Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

A term normally used here to designate a shared structure of belief, like Christianity or Wicca, rather than the fact that an individual person avows faith in a deity. Entries which refer to religious matters as part of human society include those dealing with Anthropology, Christmas, Death, Demons, Fertility, Goddess, Gods and Initiation. Entries which refer to religious matters in the context of fantasy include Christian Fantasy, Fantasies of History, Gnostic Fantasy, Heaven, Hell, History in Fantasy, Instauration Fantasy, Limbo, Parody, Purgatory and Thinning.

Non-Christian fantasies set in Otherworlds frequently feature organized religions, usually depicted as corrupt, as in the background of Ursula K Le Guin's Earthsea sequence, or in the foreground of Terry Pratchett's Small Gods (1992). Individual faith is normally treated with greater sympathy. When they deal with religion, fantasies set in this world frequently focus upon faiths or belief structures under threat of Thinning from organized religion. As most fantasies dealt with in this book were written in Europe or the USA, the organized religion usually blamed for the fading away of the richness of the Golden Age is Christianity. The most sustained antireligious this-worldly fantasies of mourning are probably those of Thomas Burnett Swann; but many fantasies set in recognizable versions of this world are unfriendly to establishment faiths. Often recently set tales like Esther Friesner's Yesterday We Saw Mermaids (1991) and Sara Dalkey's Goa (1996) also tend to treat forces like the Inquisition as external enemies. James Branch Cabell, Anatole France, Laurence Housman and others treat organized religion in terms of Satire. [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.