Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

1. In their literal, physical sense, shadows are both troubling – as temporary Bad Places in whose darkness vile things may lurk – and a reassuring indicator of human normality. Thus Vampires and Ghosts generally lack shadows, as does the boy Kay while unnaturally visiting the past (>>> Timeslip) in John Masefield's The Box of Delights (1935). Conversely, in J R R Tolkien's Middle-Earth, the Invisibility of mortals who wear the Ring is flawed by a betraying shadow. The regimented enemy horde in Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983), who speak only in preset slogans, are known as the Ascians or "men without shadows". A disturbing moment of Wrongness in James Branch Cabell's Jurgen (1919) comes when the hero sees that the shadow he casts is no longer his own; in the same book, Merlin's shadow also acts with disconcerting independence.

Lord Dunsany's The Charwoman's Shadow (1926) suggests that a lost shadow is part of the Soul, whose restoration is transforming; similarly, the shadow-boy in Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1993) is a severed portion of the heroine's soul, whom she later re-absorbs. George MacDonald's Phantastes (1858) features a disagreeable shadow which, once acquired, blights Perception of beauty and wonder; his "The Shadows" describes living shadows who are Secret Guardians of our spiritual well-being. Peter Pan's shadow serves as a Plot Device in J M Barrie's play, but its easy detachability also indicates the gap between fey Peter and normal children. As Narnia dies in C S Lewis's The Last Battle (1956), Aslan's gigantic shadow is the oblivion awaiting those who will not accept the light. The eponymous Trickster of Roger Zelazny's Jack of Shadows (1971) has allegiance to neither light nor dark, but uniquely draws his power from shadow; in Zelazny's Amber sequence, the Multiverse, including Earth, consists of mere shadows cast by the true Reality of Amber (though this solipsism is undermined as the series progresses).

Wherever there is light, Balance requires there to be shadow – a truism which in fantasy has all the expected metaphorical ramifications. [DRL]

2. When it refers to a dark hidden side of the self, the term "shadow" is a close cousin to the term Double. Doubles are found throughout 18th-century Gothic Fantasy and 19th-century Supernatural Fiction, where they figure significantly in the work of authors like E T A Hoffmann, James Hogg, Sheridan Le Fanu, Robert Louis Stevenson – whose Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) is perhaps the most famous single tale to be constructed around the conflict between public and repressed self – and Oscar Wilde.

Though there is no fixed rule, the term "double" does tend to imply a malign or seductive relationship between a surface personality and a submerged aspect of that personality which haunts the surface self, threatening Debasement. Tales involving doubles frequently end in scenes of integration that make it clear that any marriage of the two halves of the self is likely to be fatal. This is consistent with a general tendency in supernatural fiction to treat the imploring side of the self as inherently obscene. As a threat to the daylight Victorian self, Hyde is typical: he is a kind of primordial force, an ape from humanity's bestial past; at the same time there is something filthily enticing about his manner, as though something female were welling up in his visage and slouch. Closely related is the ancient Egyptian notion of the Ka, which occasionally reappears in supernatural fictions like Dennis Wheatley's The Ka of Gifford Hillary (1956).

There can be no fixed rule, but in Fantasy double/shadow imagery is more likely to represent the separation of the self into discordant elements as a tragic circumstance that must somehow be transcended. The relationship between king and Jester, or between the father of the Gods and the Trickster, is a relationship between an official master and his or her shadow; and is almost always, in fantasy, accompanied by signals of potential Healing. Even novels which end unhappily, like Pår Lagerkvist's The Dwarf (1944) and Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword (1954), tend to present those warring opposites as an opportunity which may be seized, and which it would be a tragedy to miss.

The many tales featuring potential states of union between protagonists and shadows include: Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan sequence, whose hero embodies an effortless marriage of "civilized" man and the 19th-century bugaboo apeman; Sir Henry Newbolt's Aladore (1914); Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan sequence, in which Titus and Steerpike orbit one another, half-selves forever disjunct; J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), where Frodo and Gollum are each other's shadow, just as Frodo and Samwise shadow one another, and where the Dark Lord is seen, definitively, as both fallen Angel and remorseless shadow Parody of the Good; Philip José Farmer's World of Tiers sequence, in which the Trickster Kickaha must ultimately fight his Trickster shadow; Stephen R Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, which articulates the Tolkien schism more fiercely; Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker sequence, where Alvin is shadowed by his dark brother Calvin; Terry Bisson's Talking Man (1986); Nick Bantock's Griffin & Sabine sequence; Stephen King's The Dark Half (1989 UK), filmed as The Dark Half (1991); Alan Brennert's Time and Chance (1990); Deborah Grabien's Plainsong (1990), in which Christ is a shadow of the Wandering Jew; and Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1993 UK), in which the "shadow-boy" is a split-off aspect of the protagonist's Soul.

Shadows may also – in a usage entirely distinct from any application of the term "doubles" – be referred to in descriptions of Reality structures underpinning entire imaginative worlds. Many tales, for instance, make use of the Gnostic concept (> Gnostic Fantasy) of mundane reality as being an imperfect rendering of the Pleroma or celestial totality; in fantasy, any territory or world or Land which depends upon some deeper reality for its existence can be understood as a shadow of that deeper reality. Both E R Eddison's Zimiamvia and Roger Zelazny's Amber sequences establish a shadow/wholeness relationship between this world and the realer world where the action centres; and the relationship between Terra and Anti-Terra in Vladimir Nabokov's Ada (1969) is one of shadow to substance, though it is never clear which version is the shadow.

It has often been suggested that the various stereotypical characters in the average Romance are in fact aspects of one fully integrated being. This argument is clearly relevant to fantasy, for which the Romance form is a vital taproot (> Taproot Texts); and may help explain the complex and dynamic interactions between fantasy and Jungian Psychology, in whose geography of the self the Shadow represents those aspects of the whole self which have been denied, and which must be re-integrated into the conscious personality if one wishes to become a mature and chivalrous adult. Writers like Ursula K Le Guin and Robert Holdstock have made constant use of the Jungian geography. Le Guin's essay "The Child and the Shadow" (1975) strongly argues the centrality of this understanding of the Shadow, in life and in fantasy both. [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.