Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Seven Samurai

A term used here to designate a gathering of Companions, usually in a Heroic-Fantasy venue, who have come together voluntarily in order to further a goal, and who frequently stay together after that goal has been accomplished. The number may not be Seven, but surprisingly many fantasy novels do in fact feature groups of seven, as in Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three (1964), by the end of which the protagonist, Taran, is accompanied by an Enchantress, a Dwarf, a Gollum-figure, a Bard, a Talking Animal and the oracular pig. In One for the Morning Glory (1996) by John Barnes (1957-    ) the protagonist dithers over beginning to act until he has acquired six companions.

The essence of the SS grouping is that it is voluntary, that its goals are not simply self-concerned; unlike the case with a Dirty Dozen, there is no hierarchy (i.e., no foul-mouthed "sergeant" has to kick the group into shape); SS groups are not mercenaries, though their individual members may have been and may afterwards return to that trade. They have probably come together at the behest of a central figure, who himself or herself has a Quest to obey, or a Polder (perhaps a village) to defend; or they may unite to defend some other person – or perhaps the Land itself – from a plight. Group members tend to display an assortment of Talents, among which military prowess ranks high (see Military Fantasy); they may constitute a Pariah Elite, and in that guise defend the old ways, attempt to protect their land from, say, Thinning or the depredations of a Dark Lord; one of them will almost certainly be an Ugly Duckling (possibly a Hidden Monarch); one may be a Magus, also possibly in disguise; in recent decades, one may well be a woman, either in Gender Disguise or, increasingly, not. SS groupings mimic chivalry.

There is no element of the supernatural or fantasy in Shichi-nin no Samurai (1954; vt The Seven Samurai), probably the greatest movie by Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998), but the detail and sweep of his tale make it an almost inescapable model for any group of volunteers who fight for the good. The long sequences devoted to the actual recruitment of the seven have inspired opening chapters in many fantasy adventures; and the epic defence of the peasants' village – a task for which they have volunteered knowing they will probably not be paid, and may well die fulfilling – has served later moviemakers and fantasy writers as a model of sustained, organized bravery. [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.