Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Soul

The exact definition of this immaterial essence – or Spirit, or Astral Body – is a matter for Religion; fantasy normally assumes Cartesian dualism and the detachability of soul from body. Thus souls may travel the Astral Plane, or be swapped in Identity Exchange; Possession imposes a stronger soul upon a weaker. In a fantasy world of Transformation and Metamorphosis, souls remain the vital key to identity. They may be stolen, as in Robert A Heinlein's "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" (1942), where the captured soul is bottled like a Genie, or Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife (1943), where the loss is a dreadful Debasement. They may be devoured: by Demons in C S Lewis's "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" (1960), by a Sword like Stormbringer in Michael Moorcock's Elric stories, by other forms of psychic Vampire, or even by inhalation as a special "high" in Tim Powers's Expiration Date (1995). Wizards and Giants in Fairytales often detach their souls – usually symbolized by the heart (>>> Koshchei) – to make themselves invulnerable, as in George MacDonald's "The Giant's Heart" (1863), Fritz Leiber's "Adept's Gambit" (1947), Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds (1984) and many other works. Diana Wynne Jones puns effectively on the "heartlessness" of her Lothario wizard in Howl's Moving Castle (1986); her The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988) features a race kept subjugated by the ruler's confiscation of their souls. Creatures without souls may or may not envy this token of both mortality and survival after Death: J R R Tolkien's Elves call it the "Gift of Men" and also the "Doom of Men". Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid painfully acquires a soul, which is also the objective of the Golem in Piers Anthony's The Source of Magic (1979); soullessness is the heart of the horror in Frankenstein and Zombie scenarios. In Posthumous Fantasy the soul generally does not, at least initially, realize the death of the body; realization leads to questions of an Afterlife, with the soul conventionally despatched to Limbo, Heaven, Hell or Purgatory – perhaps still contactable via Spiritualism, perhaps to be re-embodied at the Last Judgement – or condemned to earthly Bondage as a Ghost. Outside Christian Fantasy the destination may be Hades, the Happy Hunting Ground, Valhalla, the Kalevala's Tuonela, etc.; an alternative is the Cycle of Reincarnation until, at least in Buddhism, final escape from the wheel of karma into Nirvana. [DRL]

see also: True Name.

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.