Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The king of the Fairies, best remembered from his appearance in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (performed circa 1595; 1600). Set in the time of Theseus, it concerns Oberon's quarrel with Titania (see Fairy Queen) over a young Changeling. Shakespeare's portrayal of Oberon has been highly influential, and has lent itself to many adaptations for Opera, but it differs from the original depiction of Oberon in the medieval Romance Huon of Bordeaux (15th century; trans Lord Berners ?1534 UK). Here he is an angelic-faced Dwarf whom Huon encounters in a Forest. He tells Huon that he is the son of Julius Caesar and Morgan Le Fay. At his birth all good fairies gave him gifts, but a wicked fairy cursed him (see Curses) – hence his diminutive stature. He helps Huon in his Quest and makes Huon his successor as king of the fairies – a role recognized by Rudyard Kipling in Puck of Pook's Hill (coll of linked stories 1906).

The Huon adventures are explored more by Christoph Wieland (1733-1813) in his verse Romance Oberon (1780), where Oberon helps Huon in the impossible challenge set him by Charlemagne. Parallels are drawn with the Midsummer Night's Dream events, particularly in the confusion between lovers. The romance introduces strong Oriental elements (see Arabian Fantasy), which were popular at that time, and translates the story into the form of the Fairytale. This romance formed the basis of Weber's opera Oberon, König der Elfen (1826), libretto by James R Planché – this libretto, plus a new one by Anthony Burgess, was published as Oberon Old and New (1985).

The character of Oberon in the Huon romance is believed to have been adopted from Alberich, the king of the Dwarfs in the Nibelungenlied (see Nordic Fantasy) who guarded the treasure of the Nibelungs. The name is sometimes rendered Auberon – the form used by John Crowley in Little, Big (1981), whose Auberon survives in a New York Faerie-like Polder.

Shakespeare's Oberon reappears in those Revisionist Fantasies which seek to explore further the world of A Midsummer Night's Dream. This was well handled by Fletcher Pratt and L Sprague de Camp in Land of Unreason (1941 Unknown; 1942), in which a US diplomat is transported to the land of faerie of Oberon and becomes the changeling. Poul Anderson's A Midsummer Tempest (1974) is set in an Alternate World where Shakespeare's plays are true and where Oberon and Puck help King Charles I against Cromwell. In Roger Zelazny's Amber Oberon is the King of Amber who has mysteriously vanished; his appearance in The Hand of Oberon (1976) only deepens the intrigue. As with all the characters in this series, the names may suggest some relationship to their Archetype, but the characters do not reflect their true personality. [MA]

see also: A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935).

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.