Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Since the time of the ancient Babylonians and Greeks the number 7 has signified completeness. The Heavens consisted of 7 spheres (Sun, Moon, Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn). The Earth was created in 6 days and God rested on the 7th. To the alchemists there were 7 basic metals: tin, copper, iron, mercury, lead, silver, gold. The Seven Seas represented the totality of the oceans, and there were the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Ages of Man. The number was of great significance to cabbalist and hermetic philosophies (see Cabbala), particularly the Seven Seals of Revelations (see Bible). The occultist Eliphas Levi (real name Alphonse Louis Constant; 1810-1875) stated that "the number seven represents magical power in all its fullness; it is the mind reinforced by all elementary potencies, it is the soul served by Nature". Thus the use of 7 is often significant of power or perfection. Its magical import means the number arises more often in Fantasy than in Supernatural Fiction, other than Occult Fantasy, where The List of 7 (1993) by Mark Frost is a recent example. It is well known from our childhood Fairytales, particularly "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", 7-league boots, and the significance of the 7th son of a 7th son, this last used recently in Seventh Son (1987) by Orson Scott Card. In the Mabinogion's story of Culhwch and Olwen (11th century) Culhwch is set 7 impossible tasks by the giant Ysbaddaden. This concept has been taken to its extreme in the Seven Citadels sequence by Geraldine Harris, where the novel's entire plot revolves around the impact of 7. In At the Back of the North Wind (1871) by George MacDonald Diamond stays in the land of the North Wind for only 7 days, though it seems like as many years (see Time in Faerie). In a similar vein Wintersland, in Joan Aiken's play Winterthing (1972 chap US), disappears every 7th year. The symbolism and usage of 7 in fantasy fiction are frequent and often predictable. [MA]

see also: 7 Faces of Dr Lao (1964); Seven Samurai; The Seventh Seal (1956).

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.