Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

A satire is a form of protest against the rotting of the world. It is normally written by a man (women satirists are less common) who is past his first youth, and who attacks the world from a conservative point of view. He may well create a model of the world which exaggerates the vices and follies of the real one, but however far from reality he may seem to stray he will not indulge in the Absurd or Surrealism, or the flights of free fancy which might lead to the creation of a Secondary World. The target of satire (>>> Aesopian Fantasy) is always the human condition in situ.

Though satirical moments are frequently found, full-blown satire is therefore somewhat rare in fantasy. Apuleius's The Golden Ass (circa 165), for instance, contains satirical interludes, but the underlying Rite of Passage of the protagonist is not treated in terms of satire. However Das Narrenschiff (1494; trans Alexander Barclay as The Ship of Fools 1509 UK) by Sebastian Brant (1457-1521) is a satire (> SHIP OF FOOLS), and indeed loses all narrative impulsion through its author's need to focus on various examples of the folly of the world. In the 18th century, Gulliver's Travels (1726) – the savage masterpiece of Jonathan Swift, perhaps the greatest satirist yet born – is clearly a satire; as is much of Voltaire's work.

The 19th century is almost devoid of the form in fantasy, if one puts aside the special case of the Wonderland satires by Lewis Carroll; but the 20th century has seen a revival, including Anatole France's Penguin Island (1908), James Branch Cabell's Jurgen (1919), John Erskine's Adam and Eve (1927), C S Lewis's The Screwtape Letters (1942), George Orwell's Animal Farm (1945 chap) and Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), Michael Ayrton's Tittivulus (1953), most of the novels of Thomas Berger – especially Changing the Past (1989) – Steve Bauer's Satyrday (1980), An American Tail (1986), Lord Horror (1989) and Motherfucker (1996) – both Horror – by David Britton (1945-    ), Thomas M Disch's The Priest (1994) and Scott Bradfield's Animal Planet (1995). [JC]

see also: Estates Satire; Satyrs.


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.