(1875-1953) UK writer, brother of Llewelyn and John Cowper Powys. Although TFP and John were brought up in the same strongly theological household, their approaches to fiction soon diversified, John's becoming deeply mystical while TFP's became more light-hearted and allegorical (> Allegory). Their style seem as polarized as their individual interpretations of Good and Evil. TFP's religious background was evident from his first book, An Interpretation of Genesis (1907), and particularly in Soliloquies of a Hermit (1916), which established his personal view of religious experience and belief that Evil was inherent in Man and could be controlled only if humankind opened itself to the moods of God. This philosophy runs through most of his fantasies, starting with "The Left Leg" (in The Left Leg 1928), set in a quiet UK West Country village where Farmer Mew represents Evil incarnate and is on the point of possessing the village when God, in the form of Mr Jar, returns. This story is a pilot for TFP's best-known novel, Mr Weston's Good Wine (1927), where God and St Michael visit the village of Folly Down to test its inhabitants. Unlike John, who explored good and evil in a series of darkly philosophical studies, TFP was able to convey a similar concept in a humorous yet equally challenging way. His work is more typical of other Slick-Fantasy novelists of the 1920s, like Martin Armstrong and Lord Dunsany. God in the form of Jar reappears in the later stories The Key of the Field (1930 chap) and The Only Penitent (1931 chap), where again he tests men to despair, like Job, to prove their worth in Heaven, and Unclay (1931), where the central figure is Death. Though not as enjoyable as Mr Weston's Good Wine, Unclay is perhaps more rewarding in its approach. TFP concludes his series of allegories with "The Two Thieves" (in The Two Thieves 1932), in which a man drinks the wines of the Devil and becomes the epitome of evil, until Jar returns to recover them. TFP wrote several collections of short fiction. Fables (coll 1929; vt No Painted Plumage 1934) is a volume of surreal but ingenious Allegories. The House of the Echo (coll 1928) and The White Paternoster (coll 1930) contain the best of his more conventional Supernatural Fictions. [MA]
other works: Mr Tasker's Gods (1925); Mockery Gap (1925); The Only Penitent (1931); Bottle's Path and Other Stories (coll 1946); God's Eyes A-Twinkle (coll 1947).
further reading: The Powys Brothers (1967) by Kenneth Hopkins; The Brothers Powys (1983) by Richard Perceval Graves.
Theodore Francis Powys