Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Scholarly Fantasy

All worthwhile scholarship involves an element of fantasy. The leap from a heap of raw data to a theory is an act of imagination; that some venturesome theories may be rudely falsified by subsequent data need not diminish the achievement of their producers. Some SFs are produced by fools, some by honest misinterpreters, some by calculating charlatans, some by geniuses, and some by people who are fully conscious they are fantasizing. Discrimination between the categories on the grounds of sincere belief is for obvious reasons impracticable.

A particularly interesting set of SFs emerges from the human sciences (especially history), because understanding in those sciences is at least partly to do with trying to see things as other social actors see or saw them. Such acts of imaginative identification are intrinsically difficult to put to the proof, and such evidence as the past leaves behind is usually flexible enough to accommodate several different accounts of what people thought they were doing and why. When our interpretations of history have to come to terms with the fantasies which were entertained by the people of the past, the task of sorting out what was actually believed, to what extent and on what grounds becomes extremely difficult: we risk infection not only by the fantasies of the past but by all manner of new fantasies born of our attempts to theorize about the old ones. It is thus not surprising that many SFs once thought doomed have made spectacular comebacks, often in more complicated or dramatically transfigured forms, as the study of history has become more widespread and more thoughtful. Both deliberate and accidental SFs are more widespread now than ever before.

Where metaphysical matters are concerned, no evidence is or can be relevant to judgements of truth; thus treatises on theology – however unorthodox – need not be treated as SFs. Where the writings of Churchmen make empirical claims, however, they remain subject to the same judgement as any other kind of pseudoscience. Thus the set of accusations designed by the Inquisition to remove heretics from the moral community, in order that they might be tortured and killed, can be clearly seen as an SF, and one which has been of cardinal importance in the history of fantasy and Occult Fantasy. Another set of SFs which has had a major influence on literary fantasy is that dealing with Atlantis and other Lost Lands and Continents.

Fantasy inevitably makes avid use of SFs as Playgrounds, borrowing wherever convenient and rarely hesitating to invent. [BS]

further reading: The Natural History of Nonsense (1947) by Bergen Evans; In the Name of Science (1952; exp vt Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science) and Science: Good, Bad and Bogus (coll 1981), both by Martin Gardner; Can You Speak Venusian?: A Guide to the Independent Thinkers (1972; rev 1976) by Patrick Moore; Cults of Unreason (1973) by Dr Christopher Evans; The New Apocrypha (1973) by John T Sladek; A Dictionary of Common Fallacies (1978; exp 1980 2 vols) by Philip Ward; A Directory of Discarded Ideas (1981) by John Grant; Facts and Fallacies: A Book of Definitive Mistakes and Misguided Predictions (1981) by David Langford and Chris Morgan; Science and the Paranormal (anth 1981) ed G Abell and B Singer; Ancient Astronauts, Cosmic Collisions, and Other Popular Theories about Man's Past (1984) by William H Stiebing Jr; Pseudoscience and the Paranormal: A Critical Examination of the Evidence (1987) by T Hines.

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.