature of Man (1924 chap); Golden Threads in the Tapestry of History (1915-1916 The Theosophical Path; 1975); Through Dragon Eyes (1915-1916 The Theosophical Path; coll 1980 chap).

further reading: Lloyd Alexander, Evangeline Walton Ensley, Kenneth Morris: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography (1981) by Robert H Boyer and Kenneth J Zahorski.

Kenneth Vennor Morris


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.