(1862-1960) UK writer whose prolific and long literary career began with two brief comic fantasies in The Idler: "The Spectre's Dilemma" (1892) and "Friar Lawrence" (1892). Many of his early fantasy short stories were collected in Fancy Free (coll 1901) and Transit of the Red Dragon (coll 1903). His first full-length fantasy, A Deal with the Devil (1895), was a pastiche of F Anstey in which the extra seven years earned by a Pact with the Devil involve a dying man in accelerated rejuvenation.
My Laughing Philosopher (1896) records a series of imaginary conversations between a man and a bronze bust (> Statues) on various matters of contemporary concern, foreshadowing the Epicurean sensibility and militant rationalism which were later to be extrapolated in a long series of extended Fables, beginning with The Girl and the Faun (1916), a heartfelt tale of ill fated love. In Evander (1919) Bacchus and Apollo vie for the adoration of a woman. Pan and the Twins (1922) tracks a similar ideological conflict between two brothers, one a Christian and the other a follower of Pan; like Anatole France's saintly Satyrs, EP's Pan symbolizes an amiable Epicureanism preferable to ascetic Christianity. In The Treasures of Typhon (1924) a halfhearted disciple of Epicurus embarks on a Quest for a magical plant, and is taught by the Trees (with which he can converse) to become more wholehearted. The fine novella "Circe's Island" (in Circe's Island coll 1925 with "The Girl and the Faun") describes a boy's quest to liberate his father from Circe's curse, aided by good advice from Odysseus. The Miniature (1926) is a pessimistic commentary by the Classical Gods on the philosophical evolution of mankind, with much reflection on the psychological utility of Religion. Arachne (1927) is an effective recapitulation of the Legend, altering its conclusion to contrive a better moral. Alycone (A Fairy Story) (1930) chronicles the adventures of a third-rate poet.
Alongside his Classical fantasies EP wrote The Lavender Dragon (1923), a charming tale in which a benevolent Dragon steals lonely humans to populate a Utopia whose ideals contrast sharply with the tyranny of feudalism, and The Apes (1927), an ironic Allegory of evolution in which overconfident Apes refuse to come to terms with the inevitability of their supersession. The Owl of Athene (1936) begins as a Classical fantasy in which a council of Olympians decides to put mankind to the test, but veers abruptly into the realms of scientific romance as the land surface of the Earth is invaded by giant crabs; all EP's subsequent contes philosophiques were framed as sf, although the nonsupernatural Witchcraft featured in The Hidden Hand (coll of linked stories 1952) involves an amiably subtle championship of rationalism. EP also published two notable Children's Fantasies, The Flint Heart (1910) and Golden Island (1938), and there are some briefer fables in Thoughts in Prose and Verse (coll 1924). EP's extended fables were commercially unsuccessful, and he was eventually forced to abandon the form, but their occasional tendency to pomposity does not detract from their effectiveness or charm. [BS]