Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Sarban

Writing name of UK writer John William Wall (1910-1989), who was a career diplomat 1933-1966. His writing career occupied less than half a decade, during which period he published the three short books that established his reputation as a subtle, literate teller of tales, conscious of the darker and less acceptable implications that underlie much popular literature. The title story of his first collection, Ringstones, and Other Curious Tales (coll 1951; story alone vt Ringstones 1961 US), is told through a Frame Story, a device he used more than once to transform Horror into Fairytale. Two students worry about the contents of a manuscript one of them has received from Daphne Hazel, an old schoolfriend now hired to care for some children at a remote manor house, and whose experiences with the eldest child are deeply distressing: the lad indulges in sadomasochistic practices, casts a Glamour upon her so that she cannot escape the region, may be an Avatar of the Elder Gods, and may almost have managed to lure her into Faerie (> Tam Lin). A second collection is The Doll Maker and Other Tales of the Uncanny (coll 1953; cut to contain title story alone, vt The Doll Maker 1960 US).

A vein of sexual implication runs through all of Sarban's work, and in a story like "The Khan" – which appears in Ringstones – hits a pitch of eloquent perversity not then commonly encountered. A Norwegian woman in Persia, tied to a bad marriage, runs away Into the Woods, where she comes across a welcoming castle; there she is bathed and perfumed and prepared for the coming of the Khan, who is in fact a bear.

Sarban's sole full-length novel, The Sound of his Horn (1952), balances between sf and fantasy. As an early Hitler-Wins tale it occupies an important position in sf history; but the strangely retrospective atmosphere of its telling constantly works against the claimed futurity of the central setting – a heavily forested, ornately rustic German countryside 100 years after World War II has ended. Importantly, the central tale is surrounded, once again, by a frame story, which both casts the events the protagonist recounts into the narrative past and renders his horrific experiences in terms of myth-evoking Story – with, moreover, a technically happy ending (for he survives to tell the tale). His arrival in the New Reich is classic fantasy: lost in WWII, he wanders Into the Woods – a vast pine forest which mysteriously changes into a broadleaf Landscape under a transformed Moon – and finds himself trapped inside a magic fence surrounding the endlessly proliferating Edifice of the Reich Master Forester, who regularly arranges an ersatz Wild Hunt with human prey. Another diversion is the "hunting" of captive girls dressed as game-birds, who are served, trussed, at the dinner-table. One of these sacrifices herself so that the protagonist may escape back into the world.

Whatever drove John Wall into his brief floruit as Sarban clearly did not last; no new stories surfaced after 1953. [JC/CB]

Sarban

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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.