Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

This term is often found in this encyclopedia in its customary sense, but it is also used to help describe the origins of fantasy as a genre, and to assist in defining an important structural pattern in fantasy as it has evolved.

1. The original Greek word meant a "subsidiary [or mock] song". Parody can be defined as an imitation of the work of an individual writer or group of writers, generally to mock, comically, that work, usually as Satire – but not always: close, devoted, analytical mimicry may be a form of wit; but it may also constitute a homage.

Authors of fantasy interest who have created parodies of earlier texts include Aristophanes, Lucian, Geoffrey Chaucer (in the "Tale of Sir Topas"), François Rabelais, Miguel de Cervantes, William Makepeace Thackeray, Lewis Carroll, Max Beerbohm and Terry Pratchett ... and countless others.

2. From about the end of the 18th century, Fantasy began to take shape as a conscious genre, contrasting itself with a world of literature dominated by the mimetic novel and by Enlightenment concepts of the rule of Reason. Given the straitjacket tradition of the "real", and the powerful Romantic impulse to unshackle the self from the stultifying bondage of a constricting world, it is not surprising to find new, selfconscious, subversive fantasy texts responding to the world in terms of mockery and/or emulation. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), for instance, models itself in part upon (and savagely mocks) the 18th-century Bildungsroman, just as E T A Hoffmann's The Life and Opinions of Kater Murr (1820-1821), which purports to be the autobiography of a Cat, is a direct parody of Goethe's The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister (1796).

3. The term "parody" is also used in this book to help understand an assumption about the nature of Evil that lies at the heart of much Christian Fantasy – especially the works of writers like C S Lewis and J R R Tolkien – and has shaped much subsequent fantasy. Christian fantasies tend to convey a sense that evil is a distortion of good, and has no creative capacity of its own – i.e., that evil is a parody of good, and that its irruption into a world is marked by manifestations of Wrongness. The Dark Lord in Tolkien (and numerous imitators) is a parody of the rightful monarch or lord, an ape of god; moreover, because he is incapable of true creation, any version of the Land he rules will itself lack true Fertility (see also Fisher King; Thinning) and will thus likewise be a parody. Dark Lords and their domains are, in short, parasitic of true being. A modern fantasy which closes in Eucatastrophe and scenes of Healing will need to represent a successful defeat of the deathly sovereignty of parody, and will tend to do so in passages in which parody shrivels away because the true and original Story, full of being and armed against all mockery, has been recognized in the nick of time. [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.