Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
New York

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Images of the Statue of Liberty up to her neck in the sands of the desert – like images of London submerged under a cleansing lake – properly belong to post-Holocaust sf (> SFE links below), not fantasy. A novel like The Last American (1889) by John Ames Mitchell (1845-1918), despite a storyline which evokes Arabian Fantasy, presents an image of NY as a City most easily understood in sf terms, and only with some difficulty in terms of fantasy. But NY (or at least Manhattan) does differ from Urban-Fantasy venues like Cairo, London, Los Angeles or even Paris in that it can be perceived, in the mind's eye, from a distance, whole. In this, it projects something of the allure of the magic cities which can be found in Secondary-World venues.

Manhattan (which is as much of NY as is dealt with in most texts) is highly foregrounded and highly dramatic. It is a city whose fate can be seen: a vast Polder, with a circumambient Threshold and Portals galore. In all of this, NY differs radically from London, the only city more frequently found in fantasy texts (apart, possibly, from New Orleans). London, though it contains worlds of drama, is very rarely itself the occasion of drama. Contrariwise, many fantasy novels deal with NY as an entity inside which, and to which and in terms of which, portentous events may occur. Instauration Fantasies like John Crowley's Little, Big (1981) or Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale (1983) plausibly key their intimations of change through a rendering of the great city drama of NY.

But NY does also serve – like London – as a circumambient venue for Urban Fantasies, though it is often the case that the high dramatic profile of NY seems to welcome stories whose implications are similarly foregrounded. Christopher Morley's Beast-Fable Where the Blue Begins (1922) is fittingly set in NY, as are E B White's Stuart Little (1945), George Selden's The Cricket in Times Square (1960) and Freddie the Pigeon: A Tale of the Secret Service (1972) by Seymour Leichman (1933-    ); and when Scott Bradfield, in Animal Planet (1995), wishes to complexify the world within which his constantly mutating Allegory works, he moves significant figures of his cast to Manhattan.

NY-based fantasy novels, often featuring elements of allegory or transfiguration, include: Steven R Boyett's Ariel (1983); Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve (1977), whose vision of NY is significantly far more allegorized than the vision of London presented in her Nights at the Circus (1984); almost all of the novels of Jerome Charyn; Tom de Haven's Funny Papers (1985), which along with E L Doctorow's The Waterworks (1994) comes close to establishing a Gaslight-Romance tradition for the city; Thomas M Disch's On Wings of Song (1979 UK), an sf novel (> SFE link below) whose vision of NY is a haunted phantasmagoric; Diane Duane's So You Want to be a Wizard (1983); the fables of contemporary violence assembled in Harlan Ellison's Deathbird Stories: A Pantheon of Modern Gods (coll of linked stories 1975); several of Jack Finney's Timeslip tales, including "The Third Level" (1952) and Time and Again (1970); Esther M Friesner's New York sequence of Contemporary Fantasies; Simon Hawke's The Wizard of 4th Street (1987); William Hjortsberg's Falling Angel (1978); The Werewolf's Tale (1988) by Richard Jaccoma (1943-    ); Tappan King's and Viido Polikarpus's Down Town: A Fantasy (1985); and William Kotzwinkle's The Game of Thirty (1994), which echoes The Confessions (1962) by Harry Mathews (1930-    ) (> SFE link below) in its use of the urban venue as Labyrinth and Game combined.

Movies with significant sequences set in NY include King Kong (1933; 1976), Rosemary's Baby (1968), Wolfen (1981), Ghostbusters (1984), Splash! (1984), Highlander (1986), Woody Allen's contribution to the anthology movie New York Stories (1989) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990; > Gremlins).

From the turn of the century, NY has also been used in Comics as an immediately recognizable venue. Some of the better known examples are: Winsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland (1905-1911), Superman (1938-current), whose Metropolis may have originated as a portrait of Toronto but which soon became NY; The Batman (1938-current), whose Gotham City was always NY; most of the Marvel Comics interlinked set of Superhero epics; and Alan Moore's Watchmen (graph 1986-1987).

Often, in movies and comics produced by Americans, the unidentified city in which an urban fantasy is set is in fact recognizably NY: NY has become the default venue for both media. Had London not preceded it, NY might have become the default venue for written fantasy as well. [JC]


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.