Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Shelley, Percy Bysshe

(1792-1822) UK Romantic poet, with Lord Byron a pariah in his lifetime for his atheism and domestic life, both born from his revolutionary convictions. Like many poets of his day (> Romanticism), PBS employed mythological themes, and his long poems use figures from Greek Mythology in extravagant narratives that give passionate form to his vision of life. Prometheus Unbound (1820), perhaps his greatest work, retells Aeschylus's tale of the Titan Prometheus who brings fire to humanity in radically transformed terms; PBS's (largely misleading) use of mythological figures obscures the degree to which the work is deeply personal. Harold Bloom notes that the audacity of PBS "gives us a vision of last things without the sanction of religious or mythological tradition. Blake does the same, but Blake is systematic where Shelley risks everything on one sustained imagining". This burst of imaginative invention places PBS's work in a realm beyond the traditional fantastic modes of Folktale or myth. Reading John Keats's verse narratives of battle among Greek gods, one is always conscious of being told of supernatural events, but PBS's strongest poems – The Witch of Atlas (written 1820; 1824 chap), Adonais (1821 chap), Epipsychidion (1821 chap), The Triumph of Life (written 1822; 1824) – are scarcely about character and event; they strain to break free of narrative entirely, and anticipate the following century's developments in verse.

PBS is a figure rarely evoked in prose fantasy. His presence is usually seen in citations of images from his poems that can be read as conventional sf or fantasy (the tableau in "Ozymandias" [1817]): he is, however, a notable figure in Tim Powers's The Stress of Her Regard (1989) and in various Frankenstein Movies. Fantastic in a sense that no other poet in English was to that time (or, arguably, since), PBS is known in Genre Fantasy almost exclusively as the husband of Mary Shelley. [GF]

other works: Queen Mab, A Philosophical Poem (1813); Alastor, or the Spirit of Solitude (1816); The Masque of Anarchy (written 1819; 1832).

Percy Bysshe Shelley


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.