Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Most fantasy authors lived or live in the temperate zones. Most of their stories, whether set here or in some Otherworld, naturally tend to replicate or exaggerate the climatic pattern of these zones where, from time immemorial, four seasons have been identified. For many fantasy writers, moreover, these four seasons are deeply significant for reasons that transcend geographical circumstance; and in non- or post-Christian Fantasies, which dominate the field, the four seasons are normally conceived as aspects of an everlasting Cycle, one in which Time returns upon itself, bringing gifts. A sense of the central importance of cycle in any understanding of Nature, history, humanity, religion and world – a sense basic to archaic religions in Mircea Eliade's convincing description and analysis of faiths other than Judaism, Christianity and Islam – therefore permeates much modern fantasy, where any reference to the seasons is likely to carry with it a burden of significance, whether or not precisely articulated.

The iteration of the seasons into specific festivals is a most complex task, and most fantasy texts focus on only the most prominent of these days of high significance. A primal instinct of fantasy writers – which is to attempt to recover original or "true" archetypal (see Archetypes) patterns – normally ensures that seasonal festivals (like Easter) are depicted and understood in ways which uncover and value what is deemed to be the true Story. Easter (for instance) is more likely to be presented as the climax of the grave erotic dance between the Goddess and her consort (see also Golden Bough) than as the climax of the essentially linear story of Christ's Passion. Seasonal festivals invoked by English-speaking writers of fantasy include Plough Sunday (and the other three agricultural days: Rogationtide, Lammas and the Harvest), Easter, May Day, Midsummer Night, Hallowe'en (also known as All Hallow's Eve or All Souls' Day; see also Samhain), Christmas and New Year's Day.

When the seasons appear in a fantasy text without a specific iconic signification it is common for them to reflect – as a form of metaphysical pathos (see John Ruskin) – the events taking place in the story. Any season, suitably described, can represent any stage in the unfolding of a full fantasy. A desolate Spring can represent Thinning; a fructifying Winter can just as easily tell the reader that Healing is underway. The normal impulse, however, is to exploit the usual vegetative cycle (a cycle which in any case subtends most archaic understanding of the meaning of the world) and to represent thinning through images of Autumn and Winter, Recognition through moments (like the Revel attendant upon New Year's Day) that invoke through images of Metamorphosis the turning of the year, Healing through Spring and Pastoral – and the Genre Fantasies set in Fantasyland whose storylines are pastoral in the sense that they do not threaten the overall world with further change – through Summer. [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.