Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Shaw, George Bernard

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(1856-1950) Irish dramatist who spent most of his life in England; he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. Over a career lasting 70 years or more he wrote literary and musical criticism, numerous plays, fiction, polemic and much occasional writing. He was not by instinct a writer of fantasy, and the fiction and plays which deploy fantasy elements are at their core arguments about the world; for GBS, the Fantastic serves to illustrate or illuminate arguments, rarely serving as a self-contained narrative goal. All the same, there are unmistakable fantasy elements in his work. An Afterlife interlude in Hell – dominated by a Don Juan straight from the Mozart Opera, who makes witty arguments about the nature of his new abode – enlivens Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy (1903), one of GBS's most sustained dramas; the specifically supernatural sequences of the play were published separately as Don Juan in Hell (1951 US). Androcles and the Lion (performed 1913; in omni 1916) and Saint Joan (1923) (> Joan of Arc) both have moments of fantasy. Most famously, Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921 US; rev 1921 UK; rev 1945) begins in Eden and ends with a Far-Future dialogue featuring the Ghosts of Adam and Eve, Lilith and the Serpent. The late plays use both sf and fantasy Motifs in an Expressionist fashion which eschews plausibility but whose abandonment to cultural pessimism cuts very deep. They include: The Apple Cart: A Political Extravaganza (first English-language publication 1930); Too True to be Good: A Political Extravaganza (performed 1932) and On the Rocks: A Political Comedy (performed 1933), both assembled in Too True to be Good, Village Wooing & On the Rocks (omni 1934); The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles: A Vision of Judgment (1935); Geneva: A Fancied Page of History (1939) and Buoyant Billions (1948 Switzerland; with Farfetched Fables as omni 1950).

Some of GBS's short fiction is more sustained fantasy. The Adventures of the Black Girl in her Search for God (1932 chap) details the young woman's search for meaning, via interviews conducted with successive versions of God as presented in the Bible, and with sages from various periods of history; Short Stories (coll 1932) includes "Aerial Football: The New Game" (1907), a Posthumous Fantasy; and Short Stories, Scraps and Shavings (omni 1934), which includes revisions of both Black Girl and the earlier Short Stories, includes in "Don Giovanni Explains" a harkening back to the opera protagonist from Man and Superman. The Black Girl in Search of God, and Some Lesser Tales (coll 1946) assembles similar material, revised.

GBS, financially independent for the final half-century of his career, could make constant revisions (often unsignalled) to reprints and resortings of his work. The bibliography of any GBS item, therefore, is likely to be complex; no attempt has been made here to trace the textual history of individual titles. [JC]

George Bernard Shaw


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.