Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Rabelais, François

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(?1494-1553) French scholar, physician, humanist and writer. Like many scholars of his time he took holy orders, but soon left the monastery behind. His central Taproot-Text importance for both sf and fantasy comes from the books now always known in English as Gargantua and Pantagruel, an omnibus assembled from Les Horribles et espovantables faictz et prouesses du tre renommé Pantagruel ["The Horrible and Astonishing Deeds of the Most Renowned Pantagruel"] (1532), which became Book II of the whole; La Vie inestimable du grant Gargantua ["The Inestimable Life of Gargantua"] (1534), which became Book I; Le Tiers Livre des faictz et dictz heroiques du noble Pantagruel ["The Third Book of Facts and Heroic Deeds of the Noble Pantagruel"] (1546), which became Book III; Le Quart Livre ["The Fourth Book"] (1548; exp 1552), which became Book IV; and Cinquième et dernier livre ["The Fifth and Last Book"] (1564), which incorporates L'Isle sonante ["The Ringing Island"] (1562) and became Book V. The last of these, posthumous and cruder than the previous volumes, is generally thought to have been spatchcocked together from fragments left by FR. Of the many translations the most vigorous and best-known early version is by Sir Thomas Urquhart (Books 1 and 2 1653 UK, Book 3 1693 UK) and Peter Le Motteux (Books 4 and 5 1694 UK); the most successful contemporary version is by Burton Raffel (1990 US).

The whole constitutes an immense and compendious comic anatomy of 15th-century France, the main targets of the Satire being the ineradicable contradictions ravaging late-medieval Christianity, though contemporary politics, the law and mores in general are also guyed. The most important single character other than the eponymous Giants is Panurge, a Trickster figure, a plausible Underlier source for the servant who dupes the master to ultimately run the show. The exuberance and linguistic inventiveness of Gargantua and Pantagruel have not, perhaps, had much influence on modern fantasy, though writers like Philip José Farmer and Jack Vance both create worlds with something like FR's all-encompassing gusto, and certainly there are loud echoes of FR's exuberant voice in the works of John Barth – most notably in The Sot-Weed Factor (1960; rev 1967) – and Robert Nye, such as Falstaff (1976). Beyond that gusto, which is extremely difficult to mimic, FR may have influenced recent fantasy writers mainly by demonstrating the uses of exorbitance to illustrate sustained arguments about the way of the world. [JC]

François Rabelais


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.