Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Sleeper Under the Hill

A theme common throughout much European Legend and Folklore is that a past hero or king is only sleeping in a hall under a hill and at a time of national crisis will return to save the Land. In Celtic and British myth the legend applies equally to Bran the Blessed, Arthur (though he is in Avalon, not under a hill) and Merlin (trapped in a cave, according to one legend). The myth has also been claimed for Charlemagne (742-814), Frederick Barbarossa (1123-1190), his grandson Frederick II (1194-1250) and Ogier the Dane (> Morgan Le Fay). Although superficially the myth may seem to draw upon the Christian belief of the Resurrection, it has deeper pagan origins in most cultures of the transmigration of souls through the Afterlife to rebirth. The Mabinogion tells of a magic cauldron that brings soldiers back to life. This in turn has links to the holy Grail and the search for eternal life (> Immortality).

The commonest use of the SUTH device occurs in Arthurian fiction (> Once and Future King). The revival of Arthur (often with Merlin, Morgan and some of the more famous Knights of the Round Table) is the starting point of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) by Alan Garner, Earthfasts (1966) by William Mayne, The Sleepers (1968) by Jane Curry, The King Awakes (1987) by Janice Elliott and The Sleep of Stone (1991) by Louise Cooper. Barbarossa returns in Little, Big (1981) by John Crowley, while in Too Long a Sacrifice (1981) Mildred Downey Broxon shows it is not only heroes who return, when 6th-century patriots re-emerge from their sleep to help in the Irish conflict. The SUTH Motif usually has strong religious connotations and may be linked to the legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, which tells of seven Christian youths who fled from the persecution of the Emperor Decius in the years AD249-251 and hid in a cave which was walled up. They re-emerged after nearly 200 years during the reign of Theodosius II. It also has alchemical connections (> Alchemy) as it is applied to Christian Rosencreutz. Generally, though, the SUTH motif relates to a champion who will return and fight for a cause. It is thus not the same as the sleeper-awakes motif, as in "Rip Van Winkle" (1819) by Washington Irving, or in many sf stories, where it is a Plot Device for moving into the future. Neither must it be confused with the Malign-Sleeper motif, which is usually the antithesis of the SUTH. [MA]

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.